Brandon Barker is candid enough to admit he’d never heard of Dingwall until this week, the latest staging post in what is already a much-travelled career for a 20-year-old.
From the Manchester City youth team, Barker has spent spells on loan in the Netherlands at NAC Breda and now Easter Road where, he admits, every week has proved a new experience.
Although he still retains high hopes of one day forcing his way into City boss Pep Guardiola’s plans, Barker is realistic enough to understand that youngsters don’t simply walk into a team packed with some of the biggest names in world football.
One second-half appearance as a substitute as City suffered an FA Cup mauling by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge has been as much as Barker has enjoyed in a sky blue jersey, the highly-rated winger finding himself frustrated at being restricted to the bench week after week.
He recalled: “I can’t remember quite how many times, but it was for a lot of consecutive games. When you are young it starts off being nice, but then you get hungry to play. When you don’t you get frustrated and my game was dipping.”
A season in Dutch football followed and now a year in Edinburgh where he’s delighted to be working under Neil Lennon, the Hibs boss having tried to take him on loan when he was manager of Bolton Wanderers.
Barker said: “Going to Holland was a big decision, a lot further away from home than I am now. It was a different coach, a different style of play and it took me long time to adapt. But I’m thankful I went, a new experience, learning what and what not to do and what and what not to expect.
“I played every game I was fit to start. I was a regular pick but unfortunately I picked up a serious injury – I pulled my hamstring in three times in quick succession – which made it quite a difficult time for me.”
Barker returned to Manchester for treatment, believing he is now fully recovered and with fingers firmly crossed he doesn’t suffer such a mishap again.
Even so, he retains fond memories of his time with NAC Breda in the Eredivise, saying: “Holland was a bit crazy. You’d be going somewhere like the Ajax Arena one week and then to a ground with not so many fans the next. It was all about learning. Dutch is a difficult language but I gave it a good go.”
Barker is joined in Scotland by two other City youngsters, Patrick Roberts back at Celtic following a highly-successful initial 18 months on loan while Ashley Smith-Brown is at Hearts on a similar arrangement. In addition, French midfielder Olivier Ntcham has joined Celtic on a permanent basis. Barker said: “I’ve met up with Ashley since we are both living in Edinburgh but I’ll leave speaking to Patrick and Olivier until after next week’s match against Celtic.”
At City, youngsters such as Barker, Ntcham and Roberts were part of the side which took part in UEFA’s Youth League, taking on the likes of Bayern Munich, Roma, Schalke 04 and CSKA Moscow – another important building block in their development.
He said: “It was a fantastic experience to travel in style with the first team, to watch how they prepared for the game, to play ourselves against some of the best youth teams trying to show we were the real deal and then watching the first team in action.
“I played with Olivier for about four years. He’s a fantastic player who fully deserves his move to Celtic. We had a fantastic team although we fell that little bit short which was disappointing. At a club like ours and the team we have we should at least have been reaching the finals.”
As promising as City’s youngster might be, Brandon, a Manchester boy who joined the club at the age of 11, concedes there is a glass ceiling through which it is hard to break.
“Clubs like City, Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal and so on are playing for high stakes so it is extremely difficult to break through. City are one of the best clubs in the world and have some of the best players you have ever seen and some of the best young players you have ever seen. But when you have someone who has been there and done it and someone who might just do it, then who is the manager going to play?”
Barker, who has amassed 17 caps at Under-18, 19 and 20 levels with England, added: “I’ve seen lots and lots of players, international youth players who have not been able to make it. It’s extremely difficult, but you have to gain as much as you can from being at a club like City and play at the highest level possible.”
Training with Guardiola’s first-team squad was, though, a regular experience for many of the club’s youngsters while Barker revealed former Arsenal and France great Patrick Viera has had the greatest influence on his career to date.
He said: “I had him as my coach for three or four years and he really made me come out of my shell and show what I can do.
“It was surreal for a while to have someone like him as your coach and, to be honest, it was tough love. He’d been so successful in his own career, been there and done it all with Arsenal and France, but he had so much time for the players. His focus was on making me as great a player as he could, he brought out the best in me – but he was great for everyone.
“To have someone like him take such an interest in me made me realise I must have something. He knew how to get the best out of me; I might not have always liked what he was saying but he didn’t care, all he wanted to do was improve me. He’s the best manager I’ve worked under, I was devastated when he left.”
Now, though, Barker believes his game will take another step forward under Lennon. “I know he wanted to take me to Bolton and that was a big influence on me coming up here. I came up to Edinburgh, had a look round the training ground which is fantastic and I’m sure City believe that playing for Hibs will help me progress again.
“I think they get DVDs of the games while someone will come up every month or six weeks to speak to me and ask how it is going. It is not a case of out of sight, out of mind.”