You know those players you just can’t figure out?
Sometimes you watch them play and think they look like a natural talent comfortable at the highest standard, and sometimes you wonder how they made it as a professional at all.
These indecipherable players torture me, they mock my already stunted understanding of football.
Before we get on to what links these players and analyse why they are so enigmatic, let’s run through the list of the most notable offenders quickly…
Hopeless one half, inspirational the next.
Arsenal fans warned Liverpool supporters of the Ox’s inconsistency and at 24-years-old I still have no idea what his best role is within a team.
A problem shared by those who have managed him — Arsene Wenger tried to reinvent him as a wing-back at the end of last season while Jurgen Klopp has deployed him as one of his front three at times.
The Man United academy product has surprised us all (except the omniscient Fergie) with his prosperous form in recent weeks.
Rewind three months and many fans were asking what he actually does?
If for some inexplicable reason, I was tasked with picking England’s World Cup squad right this second, I would have to include the dancing 25-year-old, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was rendered utterly ineffective at the tournament.
Gareth Southgate has a thankless task.
Is he the ‘next Gazza’ or a wasteful, overrated luxury player? I have no idea.
When I think of Barkley I see him wriggling in between two defenders with some technically proficient close control before giving the ball the away.
He’s one of those players who draws the comment ‘good idea’ out of you — though often the execution is ever so slightly off.
This case isn’t helped by the fact that I pretty much forgot he existed until he appeared as an emergency left-back in the wake of Benjamin Mendy’s injury.
It’s worth remembering he’s a centre-midfielder by trade and he’s almost certainly not good enough in his preferred position to play for Man City.
He must be a decent player to be able to adapt to a new role the way he has, but how good is he actually? I haven’t a clue…
I’m actually fairly certain Hendo is a distinctly average footballer who shouldn’t be starting for a club or Liverpool’s reputation, or for England.
However, not only does he play for both, he’s the bloody captain.
Good on him — I must be missing something.
Sir Alex Ferguson knows infinitely more about football than I ever will and he once said that Jones could become Man United’s greatest ever player.
“Jones, arguably the way he is looking, could be our best ever player,” he said. “I think Jones may be one of the best players we have ever had, no matter where we play him.”
Call me ignorant, but I have yet to see anything from the expressive defender to suggest he may be mentioned along with George Best, Bobby Charlton and Cristiano Ronaldo by the time he hangs up his boots.
His committed, no-nonsense style looks effective when he’s at his best, but reckless when his timing is slightly off.
Once again, I’m stumped…
Fans of ‘Dat guy Welbz’ say he offers more to the team than just goals.
I’m not doubting that, I just don’t think what he’s offering is particularly useful.
And yet, on occasions, he convinces me of the benefits of a selfless, busy forward, keen to run the channels and hound defenders.
It’s just, he’s 27-years-old now and he hasn’t scored that many goals, although admittedly he’s had his problems with injuries.
By now you will have guessed the connection.
They’re all England internationals who play for a top six club.
If I were to doubt myself further, Jack Wilshere, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling could also be added to this list
You may have unwavering opinions on several or all of those players, I envy you if so.
But we have seen much evidence that there are others out there as perplexed and uncertain as me.
The most recent transfers of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Barkley were met with much bemusement and scepticism.
What have Klopp and Conte seen that the rest of us have missed?
This phenomenon must have something to do with the state of the national team.
Losing to Iceland at Euro 2016 was the latest setback for England when it comes to aspirations of a decent showing in a major tournament.
Such a performance had a significant negative effect on the reputations of the players involved.
Public opinion of the Three Lions is generally pessimistic and the players mentioned on this list are forced to play under that cloud.
The internet can’t seem to agree on whether people are biased in favour of English players, or against them.
Much-liked comments include varieties of “If he was Spanish, he’d be a Championship player. Over hyped because he’s English.”
And yet also, “If he was Spanish everyone would say how good he is. Overlooked just because he’s English.”
So which is it?
This contradiction of opinion is most likely the reason my limited analytical skills fail me when it comes to Barkley, Lingard and co.
Perhaps if Henderson was born in Seville I would appreciate the calming influence of a few sideways passes and forgive his poor anticipation.
Maybe it’s because, subconsciously, I know that England are flawed in so many ways, that I can’t shake that sensation of being underwhelmed when watching one of our boys play, even at club level.
Though this is only true of players in a certain bracket — I’m confident Harry Kane is world-class, for example.
The players previously mentioned on this list all showed considerable promise as youngsters and yet seem to have experienced limited development.
They’re the same players now as they were four years ago.
It’s that vague sense of unfulfilled potential that clouds my judgement and perhaps that’s not fair of the players in question.
But, unfortunately for them and me, that’s just the way it is.
- Jose Mourinho deserves credit for improving Jesse Lingard like Pep Guardiola has improved Raheem Sterling
- Man City won’t finish the season undefeated but they will achieve something greater than ‘The Invincibles’