“Chelsea express an interest in Burnley’s Ashley Barnes,” read a 2018 headline. It raised plenty of eyebrows.
The Burnley striker? Why would Chelsea want him? Football fans were seriously baffled.
But why wouldn’t they? Strong, powerful and a serious eye for goal, Barnes remains Burnley’s unsung hero eighteen months on.
Just months from his 30th birthday, the striker is banging them in for the Clarets, and can make history by becoming the first Burnley player to score in five consecutive Premier League matches when they line up against Liverpool on Saturday evening.
Having started his career in non-league, Barnes is often ignored when the chat down the pub gets onto the Premier League’s best strikers.
Perhaps a victim of not coming through a star-studded academy, the fact he plays for a side deemed as ‘unfashionable’ in some football circles does his chances of being part of the conversation no favours at all.
Burnley are unfairly seen as a solid unit, keen to boot the ball high up the pitch, but not much more. A decent team, their individuals rarely grab the headlines and so far Barnes has avoided the spotlight.
Starting his career with Paulton Rovers, he joined Plymouth Argyle in 2007 before going on loan to Oxford United, Salisbury City, Eastbourne Borough, Torquay and Brighton.
Enduring a nomadic three years at the start of his career, to say he has just entered his fifth season in the top-flight doesn’t quite sound right; though it should.
So far under the radar it seems, he goes unnoticed. However, in two of his four full seasons in the top division, he’s hit double figures; yet his name never features. Loved by the Burnley fans, he’s overlooked and underappreciated by the football masses.
Never discussed when it comes to England, Barnes was actually tipped for a call-up by the Austrian national team having appeared for the Under 20s in 2008. However, that was later dismissed by their FA meaning the door to Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions’ squad remains slightly ajar.
Tall though not cumbersome, heavy-set but nimble, Barnes has only been outscored by Sadio Mane and Sergio Aguero in 2019.
As well, he’s one for the big occasion - a third of his goals have been scored against the ‘top six’.
The stats prove his stock should be greater. Far greater.
The current narrative surrounding the attacker, born in the rugby-mad city of Bath, is reminiscent to that of Harry Kane and fellow non-leaguer Jamie Vardy when the pair first started hitting the net on a regular basis.
Every week, they would beat the keeper with searing accuracy, though every week people failed to take notice or doubted their scoring prowess would last.
Still, they put the ball away, as does Barnes. Lashing them in from distance or heading home, high above the defence, he knows where the goal is.
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Not only is he driving up the scoring charts for Burnley, but he drives his team-mates around too.
He and midfielder Ashley Westwood bought a minibus so that they can pick team-mates up and take them to training. Barnes is the designated driver.
The Burnley lads named it "Ash-Cabs" because, originally, the duo used to car-share all the time and every morning, they gather in Cheshire to be picked up by their star striker.
Back on the pitch, regardless of whether he gets the plaudits he deserves or not, Barnes relishes the opportunity to mix it with the best week in, week out and he’s happy.
“I see people in the game who don’t realise what they’ve got,” he told The Guardian.
“But for someone who has come from non-league football and schoolboys’ football and who went and played everywhere, because so long as I had a football at my feet I was happy, I appreciate everything that is put in front of me. I’ve come a long way and everything has fallen into place for me luckily enough”.
We reckon Barnes’ talent far outweighs his luck. It’s only a matter of time before he gets the kudos his goals and displays deserve.