24 Jan 19
Signed by Chelsea in January 2018, Ross Barkley arrived in London as one of England’s most talented and promising players.
Thursday’s Carabao Cup semi-final clash with Tottenham, marks a year to the day that Barkley made his debut in a Chelsea shirt.
Barkley made his debut for Chelsea a year ago
A lot has happened in that time for the 25-year-old, who is half way through his first full season at Stamford Bridge.
talkSPORT.com takes a look at how Barkley has got on and how he has fared.
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Running up the touchline, still in his tracksuit, Ross Barkley was blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding around him.
Apoplectic with rage, Antonio Conte was infuriated his instructions had not been obeyed.
Willian was preparing to depart at the Emirates in the Carabao Cup; injury had brought an end to his evening. Barkley’s was just beginning.
As Arsenal fans laughed, a flustered looking Barkley quickly removed his training top and bib, desperately trying to put his shirt on.
Conte was visibly irritated. It did not need a lip reader to work out what he was muttering.
Antonio Conte was furious with Barkley for not getting ready quick enough
Barkley’s crime? He had not been ready to come on quick enough despite the frantic gestures of Conte who appeared as if he was hailing the last cab home.
Barkley’s first act for his new club was to kick Jack Wilshere in the face. Perhaps sensing retribution for taking a face full of boot, Wilshere then lunged in, bringing Barkley down.
Minutes later, he was shoulder barged by Arsenal captain Laurent Koscielny and fell into the advertising hoardings, much to the delight of the home supporters.
Barkley’s first two touches of the ball were both to the opposition. This was all within the space of 15 minutes. While he gradually improved in the second-half, this was as bad a debut as you are likely to see.
Clearly not match-fit, the reviews and ratings in the papers that followed were less than favourable. Barkley’s cards had been marked. Unfairly so, he had been sidelined for eight months with a horrific hamstring injury. A 10-inch scar remains visible.
Barkley had a debut to forget against Arsenal
But there is little time for sentiment in the modern game.
There are those who believe a multi-millionaire footballer should be impervious to the critics; after all they are paid well, very well to deal with moments of stress and scrutiny.
Barkley found that out in the harshest of ways. If he had hoped for a level of understanding from his manager, he thought wrong.
“When there is an injury to one of your best players it is not simple,” Conte said.
“Especially when on the bench the only substitute is Ross Barkley.
“Barkley has a lot of space for improvement, he is working with us only two weeks but for sure today I was forced to make this substitution, but he can improve a lot.”
Barkley returned in pre-season leaner and fitter
A week later, Barkley made his first start against Bournemouth. It lasted 54 minutes and Chelsea were beaten 3-0. Aside from a brief cameo against Newcastle in the FA Cup, Barkley would not be seen again until the final day.
When Gareth Southgate named his World Cup squad, Barkley, unsurprisingly, was not included.
Rather than feel hard done by, the then 24-year-old spent the summer getting ready for what would no doubt be his most important season as a professional.
With the appointment of Maurizio Sarri, Barkley returned to Cobham in the best shape of his career.
Taking advantage of the head start he had to work under the new manager, Sarri was impressed with Barkley’s obvious potential.
The England midfielder had been preparing mentally for his new challenge just as he had physically.
“I wanted to know who the manager was when he was coming in. I had an interest in the style of play that the managed used at Napoli,” Barkley explained.
The Chelsea midfielder celebrates his goal against Southampton
“So, during pre-season I would watch clips to see the patterns of play the manager would like and even the movement.
“I have done everything I could perfectly. I felt strong towards the end of the season and then, in the off-season, worked hard with the strength and conditioning coach.
“I got myself really fit just to give myself a head start. I am really prepared and I feel at home with the team now.”
One of the most uplifting aspects to emerge from Chelsea’s summer was Barkley’s resurgence. Injury-free and revelling in his manager’s obvious faith, he started the Premier League wins over Huddersfield and Arsenal.
Mateo Kovacic would arrive on loan from Real Madrid, forcing Barkley to bide his time. An England recall was followed by an assist and first Chelsea goal in a 3-0 win at Southampton.
Barkley has also got his England career back on track
Barkley played his part in the historic 3-2 win over Spain in the Nations League, before returning to salvage a point against Manchester United in stoppage-time. At Burnley, the ex-Everton ace produced his best performance since joining the club, setting up two and scoring himself.
Sarri hailed his display.
“I like Ross very much. He is a complete player. He has physical qualities, he is fast. Technically he’s very good.
“He kicks well with his left foot and his right. He’s improving in moving the ball. He has become mentally quicker and he is improving tactically.
“He is on the way to becoming a very important midfielder, not only for us but also for England.”
Also notable, was the absence of his tattoos. Barkley cited growing up as his reason for removing the artwork. The desired changes now complete, his career was very much back on track.
Barkely’s best display for Chelsea came against Burnley
In his formative years at Everton, Barkley was compared to Paul Gascoigne and Michael Ballack, but it was Rio Ferdinand he hoped to emulate. Academy coach Neil Dewsnip converted Barkley from rampaging centre-back to graceful midfielder.
Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez once said Barkley would not look out of place at the Nou Camp.
The natural ability has always been there, the understanding, absent.
A tendency to over-play, extra touches in the wrong area, a shot when a pass would have sufficed instead, was blamed on youthful exuberance or that he was too talented.
Barkley has now adopted a cautious style to his play
A performance which best encapsulates this was against Estonia for England in 2015.
Barkley picked out Theo Walcott for the opener with a pass few can only dream of, but then had periods of over-complicating matters.
This unpredictably was then considered bold. Fast forward four years and Barkley is now very much predictable. Unwilling to take risks, his cautious approach is unrecognisable from the player once vaunted as the next big thing.
Chelsea fans will hope he rediscovers some of the magic that first caught the eye and become the player he has always promised to be.