If you were to ask the question, ‘what do you think about Ross?’ many women of a certain age (OK, potentially any age) might go weak at the knees in visualising Ross Poldark striding along the Cornish coastline (it’s filmed in Dorset, actually, but let’s not spoil it). If Ross is in the mood for a bit of a thrashing – sorry, threshing – he may even have his top off and be carrying a scythe.
The same question in West Gloucestershire could be answered by practically all of the local road signs pointing towards Ross-on-Wye but cleverly abbreviated as, simply, ‘Ross’: to presumably cut down on the cost of road signs and save money for highway repairs – though, somewhat mysteriously, not pothole filling.
On Merseyside, there can be no doubt that the question refers to 23-year-old Ross Barkley who turns out for Everton and sometimes plays. Born in Liverpool, Ross joined Everton when he was just eleven years old and quickly earned acclaim from some football icons as well as bumbling bumblebee expert Phil Neville.
Former Everton star Gary Lineker once described Ross as a ‘star in the making.’ Liverpool defender and caricature of a football pundit, Alan Hansen, said that Ross had ‘absolutely everything’ (apart from the ability to defend, obviously). Phil admits that: “It absolutely kills me every time I see someone write or speak badly about him”, encouraging journalists everywhere to write or speak badly about Ross.
Current Barcelona-in-waiting-please-come-and-get-me-out-of-here-soon Everton manager, Ronald Koeman, was less than impressed when he joined the club – not so much with the pies but with Ross’s apparent attitude problem and the decisions he didn’t make as a top-flight footballer. Ronald dropped Ross on the bench – no mean feat for a rounded Dutchman – and suggested that he spend less time in the gym trying to emulate Mr Poldark and more time on the training pitch trying to emulate, er, Ronald Koeman?
To be fair, Ross got the message and promptly headed for the hair salon (you see, with a little bit of direction it all works out for the best in the end) and then left it again with a ludicrous, curly hairstyle reminiscent of mucky water spilling over blocked guttering after the latest Lancashire storm.
Hansen’s one-time playing colleague, Graeme Souness, who thinks the Sun shines out of the Sky, deems Ross to be merely a ‘playground footballer.’ Generously, Graeme goes on to explain that “He’s got all the equipment to be a player (but) … He runs with it when he should pass it, he passes it when he should run with it. His decision making is poor in the extreme …” Perhaps Ross could benefit from some of those road signs?
Ross chose the most important day of the year – no, not Christmas Day when presents are generally given without veiled threats – to demonstrate in the Merseyside derby how many good opportunities he could miss and how many promising moves he could end. Once upon a time, you would have wanted Ross to be on the end of a football; many Toffees fans would now prefer that to be a P45 (though still with the condition that Ross could not somehow find his way to Anfield).
Ross has a Nigerian grandfather but, despite wanting to ‘win things,’ he took the courageous decision to play for England instead. Although Duke Woy of Middlesex felt that Ross had ‘excellent technique,’ he didn’t play in Euro 2016, even when Mum and everyone else had gone to Iceland. Gareth – do you have that suit in blue? – Southgate is just, well, not very courageous.
Ronald has a dilemma with Ross over contract talks which, if they fail, could see both him and Ross leaving Everton this summer. Cleverly (as opposed to Cleverley, a one-time pretend footballer who has sunk much faster even than Ross) Ronald has tried to deflect all of this by giving Ross and Romelu Lukaku (who clearly isn’t in it for the money, after rejecting £140,000 per week to stay at Everton) ingenious nicknames: Ross and Rom. He also indicated, alarmingly for an Everton manager, that, “We try to keep the best players.”
All of this adds up to a difficult time for Ross on the field and, much more importantly, what other people think about him. The former midfielder, Xavi – who is also not in it for the money and just went to Qatar because he likes playing in the sand – once said that Ross, like Lineker, was good enough to play for Barcelona. Could he get there before Ronald? I guess you just have to read the signs.