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Tuesday, June 10, 2014
The English are the masters of blind optimism when it comes to the eve of tournaments.
Forget all the claptrap that expectations have been dimmed by years of underachievement at international level. For some reason there is still that little thought that this could be our year.
The fear for so many born after 1966 that we will never see our country lift the World Cup is too painful to contemplate.
So we look hard, very hard, for signs that the 48 years of hurt we’ve been subjected to as England fans can be expunged from our consciousness.
The latest sign comes in the form of an attacking midfielder, who should be the template youngsters aspire to, to make it in the modern game.
The poise Ross Barkley has shown in his performances against Ecuador and Honduras won’t have come as any surprise to Everton fans, who have seen the youngster blossom under Roberto Martinez at Goodison Park last season.
But here is a player who has the mental fortitude to play exactly as he does for his club side. The way he glided past several defenders to lay on Rickie Lambert’s goal against Ecuador was the type of run that made men of my generation fall in love with football. Forget Wayne Rooney, this player has the kind of ability Paul Gascoigne boasted in the early 1990s.
For a moment I dared to dream that Barkley could be a player the side could be built around, the kind that can switch the momentum of a match with one swish of his right boot.
Except, it seems, Roy Hodgson was not quite so taken.
“I’m not prepared to address your obsession with Ross Barkley,” Hodgson said in the aftermath of the match. “He lost the ball an awful lot of times as well. If he’s going to be the player we want him to be, he has to make better decisions of when he turns with the ball.
“That’s not a criticism, but there were other performances out there who merited your ‘obsession’ more than Ross Barkley’s.”
I understand Hodgson wants to keep a lid on the kind of hype I’m espousing in this column but who knows the kind of damage his comments have made on an impressionable player?
Yes, he misplaces the odd pass and chooses the wrong option on occasion but when you have a player in your squad with the kind of talent Barkley possesses you take the rough with the smooth. No-one disputes Lionel Messi’s decision-making and statistics show no player in Spain loses possession more. Bravery comes in many forms but in a World Cup environment the ability to see something different, offensively, is a commodity England cannot pass up.
No England fan will have been taken in by the flattering 3-0 friendly win over Peru just days earlier. We had to rely on the old staple diet of set-pieces to break down opponents prepared to sit in and shut down space in front of their own back with the kind of ferocity England struggle to deal with. Okay, it’s only a friendly but it was worrying how easily England were contained from open play.
An injection of attacking mischief was required and Barkley showed against Ecuador that he could be England’s guiding light this summer.
However, if Hodgson’s comments are anything to go by then it seems far-fetched to suggest Barkley will be lining up against Italy in Manaus.
Or…he could have been managing the expectations of a nation that looks for the merest of signs that this could be our year. Let’s hope it’s the latter but, in the meantime, let the English public live a little, Roy.