When Sam Allardyce sits down at Finch Farm behind his new desk, he will have a litany of issues filling up his inbox.
The Everton defence needs addressing, there are likely to be loan offers for Sandro Ramirez to respond to, he will quickly have to evaluate this squad in time for the January transfer window and the squad has a number of expiring contracts coming up shortly.
However, no one’s immediate situation should be more important than Ross Barkley’s.
The 23-year-old has not played for Everton this season, after being expected to leave the club during the summer transfer window. A possible move to Chelsea came about but it was called off at the last moment.
Why? well, nobody is still quite clear on that but Barkley remains an Everton player, for the time being.
With the January window approaching at a rapid rate, the midfielder is free to discuss pre-contracts with other clubs with the possibility that he could leave his boyhood club on a free-transfer.
Barkley has been out to start this season with a number of lower body injuries, undergoing surgery on a lingering hamstring problem. Interim boss David Unsworth said Barkley remains a number of weeks away but would be back by the start of January.
After stating Barkley was due to return ‘soon,’ Unsworth almost mentioned his hope about sitting down with the 23-year-old and discussing his future. That, as Rhino’s interim stint went on, wasn’t mentioned again and seemed to just go away.
For those who like to read into social media posts a bit too much, the writing has been on the wall for a while. Barkley is inactive, only returning to Twitter on Wednesday evening to react to Wayne Rooney’s third goal against West Ham United.
It’s not much to go on, but at least he’s still tuning in to watch his current club.
There are many amongst the Goodison Park faithful that are too far gone with the midfielder - quite happy to see him leave after former boss Ronald Koeman said last season that he was looking for a new challenge - but plenty of others are ready to sing his name once again.
3-0 up and cruising on Wednesday night against West Ham, the Gwladys Street began to bellow out songs for players away from the pitch. Yannick Bolasie’s and Seamus Coleman’s ditties were sung loud and proud but when a pocket of fans attempted to sing Barkley’s name, it was met with some hesitation.
When Koeman signed three players in the summer who could all fill Barkley’s role behind a striker, it was obvious to most what was going on. The midfielder was going to leave, be replaced by Gylfi Sigurdsson and the Blues would become a tad more predictable in the forward areas.
It’s not a knock on Sigurdsson or even the much-maligned Davy Klaassen, they do have a part to play, but there’s nobody in the Everton squad that possesses anything close to Barkley’s ability to beat a marker or change a game.
It’s all too safe at times from others.
Wayne Rooney, the other one-time great Blue hope, can replicate the younger midfielder and more but at 32, his powers are waning.
Barkley’s ability to play a bit further back, more as a central midfielder rather than pigeonholed as a number 10 has been touted by many and if Allardyce can keep the midfielder at the club, it is something to look into.
In the Everton midfield, there are too many questions and not enough answers but Barkley could provide some clarity.
James McCarthy is rarely fit, Muhamed Besic joins that club too, Idrissa Gana Gueye isn’t himself this season, Morgan Schneiderlin is playing like a black hole, Tom Davies is struggling for form and young Beni Baningime is only a prospect at the moment.
The Blues are drowning in midfielders but are crying out for the Barkley shaped life raft that seems to be slowly drifting beyond the horizon.
Brighter lights, bigger city
Barkley wants to play for England and it’s always been an issue for him, nailing down a spot whilst at Everton. Take a deep dive into his Twitter likes and travel to last March and you’ll find a tweet about Barkley’s last international call-ups.
No minutes in his last seven call-ups.
Allardyce left the 23-year-old out of his only England squad as manager, stating that young players have “had a lot of games” and need to be “producing their top quality immediately.”
There may be more opportunities for Barkley if he departs Merseyside for London, with a move to Tottenham Hotspur still mooted. Why? Barkley would be playing alongside England regulars in Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Harry Kane, giving Gareth Southgate plenty of food for thought.
He has had his issues in Liverpool and the toffee, who comes from Wavertree, may want out of the fishbowl that he is in by remaining in his home city.
As quick as he can, Allardyce needs to sit down and seriously thrash out talks with Barkley over whether or not he truly wants to leave Goodison Park.
If there are any doubts in his mind about leaving, then Big Sam could win plenty of fans over by taking Everton’s diamond out of the display case and letting it shine once again.