After winning the man of the match award on his debut against QPR back in 2011, everybody had high hopes for Everton starlet Ross Barkley. A few loan spells away to Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds followed, before he truly took his chance in the Toffees’ first team.
The boy born on Merseyside was becoming a man at Goodison Park, attracting rave reviews from the likes of Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen whilst comparisons to Wayne Rooney and Paul Gascoigne became more and more frequent.
Barkley did nothing to allow those comparisons to fizzle out. Not by any means. The Everton academy graduate continued to churn out quality performances, where his bullish ability to drive forward from midfield whilst keeping the ball close to him caught to eye, not to mention an end product that defied his years.
Perhaps, in hindsight, Barkley fell victim to the pressures of expectancy, from fans, teammates, the media and so on. So much was expected of the Scouser from a young age; at just 20, he won the club’s goal of the season award as well as making the PFA Young Player of the Year shortlist.
His form won him a new contract with the Toffees, keeping him at the club until 2018. Everything looked rosy – until Ronald Koeman arrived on Merseyside. The Dutchman issued an ultimatum to Barkley; sign a new contract, or we will sell you. Not one to succumb to demands as insistent as that, the dynamic midfielder decided to leave his hometown for a new challenge.
Obviously, due to his growing reputation, Barkley was certainly not short of suitors. A move to Chelsea on deadline day in the summer of 2017 looked extremely close, only for the deal to collapse; the midfielder was to stay on Merseyside, whilst his manager and fans wanted nothing to do with him.
Barkley did not feature at all for Everton that season, a combination of the aforementioned reasons coupled with a long-term hamstring niggle. So, when Chelsea came back in for his signature in January for a cut-price fee, it merely appeared as if the Blues were just hoovering up an English talent in order to meet the homegrown players quota.
Under Antonio Conte, the elusive talent did seem to be just that; a player being used to meet a criteria. He made just four appearances, and appeared to be pushed further down the pecking order after the arrivals of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic the following summer, not to mention the return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
However, under Maurizio Sarri’s tutelage, the 24-year-old is a player reborn. Keen to give everyone a chance to impress him, the Blues’ new Italian boss trusted Barkley and gave him the game time to prove himself having returned to full fitness.
It would be a whopping understatement to say that the England international has taken that chance. He has grabbed it with both hands, clenched his fists around it and locked it in the metaphorical safe that is now his name being one of the first on the teamsheet.
In just five Premier League starts this season, Barkley has recorded three goals and three assists, with the trio of strikes coming in three consecutive games for the club before drawing a blank at home against Crystal Palace; the last homegrown player to hit three goals in three consecutive games for Chelsea was Frank Lampard – and Barkley certainly now seems to be following in the footsteps of the club’s legendary goalscoring midfielder.
Naturally, as so often comes with the territory of being in good form, the goalscoring midfielder has wrestled his way back into Gareth Southgate’s plans at international level.
Thankfully, for England fans as well as Chelsea fans, Barkley has managed to shake off his period of stagnation. We are all enjoying watching what was once a precocious talent mature into the Premier League star we all thought he would eventually become.