It’s been a pretty good few weeks for Ross Barkley. Having scored his first Chelsea goal during a 3-0 win at Southampton and started twice in succession for England, he couldn’t have asked for better.
Then the ball fell to him five yards out in the 96th minute against Manchester United. The 24-year-old duly obliged and smashed home the equaliser which, after a tough few years riddled with injury, must have felt like the goal of his life.
If not for a certain individual from Portugal, infamous for his knee-slides down the opposition touchline and sprinting across the Camp Nou pitch, objecting to an over-exuberant celebration from a member of the Chelsea backroom staff, Ross Barkley might have had his starring moment all to himself. No one deserves that more than him.
Exploding onto the scene at Everton in 2013 at 19 years of age, earning endless plaudits, the Wayne Rooney comparisons quickly followed, as did a place in England’s 2014 World Cup squad and a new four-year deal at his boyhood club. His ceiling appeared non-existent.
But soon after came the injuries. A medial collateral ligament problem ruled him out for three months during the 2014/15 season, and a lengthy spell on the sidelines in 2017 followed due to a serious hamstring problem, as well as a contract-related spat with Ronald Koeman.
Somewhere in the middle, Barkley enjoyed a strong 2015/16 season during which he was directly involved in 23 goals in 48 games.
Despite the injuries, Chelsea had been long-term admirers of the boy from Merseyside and came knocking in the summer of 2017, but Barkley turned down the move as he wanted to make his decision when fully fit. At such a crucial time of his career, he wanted to take his time and make the right choice.
He eventually joined the Blues for £15m in January 2018 but, still injured, the hard work had just begun. While many, if not most, young English players could be found practising handshakes and learning a new dance move, Barkley was training tirelessly during his recovery in order to get himself back to where he belongs – playing top level football.
This season, it looks like he and his club are finally reaping the rewards.
It was clear that Maurizio Sarri was a big Barkley fan from very early on. “I like him very much”, said the new manager. Even with a cigarette filter in his mouth, that’s as clear as you can get.
The arrival of Mateo Kovacic on loan from Real Madrid would dampen the spirits of most English midfielders.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek has once again fallen down the pecking order at Chelsea, due to injury and an apparent lack of tactical awareness. Danny Drinkwater is enjoying Dubai, his luxury apartment on the Thames and the services of a personal chef.
But not Ross Barkley. He’s kept his head down and has already played twice the number of minutes as over the whole of last season, scoring twice and assisting twice in the process. He’s back on the pitch, back amongst the goals and back in the England set-up.
From humble beginnings to the World Cup and back again, it’s been a rollercoaster few years for Barkley, but it’s evident that his feet remain firmly on the ground.
Of course, there are still flaws in his game, and he is susceptible to the odd lapse in concentration. It was his pass that gifted Liverpool the ball for Daniel Sturridge’s equaliser last month.
However, still only 24, he’s building momentum and he has the drive and ability to finally fulfil his huge potential. If he can continue in this vain of form, he could go on to emulate the success of Chelsea’s most famous number eight, Frank Lampard.
Okay, maybe not, but halfway will do just fine.