At the start of May, Jose Mourinho stated his intentions to make two big signings at Chelsea this summer.
We already know the Portuguese’s plans to sign £32million striker Diego Costa, following his La Liga-winning campaign with Atletico Madrid. And with David Luiz now departing for PSG, as well as 13-year servant Frank Lampard unlikely to be offered a new contract at Stamford Bridge, the natural assumption is that Mourinho’s second acquisition of the summer will be a midfielder.
A number of middlemen have been mooted in the tabloids, boasting a wide variety of styles. But in my opinion, the only midfielder Chelsea should be interested in this summer is Everton prodigy Ross Barkley.
The 20-year-old has just ended a sensational breakthrough season at Goodison Park, starting with a coming-of-age left-footed belter against Norwich City on the opening weekend, echoing shades of fellow Toffees graduate Wayne Rooney, and finishing with a call-up to England’s World Cup squad.
Admittedly, we’ve witnessed this overhyping far too frequently in regards to home-grown talents, but in truth, rumours of Barkley’s enormous potential have been bubbling under the surface of English football for some time. Tim Cahill claimed during his Merseyside days that the midfielder was the most talented footballer he’s ever worked with, whilst Martin Keown remarked over three years ago that Barkley would become “one of the best players we’ll ever see in this country.”
High praise indeed from two more than qualified ex-Evertonians, but that doesn’t instantly make him an ideal acquisition for the West Londoners. Under Jose Mourinho, Chelsea have adopted an incredibly unique, disciplined style, and although the Portuguese will be keen to evolve the Blues’ philosophy into something more fluid next season, defensive stability will still be a huge part of it. After all, that bus-parking, counter-attacking, mechanical methodology has produced the West London outfit’s best results of the season, namely against Manchester City at the Etihad and Liverpool at Anfield.
Although Barkley is by no means a lazy player, much of his energy is expended in a forward-thinking capacity. Even for an attacking midfielder in a Toffees side that favours quality on the ball over tenacity off it, the 20 year-old’s average of just one tackler per match will concern Mourinho as surprisingly low, especially for an Englishman – in comparison, Oscar has averaged two challenges per match in the No.10 role this season.
But those parts of Barkley’s game will come naturally with age. Right now he’s playing with the intoxicating freedom of youth – the young midfielder has a whole career ahead to learn the defensive responsibilities required at a major club. It would be wrong to focus on one predominant weakness when Barkley has shown so many strengths this season.
For Chelsea, Barkley’s most important strength will be scoring goals. Although the limited quality of their strike-force was the Blues’ most intrinsic flaw this season, in my opinion, Frank Lampard’s ageing and subsequent lack of goals has been an equally as debasing issue. Eden Hazard (14 PL goals), Andre Schurrle and Oscar (both with eight PL goals) have done their best to bridge the gap, but in truth, none have quite filled the void of a midfielder who up until this year had reached double figures in his last ten Premier League campaigns.
Lampard may be a rather anomalous entity as the only midfielder currently in the Premier League’s top ten all-time goal-scorers, but in the long-term, Chelsea need someone who can at least come close to the England international’s firepower.
Barkley is by no means at that level yet, with six goals from his first full top flight campaign. But the Everton starlet has demonstrated his lethality from long-range with both feet on several occasions this season, and the assumption is that with added experience and greater game-time – due to his age, Roberto Martinez has issued the Three Lions hotshot just 26 starts in the league this season – he would be capable of hitting the ten-goal mark on a regular basis.
For an Englishman, Barkley’s individual style is incredibly unique. His powerful yet mobile frame once again draws comparisons with Wayne Rooney, but the 20 year-old’s rarity is spawned from his ability to venture through the middle of the park with the ball at his feet, best represented by his average of 2.4 dribbles per match this season – the eighth-most of any top flight player. The only central attacking midfielders to come close to that dribbling return this season are Moussa Dembele (also 2.4), Moussa Sissokho and Mohammed Diame (both 2.1), and Jack Wilshere (1.9).
That unique mixture of strength, agility and dribbling ability becomes most potent on the counter-attack, strongly lending itself to Chelsea’s current style. Barkley’s quality in possession, claiming an 85% pass completion rate this season, wouldn’t go amiss at Stamford Bridge either, with the Blues losing valuable points this year through their inability to break down the Premier League’s more rank and file sides, such as West Ham, Sunderland and Crystal Palace.
A dose of healthy competition at No.10 can only bring out the best in Oscar too. The Brazilian’s quality and further potential is undoubted, but struggling with Chelsea’s transition of style under Mourinho and perhaps suffering from burn-out, having made a near ridiculous 131 competitive appearances since the turn of 2012, his form tailed off during the business end of the season. Barkley’s arrival at Stamford Bridge, sizing up to a likeminded playmaker of similar age and the same position, could propel both midfielders’ games to a higher level.
But perhaps most importantly of all, as Manchester City are soon to learn, buying English has never been more important for major clubs. That seven-man home-grown quota could cost the Premier League champions dearly this summer, with the likes of James Milner, Jack Rodwell and Micah Richards all likely to stay on at the Etihad despite their limited roles this season.
Jose Mourinho commented earlier this season in regards to English players; “I like that local core. To keep the culture of the country in your own team’s style is also very important. In three or four years’ time, if we don’t have other Englishmen to replace this nucleus of players I will be very sad. Every club needs that.” Never has this become more prevalent than a summer in which Chelsea will say goodbye to two England centurions in Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard.