Ross Barkley’s loan move from Chelsea to Aston Villa took most of us by surprise.
The Everton academy graduate’s future always looked likely to be away from Stamford Bridge given the options available to Frank Lampard, but his move to the Midlands progressed from mild rumour to done deal without the anticipation that’s typically sandwiched in between.
Described as a “real coup” by Dean Smith, Barkley is a player blessed with raw, match winning qualities.
But with his 27th birthday looming in December, Barkley’s move to Villa will surely represent his last opportunity to realise the potential he showed during the formative stages of his career.
As author Cyrill Connolly aptly observed, “whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.” Examples of this prophecy in action are littered throughout elite level sport, and particularly football.
There exists an array of examples of promising English players who have fallen victim to the culture of overhyping down the years – and many worse so than Barkley.
Barkley’s talent may not have translated into a stunning career at the apex of the game as many predicted, but he has still managed to earn 33 England caps, scoring six goals in the process.
Other promising youngsters, however, have faltered in far more striking circumstances.
Here, we take a look at five of the most high profile cases of unfulfilled English promise.
Liverpool signed Jordon Ibe from Wycombe in 2012 and he emerged from the youth ranks around the same time Raheem Sterling began to make a name for himself.
Positional and technical similarities, as well as their age, naturally lent themselves to comparisons between the two, with Jamie Redknapp declaring that Ibe had more natural ability than Sterling following Bournemouth’s £15m acquisition from Liverpool.
Sterling, with two Premier League titles and 58 England caps to his name, has gone on to establish himself as one of the deadliest attacking players in Europe, while Ibe joined Derby County on a free transfer in the summer having been released by the Cherries.
We won’t be asking Redknapp for the lottery numbers this weekend.
Fortunately for the 24-year-old there is still plenty of time to salvage his career, but he’s given Sterling one heck of a head start.
Before Sheikh Mansour purchased Manchester City the club’s academy regularly produced some of England’s most talented young players.
In the absence of embarrassing riches they relied on academy players to add quality to the senior squad, and in Michael Johnson they had a midfield technician with boundless potential. Dietmar Hamann even claimed he was the best young midfielder he ever played with.
His dynamism and natural technical gifts drew comparisons with England greats Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, but his career paled into insignificance before he retired at the age of 24.
Though Johnson has been reluctant to speak to the media since his retirement, he has cited the toxicity of professional football and self esteem issues as the reasons behind his decision in a recent interview with The Athletic.
Johnson’s story serves as a telling reminder of the multifaceted nature of thriving in elite level sport, and possessing raw talent is just one of the prerequisites to success.
No list of unfulfilled promise would be complete without Ravel Morrison.
The mercurial winger was infamously touted as the best youngster Sir Alex Ferguson has ever seen, but the Manchester-born talent has endured a string of unsuccessful moves to various clubs in Europe.
He made four appearances on loan at Sheffield United last season – including just 12 minutes in the Premier League – and now plys his trade with ADO Den Haag in Holland.
At 27 years of age there is little evidence to suggest Ferguson’s hype was justified.
Another product of the Manchester City academy, Shaun Wright-Phillips, the son of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, made his mark in the game as a flying winger.
Blessed with natural speed, dazzling agility and end product to boot, Wright-Phillips set Manchester alight during the early stage of his career down the right side of midfield.
Having caught the eye with his direct and effective style of wing play, there was an air of inevitability about his £21m move to Chelsea.
However, he failed to build upon his early promise and struggled to nail down a place in the starting XI before eventually re-signing for City in 2008.
Fleeting glimpses of promise suggested he could rekindle his pre-Chelsea form in a vastly improved City squad – one containing Robinho following his sensational transfer from Real Madrid – but he found any consistency upon his return to the Etihad Stadium.
Wright-Phillips still enjoyed a solid career but much greater things were expected when he emerged on the scene as a youngster.
Micah Richards became the youngest ever defender to appear for England in a clash against the Netherlands in November 2006.
In that fixture he went toe to toe with Chelsea’s Arjen Robben, the twinkle toed assassin who went on to establish himself as one of Europe’s most deadly wide players, and seemingly set the tone for a glittering career.
Aged just 18, the full-back boasted supreme athleticism and defensive nous. The Birmingham-born man looked to have a repertoire befitting a future England regular, but he made just 12 more international appearances before he retired.
Richards did manage to provide six assists in just 23 league starts as City clinched their maiden Premier League title in the 2011/12 season, with the majority of his performances coming from full-back.
Injuries hampered his progress thereafter and, in truth, his career never recovered after he fell out of favour under Manuel Pellegrini.
Richards didn’t quite hit the heights many expected of him on the pitch, but his articulate analysis and vibrant personality give him a solid foundation to enjoy an excellent career in TV punditry.
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