ONE OF the more fascinating subplots for the next few months is how Callum Styles plays for Barnsley, and how much.
While most of his team-mates have been recuperating and training at Oakwell for the last fortnight, the 23-year-old has started two games for Hungary during the international break.
He helped them to a 2-1 win in Serbia in a qualifier for next summer’s Euros then played in a home friendly draw with the Czech Republic.
In both matches, Styles played in a central midfield two, with and against footballers from the top flight in Germany, Italy and England – by all accounts holding his own.
While the other English-based players from Hungary’s squad will return to Premier League clubs, Milos Kerkez at Bournemouth and Dominik Szoboszlai with Liverpool, Styles must now refocus on breaking into the midfield at third-tier Barnsley.
Although the lower leagues in England are very different to international football in terms of tempo and physicality, there can be few players with such a bizarre discrepancy between their international and club careers currently.
Styles appears to have been unsettled by the speculation surrounding his future at club level over the last couple of seasons and not done his ability justice – making a limited impact when starting the first four games of this season.
He also happens to be at a club who have an extremely impressive set of midfielders for the level, with Adam Phillips and Herbie Kane having earned their spots as the more attacking pair in the midfield three with consistent performances across a year.
Styles and the fit-again Josh Benson will be pushing those two for their places in what must be – when you add Luca Connell and John Russell – among the more talented third-tier midfield groups in history.
By all accounts, Styles’ attitude has been very good since returning for pre-season after a year at Millwall and he is a popular figure around the club. He was left out of the squad for the last league game after another move away did not happen.
Although some foreign windows are still open, he is expected to remain at Barnsley until at least January so must focus on helping the team’s promotion push and figuring out how he fits into this side, along with head coach Neill Collins.
Hungary are top of their qualifying group with a real chance of reaching the finals in Germany next summer – massive motivation for Styles to impress at club level.
For now his role at Barnsley could be as an impact sub but he has the quality to dominate at this level. He needs to get back to the player who scored long-range screamers regularly, could burst past players into the box, win brilliant tackles and produce superb skill – which we saw, albeit in his previous position of left wing-back, in the phenomenal 2020/21 season when he almost helped the Reds to the Premier League.
Another who has been on international duty is Fabio Jalo who played for Portugal under 19s. The 17-year-old will now look for more opportunities in the first team, possibly starting with the EFL Trophy game against Manchester City on September 26. If he continues to play as he has done for the youth teams, with some magical long-range free-kick goals, he will soon emulate fellow young striker Aiden Marsh who has forced his way into the first team before making an impact at that level in recent weeks.
Apart from those on international duty, the Reds have had two weeks off from league action, with the last competitive game the 2-0 EFL Trophy win over League Two Grimsby Town last week for which Collins made 11 changes.
The break has probably come at a good time for the squad who can get important work done on the training pitch with Collins, who finally knows his squad for the next three months with new signings and returnees from injury to integrate.
As discussed last week, it is a deep squad with plenty of competition and proven quality in many areas with the only obvious question marks over their ability to be consistently solid at centre-back after their back three from last season all left with very little experience replacing them.
Four of their next five games are at home, starting with tomorrow’s visit of struggling Burton Albion before Portsmouth, and the best defence so far in the EFL, arrive on Tuesday.
For most of the match-going public, who did not watch the 2-0 wins away at Wigan and Cheltenham or at home to Grimsby in the cup, this will be their first glimpse of the side since they lost 3-1 at home to both Peterborough United and Oxford United a month ago – with the latter display especially poor.
Since then, they have won three games in a row, sold their captain Liam Kitching and brought in the likes of Sam Cosgrove and John McAtee.
Collins’ Barnsley must now start to find consistency and momentum to move into the leading pack as the season approaches the gruelling slog of the winter months.