Aston Villa have completed the signing of Ross Barkley on a season-long loan from Chelsea, offering him the chance to cement a place in Gareth Southgate’s EURO 2021 squad.
The England international becomes Villa’s fifth signing of the summer transfer window, following the arrivals of Ollie Watkins, Bertrand Traore, Emiliano Martinez and Matty Cash.
Barkley heads to Villa Park having fallen down the pecking order at Chelsea, following a huge summer of spending in west London. Particularly, Chelsea’s capture of Kai Havertz all but ends Barkley’s two and a half year stay at Stamford Bridge.
After securing Barkley’s signature, Villa head coach Dean Smith told the club’s website: “Capturing a player of Ross’ quality is a real coup for our club and I am certain he will thrive here and improve our team.”
Barkley is looking forward to rediscovering some consistency in his game this season.
He told Villa TV: “The last couple of years I’ve been stop-start, performing well and then being out of the team.
“To come here and have the chance to play and perform regularly is a big thing for me. With the Euros at the end of the season, it’s a big target for me and hopefully, I can be there.
“Dean Smith swayed me with the way he spoke to me, and it looks like it’s going to be an exciting season.”
Barkley is also looking forward to renewing acquaintances with Jack Grealish, but this time on the pitch. He said the Villa skipper was a key influence in persuading him to Villa Park.
“We’re mates off the field and we know each other well,” Barkley said.
“We’ve spoken previously and I’m looking forward to playing with him. I’ve spoken to him over the past couple of weeks and he’s been telling me about how good the club is and how welcomed I’d be when I came here.”
Barkley has been capped 33 times by his country and made 52 appearances for Chelsea in the Premier League and Champions League after joining the then Premier League champions from Everton in January 2018.
Barkley burst onto the scene with Everton aged 17 after graduating from their youth academy, scoring 27 goals from midfield in 179 appearances for the Toffees.
The 26-year-old is approaching his prime midfield years with a point to prove, and a place in England’s EURO 2021 squad is the carrot at the end of the season – Villa will be the beneficiaries for Barkley’s focus this term.
Barkley starting afresh
The former Everton man has appeared in three of Chelsea’s five opening games this season, but after only starting once against Barnsley in the Carabao Cup, game time was at a premium under Frank Lampard. Barkley shone in the 6-0 victory over the Tykes, registering his 22nd goal contribution in 86 appearances for the Blues.
Last season was Barkley’s second full year at the club having joined under Antonio Conte 18 months prior to the beginning of the 2019-20 campaign – Villa’s first season back in the top-flight.
He made 31 appearances in all competitions for the Blues last term but struggled to hold down a regular starting place amid competition from Mason Mount, Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho. Barkley started only one of Chelsea’s first nine league games, and following a lengthy spell on the sidelines nursing a foot injury, it took until April in a 3-0 win over Watford for the midfielder to register his first goal of the campaign.
Though after only retaining a starting place in consecutive games once before netting his first goal in the Premier League last season, it would’ve been harsh to blame inconsistency for Barkley’s lack of starts. He simply wasn’t favoured by Lampard who had fielded a familiar midfield trio for most of the league campaign.
Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James and Billy Gilmour were all fit and raring to make a youthful impression on Lampard last year, whose quota last season was to develop from within. Mateo Kovacic won the club’s player of the season award so Barkley’s involvement was bound to be limited.
Although Barkley realised his best form in a Chelsea shirt last season when he firstly scored the winner against Liverpool to see off Jurgen Klopp’s side in the fifth round of the FA Cup, five days before putting in his best shift for the Blues against his former side Everton, the club he supported as a boy.
He managed a pair of assists and topped all the numerical charts that had data analysts drooling with seven successful dribbles, six key passes, three shots two clean tackles – Barkley was making his quality tell under Lampard for the first time.
Impressive pre-COVID form
Fitting the narrative of Barkley’s career so far, after finding his feet in Chelsea’s competitive squad, COVID-19 all but ended his chances of making his form count as football was suspended across England from March through to June.
