You could almost hear Ross Barkley breathe a sigh of disappointment as the loan signing of Mateo Kovacic was confirmed.
Chelsea has become a black hole for young English talent that sucks victims directly through to Vitesse with no realistic chance of making a dent in the first team picture. The irony of being replaced by a loanee at a club famed for gifting loans rather than receiving them will not be lost on Barkley. During recovery after a spate of injuries, Barkley managed to push through a move to West London and forced himself into Maurizio Sarri’s opening season plans.
Starting the season as part of Sarri’s preferred midfield three alongside Kante and Jorginho, Barkley had looked reasonably bright in the first two rounds of fixtures. His passing accuracy of 87% suggests he slotted into Sarri’s possession-hungry philosophy comfortably and looked dangerous from range whenever given space outside the box.
Although, almost inevitably in the matches since, he has been replaced by Matteo Kovacic and been confined to limited bench minutes in the Premier League since. When comparing each central midfielder’s first two starts, the Croatian World Cup finalist averaged almost three times Barkley’s passes per game and more than five times the average key passes per game (Statistics as per WhoScored.com). A small sample size but the implications are Kovacic will prove an upgrade on Barkley for now.
This brings the young Evertonian to a well-renowned cliché of an unfortunate ‘career crossroads’. Barkley was part of the 2014 World Cup squad and would have been a shoe-in for many 2018 World Cup squad predictions. But as the tournament approached he was barely a notable absence; nobody batted an eyelid at his misfortune of missing selection through injury.
Instead, fellow Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek grabbed his opportunity and was one of the first options off the bench for Gareth Southgate, as well as starting against Belgium in the group stages. Barkley will be hopeful that the door on his international career is not permanently locked, especially considering England’s famed lack of creative centre midfielders. Despite starting the season ahead of Loftus-Cheek, there is a real danger of Barkley’s role for the national side being usurped by his Chelsea teammate.
In addition to Barkley’s international woes, Sarri recently commented that Loftus-Cheek is only missing the tactical understanding of a new system to become a premier league starter; perhaps Barkley’s concern should stretch to club level. Sarri is certainly not starved for options for his midfield three. Barkley will need to consider his personal development seriously come the end of the season further opportunities for him do not arise.
The trajectory of his career post-Chelsea is difficult. Having moved on from being a sizeable fish the smaller Scouse pond, he may have to swallow his pride and return to a club where he can prove his talents once again.
It has been refreshing to see young English talent take the plunge to foreign leagues in order to secure meaningful high level minutes – see Jordan Sancho, Ademola Lookman and Reiss Nelson. Despite not being at the same stage of career development as these young prodigies, perhaps Barkley would benefit from a complete break with the Premier League to continue the progression of his talent that shined so brightly at a young age.