At £15 million, Ross Barkley was possibly a smart piece of January transfer business.
The believers saw a player who was young, strong, had some pace, was versatile... a man who seemingly had untapped reserves of skill waiting to be extracted and put to a Blue cause. All it would take was some time, some coaching and an opportunity.
The doubters looked at how he appeared to under-deliver for an Everton team which gave him every chance to succeed and they doubted that he had the football IQ or the skill to compete at Chelsea’s level.
Five months later and we’re still waiting to find out who was right. Is the real Ross Barkley the 12-goal, 11-assist huge potential Ross Barkley of 2015-16? Or is it the Ross Barkley of blind alleys runs, wasted shots and missed passing opportunities, who's already peaked at 24?
His career at Chelsea has literally been hamstrung. Everton were willing to sell him and his expiring contract for a knock-off price in January because he missed the entire first half of the season with hamstrings that wouldn’t heal. That he couldn’t mend was a surprise — this was a player who’d logged over 3,000 minutes each of the previous two seasons.
Nor did his fortunes improve once installed at Chelsea. In his first four months, he managed three appearances, all in January, before once again succumbing to muscle problems. He only made his way back for one more appearance, a decent performance in an otherwise dreadful game against Newcastle. It’s been difficult for Chelsea, for the fans and not least for Ross Barkley himself.
So stories of possible disgruntlement shouldn’t come as a surprise.
There’s not much to The Sun’s story. In fact, it contains but a single sentence of news: “ROSS BARKLEY is growing frustrated at Chelsea with his lack of regular games.”
Well, talk about stating the obvious.
What’s not obvious, though, is what the future holds. It’s true for Chelsea in general (what with the impending managerial change, uncertain transfer policy and targets, and general malaise,) but also for Barkley in particular. Until Maurizio Sarri is officially on the job and until he gets a chance to watch his players in action, even he doesn’t know for sure who has a future and who doesn’t at Stamford Bridge.
The doubters will say that if Sarri brings his Napoli style of play to Chelsea - a style which relies on a player having a modicum of football IQ, a sense of positioning and how to play the ball into space — then Barkley will get left behind.
The believers will say that Barkley’s willingness to work, his decent pace and his versatility in being able to play either as a forward or a midfielder will make him a valuable member of the squad.
What nobody can say is what Sarri himself will ultimately think. And until he passes final judgment, Barkley’s frustration is likely to linger.
Perhaps, though, he can console himself with this thought. He was on the bench for the FA Cup, although he never came on. But what he did do is get his hands on one more trophy than he ever touched in his entire eight years with Everton. That’s what an opportunity to play for Chelsea means.