The strange decline of Ross Barkley – from the 'next Wayne Rooney' to Chelsea's reserves


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    Ross Barkley was once heralded as the “next Wayne Rooney” after wowing coaches as a youngster for Everton. It earned him a transfer to Chelsea but, aside from the odd highlight, it has been tough for the midfielder to adjust to life at Stamford Bridge as he hit a new low this season.

    “He will be somebody that the England team will rely on. At the moment, they rely on Wayne Rooney but I think that will be Ross in the future.”

    Some high praise indeed back in 2014 – from his Everton teammate Romelu Lukaku no less.

    The two have been reunited this summer after Chelsea forked out a club-record £97m for the Belgian striker – but he isn’t comparing Barkley to Wayne Rooney anymore.

    Rewind to the 2011/2012 when the Liverpool-born ace had just turned 18 and the plaudits streamed in.

    Tim Cahill said: “He is the most talented footballer I have worked with.”

    Ross Barkley

    Ross Barkley has been ostracised at Chelsea (Image: GETTY)

    Martin Keown said: “Barkley will be one of the best players we will ever see in this country.”

    Everton fans loved him but that quickly turned sour when he told the club he would not sign a new contract and tried to push for a move away with Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea all interested.

    It was the latter that ended up signing him on the 5 January, 2018, signing a five-and-a-half-year contract and given the No. 8 shirt.

    But under Antonio Conte’s strict regime and rigid tactical system, it was a bad time to move to Stamford Bridge for the England international.

    Barkley’s swashbuckling style was not one that the Italian enjoyed, instead preferring the likes of N’Golo Kante, Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko, while further forward Willian, Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata were lodged in as starters.

    The Blues were in a state of turmoil, as well, after Conte fell out with Roman Abramovich and the whole season felt like a long goodbye – especially after the manager and his staff refused to even converse with their English-speaking counterparts.

    Barkley played just twice in the Premier League, both 3-0 thumpings from Bournemouth and Newcastle where he failed to see out the full match, while a hamstring injury hindered him throughout the season.

    After not playing a single minute for Everton earlier in the season, it was a real campaign to forget for the once-tipped star despite getting his dream move to a big club.

    Ross Barkley

    Ross Barkley was touted for stardom at Everton (Image: GETTY)

    There was hope, though, when Maurizio Sarri replaced Conte and gave Barkley his best season for the Blues, playing 48 times across all competitions.

    However, despite winning the Europa League, it was not the breakout campaign he had hoped for – Chelsea fans will chuckle now about the number of times he and Mateo Kovacic would swap places from bench to pitch on a weekly basis.

    Then the man whose shirt he wore came in – Chelsea legend Frank Lampard – and there was a sense that if he could learn from the main man, there would be a Barkley renaissance.

    But, again, Barkley failed to convince and he scored just once in the Premier League while playing a miserable role in Chelsea’s 6-0 demolition at the hands of Manchester City – a game that was over after just 25 minutes when Ilkay Gundogan netted a fourth.

    Off the pitch incidents also did not help the situation when two moments were caught on film by onlookers – one involving the police as he stumbled out of a taxi after dropping chips all over the floor and refusing to pay.

    The Englishman never truly recovered from that and was sent out on loan to Aston Villa where, initially, he looked the real deal playing alongside Jack Grealish under Dean Smith – helping them to a famous 7-2 victory over Liverpool.

    That early-season promise gave way to mediocrity and, eventually, Smith just left Barkley out of the set-up entirely and demanded a new midfielder in January, signing Morgan Sanson from Marseille.

    Around the same time, Lampard was sacked at Chelsea and Tuchel arrived, bringing back the wing-back system that ultimately saw Barkley ostracised at Chelsea under Conte – another hurdle to come in a minefield of problems.

    The German manager is very precise with his midfielders with Barkley failing to deliver on any of the attributes he demands from those positions.


    Frank Lampard could have helped Ross Barkley become a star (Image: GETTY)

    Does he have the defensive acumen to cover space as a No. 6? Can he press and run the channels as a further-placed No. 10? No. It has led to a brutal statement from Tuchel, telling the former Evertonian that his days might just be numbered – especially after the arrival of Saul Niguez.

    “He is also asking himself the same questions and maybe all of us here, to be honest, don’t have the answers,” the former PSG boss said. “I’m sure that he himself worries a lot about the situation. How can it come so far that right now I’m like in between the chairs and don’t really know where I belong and what my role is?

    “I don’t have these answers because I don’t follow him long enough and don’t know him long enough. He does not have to love the situation, but he needs to accept it in a positive way.”

    Without any clubs interested in him over the summer and now a season in the reserves to contend with, the road back to stardom is a long one, but still aged just 27, Barkley has the time and ability to turn his situation around.


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