“You see, it’s the slow knife…the knife that takes its time. The knife…that waits years without forgetting…then slips quietly between the bones. That’s the knife…that cuts deepest.”
The above quote may be one uttered by a character in a movie, but for Everton, it’s one that will ring as more fact than fiction.
Ross Barkley’s £15 million move to Chelsea was the biggest betrayal they’ve suffered in quite some time — worse, arguably, than Romelu Lukaku’s move to Manchester United or that of John Stones to Manchester City, both of whom were simply future stars passing through.
The same can, of course, be said of Wayne Rooney’s departure to Old Trafford in 2004: Rooney was a boyhood Blue; a star player who the club had been crying out for during two decades of dark and dismal football. It quickly became apparent to those in the stands at Goodison Park that his future was bigger than Everton, though. Rooney was destined for greatness, and sadly his boyhood club couldn’t provide it. Not that it didn’t hurt. Much like Bill Kenwright crying in Sir Alex Ferguson’s office, there were more than a few tears shed by the Evertonian faithful when their prize asset headed down the M62.
An “Engineered” Move
It should have been the same for Barkley, a man they proudly sung of as a ‘diamond’ while the club pronounced he had the club in his DNA. Instead, it is just anger and a deep sense of betrayal. Barkley’s move to London was the perfect example of the modern footballer and the lack of loyalty that is rife throughout the game. The 24-year-old could — and should — have developed into an idol on the blue half of Merseyside.
Instead, however, he will go down as a never-was as far as Evertonians are concerned — a Judas to go alongside other betrayers such as Nick Barmby. Barkley’s departure has hurt worse than most because the player actively worked against the club to engineer it.
Had Barkley left for Chelsea last summer there would have been some wishing him well. Everton would have made £35 million from his departure and the fans would have accepted it. It would have been a parting tinged with disappointment, as is the case with all youth products who leave. But £35 million for a man who had failed to kick on would have brought few complaints. Instead, his last minute decision to turn down the move on deadline day last summer reeks of a player and agent that were playing games from the beginning.
Barkley went to Chelsea last summer to negotiate his January move. He engineered a situation for himself with little to no care for the club that he had often professed to love. He would stay at Everton until January, picking up his wages and rehabilitating from a hamstring injury, all the while knowing he would be departing as soon as possible come the turn of the year.
A Hefty Financial Hit
In the process he’s cost Everton £20 million, still a significant price even in the current game when £200 million is bandied around for players, and left them feeling like the knife has been stuck firmly in their back. A large portion of that £20 million the Premier League champions have saved themselves will surely have gone to both Barkley and his agent. Similarly, that £20 million would have gone some way to helping Everton replace the midfielder this month. Both facts make the betrayal all the more painful.
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So too will the fact that Barkley has not moved somewhere that will guarantee him the career advancement he is seemingly craving. His role at Chelsea is almost certainly to be one from the bench; Antonio Conte’s admission that he didn’t sign him is almost a guarantee of that. Barkley may see trophies but his participation in securing them is likely to be minimal.
At least Rooney’s departure was one that was partly done with the right motivations, and the veteran’s trophy haul is proof of that. Though it remains to be seen whether Barkley achieves as highly, most will argue he likely won’t.
As with any club, Everton will move on from Barkley. They’ve done it before, and they’ll likely have to do it again if their excellent youth system continues to produce. Indeed, that same system appears to have produced a ready-made replacement for the 24-year-old in the form of Kieran Dowell.
But getting over Barkley’s departure might take longer than it has in the past; the sheer betrayal behind it guarantees that.