Just as at The World Cup 2014 in Brazil limited to cameo sub games and a start in a dead rubber, ‘the new Gazza’ Ross Barkley was criminally overlooked at The Euros by Roy Hodgson and England.
As the post-mortem into England’s failure at France 2016 continues, the two pre-tournament friendly results that gave cause for real encouragement and hope both starred the 22 year-old Everton playmaker, who had high hopes to make an impact in France:
‘I feel like it has gone really well with England…But I do feel I can do better. When it comes around, I want to continue my performances and play in the tournament.
‘I’ve watched clips on Paul Gascoigne, in that match against Holland (at Euro 1996) when he ran the game. I was watching that while I was away with England. I try and replicate what I have seen. I think it is good to do that.’
Barkley started in midfield in the 2-0 win against France at Wembley last November, albeit in the aftermath of the Paris bomb attacks, and perhaps more revealingly, was a second-half substitute along with Jamie Vardy at 2-1 down against Germany and was instrumental in transfroming that into a 3-2 win.
With a typical forward pass, he was involved in the equalising goal receiving the ball off Deli Alli and playing it out wide to the onrushing Nathaniel Clyne whose cross was expertly flicked in by Jamie Vardy.
The wonderful way Barkley transforms defence into attack with driving runs, fast one-twos and clever inter-play has been a feature of Everton since his emergence in the first-team and the reason he is coveted by the likes of Inter and so highly-rated at home and abroad except where it mattered at Lancaster Gate despite a string of excellent performances for club and country.
At The Euros with Wayne Rooney in central midfield instead of Barkley, such pace, urgency and energy was missing, replaced by a slower build-up and The Three Lions may have been better playing their Captain in the striker role from which he scored a record 51 goals – with Barkley in midfield behind him threading passes like the one to Theo Walcott for his goal vs Estonia in a Man of the Match display.
Barkley’s 22 Caps have produced 2 goals – 2 more than Adam Lallana has managed in a blank quarter century caps now – vs San Marino & Lithuania, when he got the opening goal in a tricky away qualifier.
Yet despite a career-best 8 goals in a full 38-game Premier League season, Barkley was again overlooked by Hodgson, just as he had been at the 2014 World Cup despite sensational form both at the end of the Premier League season with a Goal of the Season contender against Newcastle and Man of the Match display in a pre-tournament World Cup friendly against Ecuador.
There’s no doubt that Barkely is a major footballing talent who has been likened and compared to the best players of the last two football generations, Paul Gascoigne and Wayne Rooney, both of whom have dazzled The Goodison Park faithful and not yet 23 is ready to continue the international tradition.
Its mystifying that a player Spanish midfield legend Xavi says has the talent, skills and ability to thrive in La Liga, has been described as the best player Tim Cahill ever played with and identified as a cross between Gazza and Michael Ballack by ex-boss Roberto Martinez was not selected by Hodgson.
New Everton boss Ronald Koeman will be excited at the prospect of managing a phenomenon like Barkley – if, of course, the Toffees hang onto him despite almost constant speculation linking him with a move to one of the Manchester giants and this close season, a $30M move to Inter Milan.
The 22 year-old can score and create from distance or close-range with both feet and absolutely frightens teams when running at them – at 6ft 2in tall with the build of a boxer he is a powerhouse and would have given England extra steel and the physical presence they lacked to stand up to Iceland.
France, seeing Iceland’s tough approach, started Moussa Sissoko for the first time in the tournament, a man with a very similar height and build to Barkley and he thrived in a Premier League-type battle where comparative lightweights Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, were bullied out of it as they had been against Uruguay at the last World Cup.
“We need to be more ‘streetwise’” was the lesson Wayne Rooney took from the last World Cup yet still Hodgson and England attempted to prevail with technically good footballers but those lacking the physical and mental competitive qualities necessary to survive in do-or-die tournament conditions.
As ever, a root and branch review of England, the FA, the Academy system, the Premier League’s real value et al. has been started by journalist, pundits, would-be managers and fans alike but England’s woes boil down to the wrong manager ultimately picking the wrong players to play in the tournament.
Other countries, notably France with Dimiti Payet after a terrific season with West Ham in the Premier League, select the players on top form doing it regularly in the top Leagues and its likely Barkley’s form last season scoring against Arsenal and Man City plus half a dozen other lesser teams would have earned him selection by other nations.
Fresh, effervescent, dynamic, difference-making, goal-scoring and creating talents like Barkley and Andros Townsend – 3 goals in 11 Caps – should have been playing not those who flatter to deceive continually like Raheem Sterling.
BBC football writer Phil McNulty tweeted last week, ‘Everton pair Ross Barkley and John Stones can return from Euro 2016 without a stain on their record’ yet that is scant consolation to the players themselves who missed out at the tournament – or England.