Coventry City v Barnsley - Callum Styles is enjoying his crazy days at Oakwell

WHEN ASKED about the special sobriquet bestowed upon him by Barnsley supporters, Callum Styles’s answer summed up his club’s season perfectly.

“It is a bit crazy to be honest, but you have to take it in your stride and enjoy the moment’ said the midfielder.

Or the ‘Bury Baggio’ as he is referred to by countless Reds followers.

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The pony-tailed Italian play-maker of that surname – 1990s football icon Roberto Baggio – will not know where Bury is or Barnsley for that matter.

Barnsley's Callum Styles. Picture Tony Johnson

He probably does not know where Burnley is either, another place which is part of the Styles narrative.

The Lancastrian was not quite viewed as a teenage sensation in the same way that Baggio was when emerging through the ranks at Serie C outfit Vicenza, but he had his admirers from an early age when he was a youth player at Turf Moor.

But at the age of 16, the Clarets youth team prospect was surprisingly released and quickly snapped up by Bury in March, 2016, signing a two-and-a-half professional deal with the Shakers, then in League One.

The Gigg Lane outfit beat off Championship interest to bring in Styles, gushingly labelled as an ‘unbelievable talent and a very special player’ by then Bury chief Lee Clark.

Barnsley's Callum Styles celebratyes his first half goal against Stoke. Picture Tony Johnson

That much was showcased by the fact that Styles subsequently made history in May, 2016 when he became the first player born in the 21st century to feature in a Football League fixture – having turned 16 just a month or so earlier.

Styles now finds himself across the Pennines at Barnsley and is busy turning heads again. An EFL young player of the month award for February is testament to his status as one of the Championship’s hottest young prospects and it will surprise few that his name is on the radar of Premier League clubs.

He is a vital cog in one of the Football League’s most engaging stories of 2020-21, just as he was at the tail-end of last term when Barnsley secured a remarkable act of relegation escapology on a balmy night in Brentford last July.

With all due respect, getting promoted to the top-flight as opposed to a ‘Great Escape’ mission would take things onto a whole new stratosphere.

There are plenty of hills to climb first for the sixth-placed Reds, seeking to continue their club record run of away league victories with a seventh in a row against Coventry tomorrow.

But should Barnsley hold their nerve, clinch a play-off spot and go onto memorably reach the Promised Land for just the second time in the club’s history, Styles might just have a look to see when the games against Burnley are pencilled in for – and not just the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool when the Premier League fixtures are revealed this summer.

Of course, that is one for the future.

On being shown the door by Burnley as a young lad, Styles told The Yorkshire Post: “It was a setback and you cannot let a setback get to you and you have to use it as a motivation to turn things around.

“That is what I have done and I wanted to prove to people wrong – those that did not think anything of me. That is my journey.

“I was doing really well and playing with the youth team at 15 or 16 and it was a big shock to me, but you have to take it on the chin. I was mentally strong and that helped me as well.”

Support of family along the way has provided a bedrock for Styles, whose father wept tears of joy when he phoned his son following Barnsley’s incredible win at Griffin Park on the final night of the 2019-20 campaign.

More’s the pity that family and friends have not been there to witness some special moments for the 21-year-old this season, including a blistering strike against Nottingham Forest, a similarly eye-catching effort in the FA Cup against Norwich and a late winner at the place where Barnsley visit tomorrow in St Andrew’s – tenants Coventry are the hosts this time and not Birmingham.

Styles added: “It is ages ago since my family and friends watched me. It was some time last season and everyone is so eager to get back in and support us again. It was a massive achievement for me last season and all my family were proud.

“My family is a big part of where I am today and they will back me and help me 100 per cent whenever they can. It was a mad and emotional personal moment to appreciate what we had done (at Brentford). It was all good.

“It has been a great past year or so for me. But I believed in mine and the team’s ability and it was only a matter of time before we showed that to everyone else.”

Having turned 21 at the end of March, Styles has come of age since the first lockdown and Barnsley have not looked back since the 2019-20 season resumed last June after its suspension over three months earlier.

In his final game before lockdown, Styles was part of a Barnsley side who lost at home to Birmingham on February 11, 2020 and were effectively ten points adrift of Championship safety.

In his last appearance against Middlesbrough, he was in a Reds line-up who moved five points clear of the team just outside of the play-off positions in Reading. Funny old game..

On his dramatic post-lockdown rise, he said “When lockdown started, I was coming back from an ankle injury and in that period off, I worked every day and worked harder than I have done before and it has paid off.

“I made what I could of anything. I don’t have a gym at home. It was a case of going on runs and getting on my bike and lifting weights in the garden. It was anything to gain that edge.”

He has certainly done that and a bit more besides.

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