No sooner had Ross Barkley been called a “complete player” by Maurizio Sarri, than he hit a bit of a slump. He had scored three goals and collected four assists in all competitions by the end of October, getting named Man of the Match in the 4-0 win over Burnley. He did not score another goal or collect another assist until February. He had continued to rotate regularly with the other midfielders in the squad (especially as Ruben Loftus-Cheek was hampered with an injury and Mateo Kovačić seemed incapable of ever going 90 minutes), but he was certainly not living up to the heady heights of the early season. In fairness, Chelsea weren’t either, and perhaps the two were related.
But Chelsea’s form is slowly turning around — I’m going to ignore the 2-0 loss that sent us off to the international break — and alongside it, so has Barkley’s. While the trip back to Goodison, his first since leaving his boyhood club 14 months ago, did not go according to plan, he’s been more than happy with how the decision to join Chelsea has worked out for him personally and professionally.
“Yes, exactly [I needed the move]. I am away from my family and down in London by myself. I am in a totally different environment from Liverpool. I miss being with my family, it is totally different. It is how I am maturing as a person and a player. It is good.
“Since I made the move it was good to challenge myself and win trophies and to improve as a player. I’ve changed compared to when I was 18, 19 or 20. My diet is much better. My approach to games is much better and I am going into them with the right preparation and I am more relaxed, rather than think about things too much.”
Moving out of the family home and a familiar environment is a big step in any young person’s life, whether they are students, workers, dreamers, or professional athletes. Barkley had spoken previously of his nearly hermit-like existence of eat, sleep, football, but he’s been reaping the benefits of that singular focus and dedication not just at Chelsea but at the national team level as well.
“I never thought I would not play for my country. We all go through difficult spells. But I am just believing in myself now and having confidence. My focus is to add something to the side - the future is really bright. You see how the young players have performed and how good they are — Declan Rice, Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi. They were frightening in training. It’s great to be part of it.”
Of course, Barkley himself just recently turned 25 — not exactly a wizened old fart. In fact, as he approaches his mid-to-late 20s, the ages at which most footballers are considered to be in their prime, he knows there’s more room for improvement.
“It was my best performance for England [vs. Montenegro]. I came up with the two goals and had a hand in a couple of the goals - but I felt I could have played better. We can all improve. We are not in the game to accept where we are at. We have to improve at club level - and at international level there is a lot of room for improvement.”
-Ross Barkley; source: Sky
Barkley did not get selected for the 2018 World Cup, but has come back into the England reckoning. He’s put the first six months of his Chelsea career behind him, redoubled his efforts in training, and showed that he wasn’t quite done yet in his quest to live up the early promise of his career. We might just get to witness the best of Barkley in the next few years, and it could be very good indeed.