On one hand, Ross Barkley must have been grateful for the opportunity against Nottingham Forest in Saturday’s FA Cup third-round tie. The midfielder had only been given a handful of starts by Frank Lampard this season and so this was his chance to put on a demonstration, which is exactly what he did by scoring in a 2-0 victory for the Blues.
Injuries have held back Barkley over the years and it has been a familiar story for the 26-year-old this season. “I haven’t played for a while because I had a setback after I injured my foot,” he explained to the Chelsea website, after his goalscoring display against Forest.
“I was in pain until only a couple of weeks ago but I put in a lot of hard work and I was grateful to get a start today, to get a goal and hopefully I can kick on from here and get back in the side.”
The outlook still isn’t especially positive for Barkley at Stamford Bridge, though. Frank Lampard accused the midfielder of “showing a lack of professionalism” towards the end of November after he was pictured shirtless in a Dubai bar even as he was sidelined with an ankle injury. It will take a lot for Barkley to get back in the manager’s good books.
All the while, he is wasting time at Chelsea. At 26, Barkley still has time to realise his very obvious potential, but he needs a club to fully harness him. Chelsea just aren’t doing that at present and so he should use this month’s open transfer window to seek a new club, a fresh start. Chelsea and Lampard aren’t offering him what he needs.
Part of the problem with Barkley is that so few have a grasp of what he truly is. Billed as a Wayne Rooney-lite, he has also been compared to Paul Gascoigne and Steven Gerrard. Therein lies the key issue - these are three very different players with very different skill sets. Barkley has yet to find his role and position.
Barkley’s energy and drive means he should make for an excellent number eight, but his decision-making has always been a problem. Many expected that this would improve with age, but Barkley simply hasn't played enough games over the past few years to mature as a footballer. That’s what he needs above all else - games. He must find a club that can offer him that and not one that only throws him the odd token appearance in the FA Cup. Maybe then Barkley and the rest of us can settle on what he actually is.