Barkley’s frustrations weren’t only limited to Stamford Bridge though. Having featured in six of England’s eight qualifiers for EURO 2020, his role at the tournament would potentially have been pivotal. The England boss is a big fan of Barkley and his involvement in the England set-up has been regular. He would have surely been picked for the scheduled friendlies against Italy and Denmark at the end of March if in a parallel universe Coronavirus hadn’t hit.
Barkley’s Chelsea career is by no means over, and by no stretch of the imagination did he flop. He played a pivotal role in Chelsea’s 2019 UEFA Europa League success scoring his first European goal against Malmo and starting nine of the Blues’ ties en route to Baku – exactly a year after helping the Blues win their seventh FA Cup in 2018.
In fact, Chelsea had been courting Barkley for seven years prior to securing his services having tracked his development as a teenager coming through the ranks at Finch Farm. Some reports even suggest Chelsea’s recruitment team were eyeing the young scouser to replace Lampard’s box-to-box legacy at Stamford Bridge.
When Barkley did part ways with his boyhood club, it was for Evertonians in acrimonious fashion. His late January 2018 move was meant to be the springboard for a career anticipated by many but after injuries played a part and the constant swapping of managers at Stamford Bridge, neither Antonio Conte, Maurizio Sarri or Lampard really favoured the once Merseyside boy-wander.
In 2013, Everton manager Roberto Martínez described Barkley as a mix of Paul Gascoigne and Michael Ballack, while his former England boss manager Roy Hodgson has said that Barkley’s “pace and power” as well as his “excellent technique” drew companions to Gazza once more.
Villa boss Smith knows if he can bring out half the player that broke onto the scene as a teenager in Everton blue, Villa’s season, let alone chances of survival are boosted by a long way. He oozes the quality Villa might have lacked last season, coupled with the ever-increasing progress Douglas Luiz is making and competition for places with John McGinn and Conor Hourihane, Villa are fully prepared to kick-on from where they left off last season.
Where he will fit in at Villa
Jack Grealish will keep his place on the wider left side of a front free, and in front of Barkley, Villa fans will be salivating at the prospect of watching the two combine as the campaign goes on.
Chelsea manager Lampard has previously lauded Barkley’s thirst to improve as a player by publicly praising the player’s “desire to learn”. Villa’s new man even hired a personal chef to improve his diet – it’s the small margins that speak volumes of Barkley’s character and willing appetite to develop and make his mark at Villa Park.
Smith will be relishing the opportunity to find the player coveted by some of Europe’s top clubs after he made 55 goal contributions for the Toffees in 179 appearances. Former Everton captain, Tim Cahill heralded Barkley as the most talented footballer he had worked with after the midfielder made his debut and won man of the match in Everton’s first home game of the 2011-12 season.
His early performances were highly praised by many pundits, including Martin Keown who predicted Barkley will “be one of the best players we’ll ever see in this country.”
Barkley was reviling in the limelight from an early age and so it was only natural comparisons were drawn to a young Wayne Rooney, who needs no introduction to the level of performance he was capable of as a youngster in blue.
Back in 2014, Barkley would travel with England to make his maiden appearance in a World Cup, making an appearance as a substitute in England’s 2–1 opening defeat to Italy in Manaus.
At that point, Barkley was seen as England’s next great midfielder and earning rave reviews from around the world for his performances for Everton were to be expected, but when Barcelona and Spain legend Xavi speak up, your ears prick up.
The four-time Champions League winner, European Championship and World Cup winner praised Barkley’s technical ability and physical qualities, explaining how he thought he’d fit right in at a La Liga club.
For now, Barkley is fully invested in Villa’s season ahead. He knows if he can perform with the quality of Grealish, Luiz and McGinn around him, his place in the England side could be a certainty, and Smith’s Villa will be all the better off for it.