Newcastle United are so interested in Barnsley's starlet Jacob Butterfield that they're considering signing him and taking over his medical care after he was crocked earlier in the season. Here's why he's worth the risk.
Every now and then, a player pops up outside of the Premier League that makes everyone stand up and take notice.
Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott, both at Southampton, are just two examples of players were plucked from the second tier of English football and have gone on to shine, one more than the other, in the Premier League.
Barnsley are no stranger to having their players poached by the ‘big boys’. No sooner than Adam Hammill had established himself as a vital ingredient in any success that the Reds were going to have under Mark Robins, than the bright lights and pound signs filled his eyes, and he left to go and sit on the bench at Wolves. Impressive as he might have been in the brief chances that he has been afforded so far, there can be no arguing that they have been few and far between.
This season, Barnsley have a new star to be proud of, and his name is Jacob Butterfield.
Far from being a new face to Tykes fans, Butterfield actually made his debut for the Reds back in August 2007, in a Carling Cup tie away at Newcastle, but had to wait a full seven months before his next appearance in the first team.
Ever since, he has been in and around the first team, although, until this season, he only showed what he was capable of in flashes, rather than doing it consistently. Although the statistics would show that ‘Butts’ made 41 appearances for the Tykes last season under former manager Mark Robins, it is telling that the ex-gaffer often saw him best employed as an impact substitute, and the young attacking midfielder often let himself down when he was given a chance to shine following one of those impressive cameos.
However, that was then, and the Jacob Butterfield that graces the Oakwell pitch today is a different animal entirely. Although Barnsley fans would tell you that he is by no means the finished article, something that manager Keith Hill has pointed out, and it’s probably fair to say Butterfield himself would also agree to, he has quickly become an integral part of the Barnsley set up.
Well, he had. That was until injury cruelly brought the most promising season of his career to an abrupt and unfortunate end. What made the pill doubly difficult to swallow was that the injury occurred against Yorkshire rivals Leeds United, and it was their policy of kicking him out of the game that resulted in him having to be substituted in the 15th minute. Although Michael Brown offered up the compulsory apology after the game, Butterfield wasn’t overly happy to accept in an interview with the Barnsley Chronicle. Reds fans had the last laugh however, as Ricardo Vaz Te, the man who replaced him during the game bagged himself a hat-trick, and the Tykes cruised to a 4-1 victory, doing the double over Simon Grayson’s men along the way.
But I digress. Back to Butterfield.
Something that has come to the fore this season, and that Barnsley have also missed during he picked up the injury on New Year’s Day, is Butterfield’s creativity. Afforded an advanced role in the midfield, and equally at home using wither his left or right foot, ‘Butts’ tops the Barnsley FC assists charts this term with seven, a number only matched by the outgoing Danny Drinkwater, who has been snatched away from Barnsley’s loan agreement by big-spending Leicester City. I could, at this point, get into the budgetary differences between the two clubs, and perhaps explain why Drinkwater was persuaded by a life at the King Power, rather than Oakwell, but that’s another article, for another time. I’m going off on one of those tangents again.
While the Tykes have missed Butterfield’s terrific array of passing at the front of the midfield diamond, they are also missing his goals, of which he has five this season. And of those five, five were absolute screamers.
In a recent poll of the team’s best goal of 2011, Butterfield was nominated on five occasions, and it is flair like this, and an unpredictability from anywhere up to 30-yards from goal that apparently brought him to the attention of Premier League teams such as Aston Villa, Newcastle and Wolves. It also earned him a call-up to the GB Olympics team in the summer, but Michael Brown’s tackle seems to have put that plan to bed.
Whether or not Butterfield is ready to make the step up to the top flight at this stage of his career is questionable, however you must also remember that I’m saying that through Tykes-tinted glasses, and not in a good way. While I think that Butterfield, provided he comes back from injury the same player, can flourish further in the lower league before making the step up to the big time, he may well have what it takes right now.
With his contract up at the end of the season, we Barnsley fans had resigned ourselves to losing the brightest talent to grace the Oakwell field for some time. We expected that, with a fee of somewhere along the lines of £1.5m, he would instead call the Premier League his home. However, Butterfield’s injury may just mean that he has to stick around at Barnsley, and prove his worth to the bigger boys all over again. Although I would never wish injury upon anyone, Michael Brown’s tackle may well have been an extremely well hidden blessing in disguise.
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