James Tarkowski has emerged from the unknown to one of the strongest central defenders in England in little over seven months.
Last season, Tarkowski was deprived of action, instead watching longingly at the likes of Michael Keane and Ben Mee playing on the main stage. The Englishman fed off scraps, and was determined to prove himself at Turf Moor, and the departure of Michael Keane was a blessing in disguise for both Tarkowski and Burnley Football Club.
The majority expected Sean Dyche to invest vast amounts of cash on a new central defender to fill the void left by Michael Keane. Instead, the 46-year-old entrusted Tarkowski to become the new first-choice centre-back to partner Ben Mee. It was a risky decision, especially considering the quality of Michael Keane during his spell at Turf Moor, but it was a choice that has paid off to tremendous effect.
Tarkowski began his playing career at League One club Oldham Athletic, by signing a two-year scholarship in 2009. He immediately impressed for the reserve team, and was awarded his senior debut in January 2011 at 18 years of age.
He completed his first season with nine appearances in all competitions and penned his first professional contract by signing a two-year deal in May 2011. Tarkowski was still deemed too inexperienced to merit a regular place in the starting line-up, and therefore had to prove himself during the 2011/12 campaign.
His breakthrough season came during the 2012/13 campaign, when he played a pivotal role in guiding The Latics into the FA Cup 5th Round. It was only a matter of time until Tarkowski moved onto a more high-profile club, and despite Oldham’s best efforts to retain his services; he decided to move to Brentford in January 2014.
Brentford were unwilling to immediately welcome Tarkowski into the starting line-up, but he eventually established himself at Griffin Park and became a valuable figure in their back line. The Bees earned promotion at the end of his debut campaign by finishing runners-up in League One, and Tarkowski finished the 2013/14 season with 49 appearances and five goals for both Oldham and Brentford combined in all competitions.
Tarkowski was on the rise and playing his first season in the Championship, but a dip in form temporarily cost him his place in the starting line-up. He subsequently recovered and helped Brentford to the Championship play-offs semi-final, in which they lost heavily to Middlesbrough.
A number of transfer bids flew in for the young English defender, and he became unsettled towards the end of his stint at Griffin Park. Burnley were fighting for promotion, but had a preferred defensive partnership of Michael Keane and Ben Mee.
Michael Keane sustained a head injury, which temporarily gifted Tarkowski with the opportunity to impress his new supporters, but normal service resumed once Keane regained full fitness. The Clarets went onto win the EFL Championship title and confirm their immediate return to the Premier League.
Sean Dyche maintained the defensive partnership of Keane and Mee, and the duo performed majestically as Burnley preserved their Premier League status for the 2017/18 season. Tarkowski was forced to feed off scraps, but left a longstanding impression on supporters, by performing impressively in the final four fixtures of the campaign.
The 25-year-old has been a regular member of Burnley’s defence this season, playing the sixth-most minutes for Burnley in the 2017/18 campaign. Tarkowski’s temperament was questioned during his time at Oldham Athletic and Brentford, but he’s matured greatly since breaking into the starting line-up under Sean Dyche.
He’s an old-fashioned no-nonsense defender and his performances this season merit a place in Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions’ squad for the 2018 World Cup. I can’t name another English defender whose form and performances have been as impressive as Tarkowski’s this season.
Gareth Southgate would be foolish to overlook such a talented defender, especially considering the lack of top quality central defenders at his disposal. The Clarets have conceded fewer goals than Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea this season, which suggests Ben Mee and James Tarkowski are more than capable of playing on the international stage. Hopefully Southgate avoids the temptation of selecting the usual suspects, and picks players based on their form and not on their club or reputation.