It’s actually customary in fanzine-land to do an article entitled New Dawn Fades round about now.
We wish we’d done something the other week, after the Sunderland or Boro games, because we could have just reflected on a great start and talked about Everton’s potential this season. Instead, we waited until after two straight defeats, at Bournemouth in the league, and the terrible EDL Cup exit at the hands of Norwich, so now we’re trying to work out whether the new Blues are in fact aceness personified or actually still a bit shit.
The truth, rather boringly, is probably somewhere in between.
It’s interesting seeing the new manager narrative playing out in the media – broadcast, print and subsequently social – with everything the new man does different to the previous incumbent hailed as exactly what the club needs. So the Toffees’ little winning streak is attributed to Ronald Koeman’s tight discipline, emphasis on fitness and banning lemon drizzle cake and headphones. It just seems like not so long ago though that Roberto Martinez’s insistence on always training with the ball, and a positive, relaxed outlook, treating players as grown-ups, was reported as a breath of fresh air following the tyranny of David Moyes’s ginger jackboot.
All the stuff that Koeman is meant to have introduced does seem reasonable enough, and as supporters there is definitely a slight thrill whenever you hear talk of these multi-millionaires having the same sort of rules imposed on them that we have to put up with on our work lives, like turning up on time and not tucking into your steak bake until the boss says ‘buon appetito’. The simple things. You can guarantee though that if we have a sustained spell of poor results at some point there are going to be rumblings about a bad atmosphere in the camp, etc. and how the players find Koeman too aloof.
In short, it’s all bollocks unless you are winning.
It was clear by the frantic but fruitless end of the transfer window that Koeman doesn’t think that the squad is strong enough, and that perhaps some of the players considered our star turns don’t impress him quite so much. He’s been sparing in his use of Gerard Deulofeu and Aaron Lennon, for instance, although the one that all eyes are on is obviously Ross Barkley.
Koeman apparently got riled with a journalist after the Bournemouth game when Barkley was singled out amongst the shower of shite. Koeman – Cissie Braithwaite to Steve Bruce’s Ada Shufflebottom – knew that anything he said regarding Barkley was going to be shaped to fit the ongoing subplot of the England midfielder’s poor form. Indeed, one shit website even turned this lack of comment into a reflection of the manager’s supposed disgust with Barkley’s display. It clearly wasn’t that though – it was a manager trying to alleviate the growing scrutiny of a young player who clearly lacks some element of self-confidence and has the red laser dots of the Goodison snipers bobbing across his chest with every passing match.
Barkley’s clearly not a ‘fuck you’ merchant who thrives on confrontation and proving people wrong. In fact he looks like he has that Jack Rodwell thing of always being the biggest and most talented kid by far as he steams through the age groups, ending up ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of delivering consistently at the stage where it’s absolutely cutthroat and no one has the slightest bit of sympathy if you have a bad game, because it’s not all about you any more.
Ultimately, he’s the only one who can fix it. There’s an interesting point in Joey Barton’s autobiography where a coach at Everton tells the kids that if they make a mistake, to buy themselves a couple of really simple passes with their next two touches and then they are back in the game. Barkley should adopt a bit more of that attitude – try and block out the groans from the crowd, work really hard and keep it simple if he has to. Hopefully the rest will come from there. Because if it doesn’t then his hopes of fulfilling his early potential look fanciful, as the pressure is only going to increase with every forward step of his career.
Imploring the crowd to get off his back won’t work, because they never do, not unless they see some sort of improvement. They can be won around, as players with much less ability than Barkley have proven down the years, but they have to see effort and bottle or they will eat you alive.
Them’s just the facts.
Going back to Barton’s book, it is definitely one of the more interesting ones penned by a footballer. Most people won’t give it a chance, because Barton has done a great job of setting himself up as a massive gobshite with an inflated opinion of his own ability, but it’s that very fact that makes finding out about him so intriguing. And yes, of course these books only contain the version of events that the writer wants to put forward as the truth, but that in itself, getting an insight into how someone wants to be perceived, can often be worthwhile.
There’s certainly plenty of truth in his portrayal of growing up in Huyton. Anyone who grew up in the city will recognise his portrayal of the everyday nature of drinking, violence and the warped interpretations of masculinity that he believes ultimately manifest themselves in numerous high-profile incidents in his career.
Even if it only confirms your existing opinion of Barton – and there’s plenty in there that will, don’t worry – it’s still a far more compelling read than the vast majority of football books.