If the news of Romelu Lukaku’s signing was akin to Christmas morning for Blues, the grim prognosis about Ross Barkley’s injury is the tipsy dad standing on the favourite present, shattering (literally) all the childish joy before Morecambe and Wise have emerged from that curtain.
Or is it? Second seasons, like second albums, are notoriously tough gigs: opposition coaches have worked out a weakness or two; life off the pitch has become very complicated; and, more than any other factor, expectations have been raised in the febrile world of football to the usual unrealistic levels. But the air has now spluttered out of the Barkley balloon as he faces, for the second time in a young career, an extended period of rehabilitation.
And this is where crisis turns to opportunity. If the young man is as conscientious a listener as his manager suggests and if he is as keen as he should be to explore his potential, the rehab will teach him much. He has now grown into his rangy frame and he should talk and talk and talk to his medical support team during the long physio sessions that will fill the Autumn about how he should treat his most precious gift – his body. Though British players are much more engaged with an holistic approach to fitness (it’s seen as a 24/7 job) than they were even ten years ago, a feeling persists that European players are more understanding of the impact of a night on the booze or a failure to stretch properly, never mind poor diet.
Barkley might also watch a lot of football (maybe even read about it too) and not just from the stands at Goodison. Wouldn’t it be great to see him spending a weekend taking in a couple of Bundesliga matches? Or at the Camp Nou or Bernabeu on a European night? I recall reading about a young Arsenal player who was told to sit in the stands and simply watch Steve Bould as a intensive lesson in defensive positioning – Barkley might do the same watching James Rodriguez.
And, when he returns for a fifteen minute cameo sometime after Christmas, the applause that will greet him will not be overly infected with false hopes. Nobody – outside the more clickbait-oriented websites – will expect him to “…rescue Everton’s season”; “…lead The Toffees to an FA Cup, twenty years on”; “…add a touch of magic that might secure a Champions League spot.” The talk will be more of the start of a long process, the benefits of which will show next season – of building towards an Aaron Ramsay maturity rather than a Jack Wilshere inconsistency.
Who wouldn’t want to sign a £30M player in the January window? That, if the young man makes the most of his misfortune, will be Barkley’s impact come the sharp end of the season. Things ain’t so bad after all.