Ross Barkley return makes perfect sense for Champion’s League Villa

Ross Barkley’s last spell at Aston Villa was marred by injury and other issues – but would a matured midfielder benefit Emery’s side?

Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy


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As the season draws to a close, speculation circulates within Aston Villa fandom regarding a potential return of a former Dean Smith favourite, for the club’s first Champions League campaign in decades – but a different option may be on the cards.

For weeks, Jack Grealish’s name has been floated as a potential returnee to Villa Park. Yet, the first significant transfer news of the summer involves a different English midfielder.

According to The Guardian, Unai Emery and sporting director Monchi have been proactive this summer, with former Villa loanee Ross Barkley poised to join permanently, four years after his initial loan stint at the club.

The 30-year-old is fresh off the back of a revival season for the ages at Luton which has seen his name mentioned among those looking to fly out to Germany this summer for EURO 2024. In a number of Luton’s key pivotal games this season, Barkley was one of the best players on the pitch – dictating the play from a deeper role that saw numbers in front of goal dwindle but numbers elsewhere rack up.

After several years of unfulfilled potential, including a stint at Villa under Dean Smith that started strong but fizzled out post-injury, Barkley’s resurgence at Luton has been noteworthy. The Hatters transformed a player with a tarnished reputation – former Chelsea manager Frank Lampard criticised his professionalism – into a reliable midfield anchor.

While Unai Emery’s time at the club so far has seen significant fees in the three transfer markets the Basque manager has been involved in, there has been shrewd business too. Youri Tielemans joined for free at the end of his contract with Leicester City, while Morgan Rogers’ arrival in January is looking every inch the bargain following his first five months with the Villans.

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Barkley’s arrival seems relatively low risk for a club competing in the Champions League next season. With there likely to be a small cost attached to the Luton midfielder who is thought to have another year left on his deal with the Hatters, his “cheap” arrival should add numbers to a squad that struggled with injury this season and offer a genuine option to replace the deeper midfielders should injury strike again rather than fitting square pegs (Tielemans, McGinn) in round holes.

At the same time, another English talent would not go amiss in meeting UEFA’s registration rules next season. With Aston Villa likely to move on the likes of Calum Chambers during the summer, more “homegrown” players means European squad size isn’t impacted. That, and when you look at the bench for the side’s Semi-Finals against Olympiacos, the side could do with some more senior options to meet that quota too.

The talent is clearly there for Ross, and so – judging by his time at Luton – is the desire to finish his career on a high. With Champions League experience and 33 England caps to his name, the midfielder could provide a solid supplement to a squad that could use player willing to drop in-and-out of the matchday squad on the proviso that he is still considered an important player at the club – once again in a similar role to Tielemans, who was not without his game time complaints at the start of the season.

Barkley also offers utility. While his performances for Luton in a deeper role are what has attracted Emery and Monchi to him, among other admirers (like Manchester United), he has performed well in the number 10 role previously and linked up well with Ollie Watkins during his first spell at Aston Villa.

It also seems like the midfielder has put his injury-blotted past behind him too, putting in 37 appearances in all competitions for the Hatters last season after reduced playing time at Ligue 1’s OGC Nice.

Villa could do far worse than picking up Barkley after his season with Luton – and with Emery’s current transfer record with the Villans – fans are likely to trust the decision should it come to fruition. That, and the manager’s track record at improving players is strong.

The potential deal makes sense – and with any fee likely to be low – Barkley, who is quoted as saying he’s looking for a Premier League return this summer, could be the start of a very interesting summer for Aston Villa.

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