Ross Barkley’s loan transfer to Aston Villa ended so quickly that more than a few eyebrows were raised when the news emerged on Wednesday afternoon.
As recently as last week, it seemed Barkley was happy to stay at Chelsea and fight for scraps of playing time in a midfielder to say the least.
But when the 26-year-old was left on the bench by Frank Lampard as Chelsea lost three goals at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday night, Barkley changed his mind.
Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley joined Dean Smith’s Aston Villa on a season-long loan
The England international will play for Villa for the remainder of the 2020-21 campaign
Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish responded to the news with five love heart emojis on Twitter
Maybe it was something about the West Midlands look or a quick glance at the start of the Premier League table, but Villa, who had asked about the possibility of loaning him earlier this summer suddenly seemed like the perfect fit.
It’s a movement that makes sense to everyone involved. Villa have another England international in their ranks, maintaining the feel-good factor that marked the start of their season. Plus, they have a player with something to prove.
Jack Grealish certainly approved of Barkley’s arrival, responding to the club’s announcement tweet with five love heart emojis.
Chelsea are excluding another player from the squad off their books for the season, which means one less for Lampard will be content with an occasional few minutes on the bench or a coin-operated goblet exit.
Barkley has never been exactly the first choice during his two and a half years at Stamford Bridge and when you are behind Jorginho, N’Golo Kante, Mason Mount, Mateo Kovacic, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech in the pecking order of the midfielder, you’re not going to play a lot.
Barkley was never going to be assured of playing time given Lampard’s midfield options
He was off the bench to replace Ruben Loftus-Cheek in Chelsea’s Brighton win
Chelsea’s exit from the Carabao Cup on penalties at Tottenham on Tuesday night only served to further reduce Barkley’s playing prospects.
But above all, it’s good news for Barkley himself. He now has a golden opportunity to remind everyone of his abilities and to push for inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for Euro 2020.
Barkley has shown us many glimpses of his class in the past, but it’s been a while since he always performed well or even had the chance to do so.
The potential he showed at Everton, where he made his first appearances as a teenager, has not materialized into a top-notch career.
His £ 15million move to Chelsea in January 2018 was meant to be his stepping stone to that next level, but it doesn’t happen for everyone and he has been disappointed.
During his time there, Barkley started only 28 of the 76 Premier League games he was available for.
Barkley was also on target after starting for Chelsea in their Carabao Cup win over Barnsley
Barkley (top left) was an unused substitute in Chelsea’s 3-3 draw at West Brom on Saturday
The consecutive leaders of Antonio Conte, Maurizio Sarri and Lampard were not fully convinced.
The injuries did not help his cause. Barkley’s first half-season at Chelsea was ruined by a hamstring injury shortly after signing.
Part of last season was marred by two small bone chips in his right foot which only allowed him to train with his left.
It was a painful process of rehab, but Barkley’s outlook hadn’t improved much at the start of the current season despite under-appearances in the first two league games and a start – plus a goal – against Barnsley in the Carabao Cup.
Indeed, his defining moments in recent years have been seen in the colors of England rather than Chelsea.
Barkley (right) stood out when England beat Spain in Sevilla in October 2018
He scored twice in England’s 6-0 beating against Bulgaria in Sofia last October
Southgate has always appreciated Barkley and not too long ago put in an outstanding performance in England’s 3-2 Nations League victory over Spain in Sevilla.
A midfield masterclass against one of the most technically gifted teams in world football was crowned when he threw a magnificent ball over the Spanish defense for Harry Kane to give Raheem Sterling a kick start for wear it 3-0.
Barkley was also very effective in his last outing for England – scoring twice and preparing another in Bulgaria’s 6-0 battle in Sofia last October.
That night, attention was rightly stolen by the condemnation of the heinous racist abuses directed against black English players by some of the Bulgarian supporters.
Barkley, however, started England’s Euro qualifiers at home against Bulgaria and Kosovo and he amassed 33 caps, finding his best form under Southgate.
Barkley will have ample opportunity to impress Southgate with his exhibitions for Villa
International football was on hiatus for 10 months, so Barkley will not have lost ground in the pecking order of Southgate midfielder, even though he was not involved against Iceland and Denmark last month .
But he cannot be in contention for the revamped European Championship next summer – and the England sides before that – if he plays regularly and plays well for his club. He was not named in Southgate’s most recent selection yesterday.
Villa will provide him with that opportunity and it is an opportunity Barkley must seize with both hands to ensure his talents are not lost forever.
Meanwhile, Dean Smith will only benefit from having a player who, 26, knows he has to produce the goods now or wonders what could have been.