There are big rumors swirling around Everton right now — which is weird because, y’know, Everton — that suggest Ross Barkley’s long rumored move to Tottenham Hotspur might be helped by, of all people, Wayne Rooney. Rooney has been linked with a return to Everton, and if the Toffees can engineer that, it’s said that it would grease the skids sending Barkley to Spurs.
That’s all well and good, but it still means that Ross Barkley could quite possibly be Spurs’ most exciting transfer window signing this summer, and... um. Golly. That’s not exactly the stuff to set your hair on fire, is it? And as more and more news about Barkley’s potential leaks out into the press, the less enthused I am about this possibility.
Take Neil Warnock, for example. Warnock has been around the block a few times as a manager, and managed a young Ross Barkley when he was on loan there in 2013. Here’s what he had to say about Barkley potentially moving to Tottenham from a recent interview on TalkSport (emphasis mine):
“I had Ross at Leeds, and he’s an unbelievably good pro. He comes in first thing and he takes free kicks until it goes dark, he trains all the time. But as a manager you can’t really find a system you can trust him in.
“It’s a really difficult with him, because he still loves to turn and take players on in his own half and often loses it. He hasn’t got the responsibility in his make-up regarding as and when to do it, he just does it when he feels like it. I don’t think you can change him in that.
“I think he’d be a super player for a club like Spurs. I think he could be a top five player…but for a certain manager. It’ll be a difficult one for the manager who gets him, in how to play him at that level with the responsibility you have to have when you play the top teams. You have to have that discipline in your game and unfortunately Ross doesn’t have that, but he makes up for it by scoring unbelievable goals.
“But I don’t think Koeman has ever been that type of manager who can tolerate somebody who is that ill-disciplined in certain aspects.”
Wow. Those quotes right there are the definition of a mixed bag. On the one hand you have Warnock praising Barkley’s work rate and dedication, and suggesting that Mauricio Pochettino could possibly get the most out of him of any manager. On the other hand, well, he kind of makes Barkley look like a bit of a dumb—ss, doesn’t he?
Warnock isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know about Barkley from his time in Everton’s first team, but what he does say is still pretty damning. Warnock flat out says that Barkley’s poor decision-making and lack of discipline means that he may not fit into ANY tactical system, but oh that’s probably okay because he can sometimes score a worldy. That’s scary, and makes his potential signing contingent on Poch becoming the Barkley-whisperer and magicking him into a cromulent midfielder in a high pressing, intricate system.
And fine, you may think that Pochettino can work his wizardry and turn him into something useful for Spurs. But that kind of transformation takes time, and Spurs don’t have a lot of it. It is highly likely that if he comes to Tottenham, Barkley will be thrust into a significant role right away, including starting Champions League matches thanks to the injuries and suspensions currently in the Spurs squad. If that doesn’t give you pause, it should.
I get that Barkley is young and has bags of raw talent, and it’s not at all crazy to think that, in the right system (Spurs’) and under the right manager (Poch), he could turn into a very useful professional footballer. The problem is that he’s basically a 6’2” 23-year old lottery ticket. It’s one thing if you’re spending £9m to take a flyer on a player like Georges-Kevin N’Koudou. It’s something else when the outlay is as high as what it might cost to sign Ross Barkley.