Tom Barkhuizen’s five and a half year association with Preston North End is coming to an end, after it was announced his contract will not be renewed this summer.
It’s disappointing Barkhuizen’s North End career has just fizzled out with his last season being one disrupted by numerous injuries.
With football behind played behind closed doors for 18 months prior to this season as well, it almost feels as if we have been cheated of seeing Barkhuizen over the last few years.
Barky arrived in late 2016 to little fanfare. Morecambe had been struggling to pay their bills, and Preston were able to swoop in and make a deal to bring a then 23 year-old player who had scored 15 League Two goals in the last 18 months.
It seemed worth a gamble but would perhaps take time for him to settle into life in the Championship with Simon Grayson’s side. Barkhuizen had previously played at this level with arch rivals Blackpool but just as a young player with a few appearances here and there.
This was to be different, and not many would have predicted how important Barkhuizen would become for Preston, especially in the Alex Neil era. Barkhuizen hit the ground running, and how fast he was at running. It was a crucial part of his game. Quite often in his early days at Deepdale he would just launch the ball ahead of him and then back himself to beat everyone else to it before continuing his run.
Barkhuizen had to settle for substitute appearances at first with Jordan Hugill, Callum Robinson and Aiden McGeady combining well for the majority of Preston’s attacking play at that point. There was Simon Makienok, Stevie May and Jermaine Beckford all pushing for the forward spots as well.
His first start came away to Fulham when he started up front with Hugill, and it was the game he bagged his first Lilywhite goal as well. It was to kick start a very impressive run of form. He scored a last minute equaliser in the next game against Derby County before two goals at home to Reading in one of the best all round individual performances you are likely to see in a North End shirt since the return to this level in 2015.
Barkhuizen was sensational that day, his pace was blistering and he was clearly enjoying playing in this team. Looking back on that game last year I wrote,
“His first at Deepdale was a beautifully curled effort. His pace was electric that day, and caused the Royals problems throughout. The second goal of the game was scored by Daryl Horgan, but it all came from a sensational run from Barkhuizen, which started just outside his own area.
His pace and confidence that day got the North End fans up on their feet. His ability to just knock the ball ahead of himself and outsprint the opposition with ease was a joy to watch. He went on to score the third goal of the match as well, and it really was an outstanding individual performance.“
Barkhuizen then scored in the next game away to Blackburn Rovers, and was now well and truly a fan favourite. The next season saw Alex Neil replace Simon Grayson and it saw the winger play every single league game. Neil knew he could trust the former Morecambe player at both ends of the pitch.
Seven and eleven goals followed in the two seasons after that. Formations were tinkered now and again but Barkhuizen could always be relied to play out wide and grab a goal when needed.
In the 2019-20 season came another classic Tom Barkhuizen performance. With North End 2-0 down to Blackburn Rovers after just over 10 minutes (sound familiar?) it looked set to be a miserable afternoon.
However in the second half, thanks to help from Jayden Stockley and Daniel Johnson, Barkhuizen led a fightback concluding with a superb goal to give Preston the 3-2 win. It was a reminder of his brilliance, and led to yet more calls from the fans for him to kiss the badge.
With games behind closed doors came a drop in form for many and led to the end of Neil’s tenure at Preston. Frankie McAvoy took his place and the new formation with three at the back meant there wasn’t the attacking role for Barky anymore. He could do a job as a wing-back but it wasn’t the same. As part of a front two had been done before, but that wasn’t tested enough.
Injuries were then too frequent for the 28 year-old and he received a mixed response to an outspoken yet frank and honest interview with BBC Radio Lancashire when he basically said Preston weren’t playing good enough, and his contract situation was up in the air. He said what a lot of fans were thinking, and he was always open and honest.
Barkhuizen only ended up playing 14 games this season and only three under Ryan Lowe. His injuries perhaps stopped him from getting a contract renewal. Was there ever one on the table? Or did Barky always intend to move on? We might never find out but this player is certainly capable of still playing at this level and I would imagine. Alex Neil may be keen to bring him to Sunderland.
For a player who gave his all in the shirt over 200 times, it’s a shame a 36 minute appearance against Swansea City in January was to be his last. The win over Middlesbrough was an emotional day to see the last of our loanees and of course Paul Huntington. It would have been nice to wish the best to Tom Barkhuizen as well and thank him for some great memories, as I don’t quite think he knew how valued he was by the North End faithful.