As gambles go, Giles Barnes is one West Bromwich Albion were right to take.
That’s the verdict of Baggies legend Cyrille Regis, who believes Albion might have made one of the shrewdest transfer moves of the season.
Barnes arrived at B71 almost unnoticed.
While Sky Sports got excited about Victor Moses’ move to Wigan or Robbie Keane’s loan exit to Celtic, Barnes was finalising his move to the Black Country.
He got mentioned in the local media – but apart from that, nothing.
This being a player who, three years ago, was as exciting as Moses. He was the next big thing.
Yet two-and-a-half years ago he was close to joining West Ham in a £7 million deal only for the usual demons to surface.
That ‘usual demons’ being injury.
Three seasons on and Barnes is still struggling with those demons.
A fractured foot was followed by a cruciate tear and, most recently, a ruptured Achilles’ tendon.
It forced Derby’s hand. Once his contract was up the cash-strapped club had a decision to make.
Regis has long been an admirer of Barnes, who is not expected to be fit for another six weeks at least.
The 52-year-old, who scored 82 goals in 237 Albion games, noted the youngster’s potential in his current role as an agent.
“I’ve saw when he was about 16 or 17 at Derby and you could tell then that he had something special,” said Regis.
“He was in the youth team at the time and you could see straight away that there was a talent there.
“Even back then he was being spoken about very highly. His injuries are the problem and have been for a while.
“When he was 16 you could tell he was going to go places. He’s got pace, power, good on the ball. But he keeps breaking down and it’s been hard for him.
“Derby made a decision based on circumstance. But, without a shadow of a doubt, he’s a big talent and I’m not surprised West Brom have taken an educated gamble.
“Looking at him, if he can get his injuries right then you’ve got a fantastic player.”
It was never really established which role most suited Barnes.
An attacking midfielder? Maybe a place on the wings? Or somewhere in-between or even up front.
Regis claims the 21-year-old’s versatility is actually his strength.
He feels it makes him ideal for Albion’s current system of play.
“West Brom are a very fluid side and he’s the kind of player you can find a place for,” he continued.
“One of the things with Giles is that he’s a good player but what’s his best position?
“He’s got the ability to play in midfield, on the wing – without being an out-and-out winger – or somewhere centrally.
“He’s a hybrid midfielder in many ways.
“If Albion played 4-4-2 then I think you’d struggle to pigeon hole him into a particular role but with so many clubs playing with five in midfield or different formations it allows for more fluidity.
“For me his best position is between midfield and the striker – whether it’s coming in and finding those holes, or as a wide man come in from the wings, a bit like Kris Commons does but without being an out-and-out winger.
“The challenge he now has is coming back from his injury, both physically and mentally.
“He’s had some of the three worst injuries you can get – it’ll be a big thing to see how he comes back from it.
“If he can get that right then he can get back to the player he was.”
As for the similarities with Victor Moses, Regis can see the parallels.
“Victor Moses has been on fire for the last few months, just as Giles Barnes was a few years back,” he added.
“Football is all about performances and it’s easy to get left behind or forgotten about if injuries strike.
“Moses got his move to the Premier League and that’s the career path that Barnes can easily find his way back onto.
“There is no question about his talent – it’s how he returns from these set-backs.”
Barnes is just one of several players suffering through injuries at The Hawthorns.
The Baggies were without several key players, including Ishmael Miller, Marek Cech, Abdoulaye Meite, James Morrison and Gonzalo Jara for the trip to Cardiff.
By the time this month finishes, Albion will have averaged two games per week.
Regis isn’t surprised to see injuries creep in.
“It happens to them all,” he added. “It was Villa who won the League with 14 players but that just doesn’t happen now.
“What you have to do is get a group of around 24 quality players.
“The trick now is to manage over nine months, not just the foreseeable games. It’s something Sir Alex Ferguson has done brilliantly throughout his career.
“That’s why Manchester United always finish so strongly.
“What has impressed me about Albion is the way they’ve reacted to the recent defeat against Forest. They were outplayed and well-beaten.
“Yet they reacted and have grown since that game – that’s the sign of good individuals and a good side.
“The key was making sure that they didn’t allow that defeat to ruin their progress – in fact it’s had the opposite effect.”