Alex McLeish has admitted his heart bleeds for Aston Villa midfielder Ross Barkley after a hit-and-miss campaign.

The former Villa boss, speaking exclusively to Football Insider, insisted the 27-year-old could be a “world-beater” on his day but admitted he had not been consistent enough.

As revealed by Football Insider, Dean Smith is still weighing up whether to push for a permanent move for the Chelsea loanee at the end of the season.

It is understood the Blues have set a £35million asking price on the playmaker’s head – a club record fee for Villa.

Barkley has played 15 times for the Villans to date but has started on the bench for the last two games.

McLeish admitted he had “loads of empathy” for the England international after his indifferent form.

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“He started off brilliantly, didn’t he?” McLeish told Football Insider assistant editor Russell Edge.

“We thought: ‘This is a fantastic addition to the Villa team. Maybe we don’t have to just focus on Jack Grealish anymore, we can see this guy too.’ John McGinn has been a stalwart for them too but he’s a different type of player.

Barkley came in and looked a world-beater in the first few games. It seems to me he doesn’t have that massive game history. He’s not consistently excellent in the style football that he can bring to the team.

“Loads of empathy, I’m hurting for guys like that where it’s: ‘Where is he today? He’s not doing what he can do.’ That is something that happens, I’m afraid, to some of the footballers. Unfortunately, they can’t be brilliant every single week.

“He delivers just for a month, and then a couple of months it’s not so good.

“That seemed to mark his Chelsea stay as well didn’t, didn’t it? I like him, when he’s in good form, he’s a good player to watch.”

In other news, Kevin Phillips is worried about Wesley after an Aston Villa training update.