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DOMINIC KING: Ross Barkley was meant to star for England but is now at a crossroads

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It was November 2015 and Ross Barkley was sitting in the library at Everton’s Academy, peering into the future. The setting was appropriate. Libraries invite you to dare to dream and the mind of this enthusiastic young man was open to all kinds of possibilities.

“As a group we can go down in the history of the club if we are the next team to win something,” Barkley said, before turning to personal goals. ‘Winning the competition, really winning everything. I want to win something with England; win a few things with England, to be honest. England has the talent.’

Barkley, then 21, was more talented than most. He had just found a groove under Roberto Martinez at Goodison Park and Roy Hodgson had already given him 19 caps for England and taken him to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

28-year-old midfielder Ross Barkley has been released from his Chelsea contract

There had been a buzz around Barkley on Merseyside for a long time and as he spoke he had the feeling that the trajectory of his career was going to be towards a fireworks display, up and up at the rate of knots culminating in a starburst.

Powerfully built and explosive in his game, the enthusiastic Martinez had compared Barkley to Michael Ballack in his early days, but in this conversation it emerged that Zinedine Zidane was the midfielder who inspired this young man the most.

The point of reference for him was Zidane’s quite stunning performance in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final against Brazil, the night France’s greatest ever player – in Barkley’s words – “made incredible players look ordinary”.

The midfielder came on the scene with Everton and England but has faded in recent years

The midfielder came on the scene with Everton and England but has faded in recent years

Since you were in his presence that day, you hoped that all the prophecies about him would come true. The 2022 World Cup was a long-term goal for the FA but why, with the right development and guidance, Barkley couldn’t be at the center of an England team that could hit the jackpot in Qatar.

But here we are, 82 days after the start of the tournament, and Barkley is remarkably without a club. As a free agent, there’s no pressure on him to find a new place to play before tomorrow’s deadline, but the fact that he’s in this position speaks volumes about an unfulfilled story.

Granted, Barkley has three winner’s medals under his belt, the FA Cup (2018), the Europa League (2019) and the Club World Cup earlier this year, but his time at Chelsea – the move that could have catapulted him forward – was nothing but a crushing disappointment.

Thomas Tuchel was happy to release Barkley even though he still had one year of contract

Thomas Tuchel was happy to release Barkley even though he still had one year of contract

There were 29 Premier League starts and the same number of substitute appearances; there was a loan to Aston Villa that started off well but eventually petered out and Villa never considered making that move permanent. They gladly sent it back.

Worst of all, Thomas Tuchel – a coach who loves the challenge of developing players and getting the best out of them – was only too happy to approve the cancellation of his contract, even though there was still a year to go with the option for another 12 months.

Early Monday afternoon, the Stamford Bridge club published a 201 word story on their official website, without emotion, providing a few bare facts about what Barkley had accomplished in London and wishing him the best for the future.

The former Everton man is now without a club and faces difficult decisions about the future

The former Everton man is now without a club and faces difficult decisions about the future

But what will the future bring? Barkley turns 29 on the day of two last 16 games in Doha, but there is absolutely no hope of him getting involved in Gareth Southgate’s plans; he has not been seen for England since scoring twice in his 33rd appearance in a 6-0 win against Bulgaria in Sofia three years ago.

What a waste. How it ended for him at Everton was unsatisfactory – he never had camaraderie with Ronald Koeman and the Dutch coach was never convinced that Barkley understood the tactical side of the game – and it’s doubtful a return to Goodison beckons.

 

There was talk of a return of Barkley during the January transfer window, but whether he felt like moving back to Liverpool is up for debate; living in the city as a high profile person wasn’t always easy and he didn’t always make the right choices.

He had a promising short loan spell at Aston Villa in 2021/2, but it petered out towards the end

He had a promising short loan spell at Aston Villa in 2021/2, but it petered out towards the end

Would things have turned out differently if Barkley had joined Tottenham and worked under Mauricio Pochettino, as once seemed possible?

It’s hypothetical and we’ll never know, but what’s clear is that the situation is a disgrace. A great opportunity has been lost.

Barkley definitely has the knack of doing a job for anyone, but “doing a job” wasn’t what we ever imagined for him. As a young boy at Everton’s Academy, Barkley often got two buses to attend training and the hardships never mattered as he was so determined to fulfill his dream.

It's now been three years since the last of Barkley's 33 full caps in England

It’s now been three years since the last of Barkley’s 33 full caps in England

“You’ve seen players at Everton in the past build up, and they haven’t made it, same thing with some players at Liverpool,” Barkley said during his first interview with national newspapers in September 2013.

“My mom always keeps my feet on the ground and tells me to stay focused; keep working hard and it will pay off.’

As he stands at this crossroads, Barkley would do well to remember that advice. He has to work hard like never before to rekindle that fire. He’s too young to go all out.

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