Ross Barkley was punched in the face at the worst possible moment for his Everton career

Mark Critchley
The Independent
Ross Barkley has been unfairly singled out for criticism in recent weeks and this latest unfortunate incident will not help
Ross Barkley has been unfairly singled out for criticism in recent weeks and this latest unfortunate incident will not help

There is never a good time to be punched in the face, but for Ross Barkley, this one may have come at the worst time possible.

Of course, it is not as if he specifically picked the early hours of Monday morning to be caught flush. Judging by the footage, once his unidentified assailant had settled on a right down the pipe, Barkley did not have much say in the matter.

Indeed, this was an unprovoked attack. Yet after a weeks of unfair criticism for his on-pitch performances, Barkley did not need this incident right now, and it is likely to lead to more questions from his army of sceptics and detractors.

After all, there seems to be little sympathy for Barkley out there at the moment, least of all in his own manager’s office.

This incident, captured in the popular Slater Street cocktail bar Santa Chupitos, came just hours after Ronald Koeman effectively issued an ultimatum to the 23-year-old, who has just over a year left to run on his contract at Goodison Park.

“We offer him a new contract, and there are two possibilities,” the Dutchman said after Sunday’s exhilarating 4-2 win over Leicester City. “One, he signs that contract. If he doesn't sign that contract then we need to sell the player. It's simple, it's not so difficult in my opinion.”

Those who have watched him regularly this season recognise that he has gradually started to make good on the promise of his early years. He remains an erratic player, full of errors and poor decisions, and he continues to wilt against top sides, a tendency that cannot be ignored.

Yet since the turn of the year, Barkley has quietly impressed. His performances have been a touch more mature, his attempts to master his wealth of natural talent that little more effective.

Comparisons with Dele Alli, a player two years younger and with far fewer senior appearances under his belt, remain unfavourable. But if Koeman is attempting to change Barkley for the better, he appears to be gradually succeeding.

Barkley’s misfortune is that a typically muted performance in the Merseyside derby, the highest-profile match he has played this calendar year, confirmed general perceptions of him as a player.

His uninspiring display at Anfield, only notable for a challenge on Dejan Lovren that should have resulted in a red card, also came after a quiet international break in which his continued omission from England line-ups became a story.

That derby performance, broadcast live on television, has essentially wiped out three months of good displays unseen by eyes and unconsidered by the minds of many, and a player’s reputation often counts for a lot, particularly when it comes to international selection.

Now, with this bar incident coming so quickly after Koeman’s unflinching post-match remarks, Barkley may unfortunately fall further under the microscope. It is not too far a step to assert that his future could well be in the balance.

As one man who knew a thing or two about the subject once remarked: “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” The danger for Barkley is that whatever intentions he had, whether he wished to stay Everton or move elsewhere, his future now falls out of his hands.

It would be a shame if, less than a day after Barkley was asked to make his mind up, a belligerent stranger supping on a Black Russian had made the youngster's decision for him.

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