England go into this World Cup in Brazil without too much expectation but fans are begging for a bit more excitement to give them hope for the future. This has led to strong calls for young Evertonian Ross Barkley to start, and he might do, but that could be a mistake that sees the Three Lions not make it out the group stages.
In the three friendlies leading up to the World Cup, he’s been praised for his attacking intent and the verve many feel England are crying out for. When he gets the ball people await what he’ll do with it, he has the talent to go on a mazing run, take a shot from distance or give it to a team-mate in space to finish it off. He shows in flashes the real talent he possesses and many pin their hopes on these glimpses as a sign that he should start simply because he’s adventurous.
However, there are downsides to his game at its current stage that would hinder England in the group stages where it will be very difficult. Too often he loses the ball or makes the wrong decision which leads to conceding possession which could be very costly against the stronger teams in the tournament. The cost wasn’t so great when losing it to the Ecuadorian midfield but when you gift Andrea Pirlo the ball or allow the Uruguayans to get Suarez involved more regularly with a player out of position, you put your team at great risk that could have been avoided.
That’s also not suggesting where he would play in the side. His ideal position is as a central attacking midfielder and that role is kind-of filled by Wayne Rooney, one of the only players that strikes fear in the opponents and there shouldn’t be a question of leaving him out. They need width so they shouldn’t really play him out wide and playing him deeper alongside Steven Gerrard would be a mistake, he’s too adventurous and would leave the defence exposed.
There’s also an argument to be made that he’s not ready for international tournament football as he hasn’t got enough experience. He played a good amount of the season for Everton but he didn’t play every single game consistently and that’s a worry, if his manager doesn’t quite fully trust him then why can the national team?
He is still growing and comparing him to other youngsters leaves something to be desired. Max Meyer, two years his junior, might not see a minute for Germany this year but has played as many games as Barkley for Schalke and having broken into the side, he played almost every game. He’s also played nine times in Europe and that’s really helped him develop into an exciting talent, yet he’s not even going to the World Cup.
In that lies the question, why are England fans looking so optimistically at a talented youngster who still clearly needs to grow? Is there that much desperation that we should put someone out there with much more limited experience just because he could turn around and be a world beater?
For Roy Hodgson, it’s a real catch 22. Should the team lose without Barkley on the field, there will be the blame for not playing him and his head could be on the chopping block. If he does and they lose, it’s his fault for taking too much of a risk on a player who wasn’t quite ready for the sudden step up. Winning would obviously quell any argument but if you were to throw Barkley into the fire he might get burnt and if that becomes a hindrance on his development it would be that much worse.
There is no denying that Ross Barkley could become a world class footballer and it still feels unusual to me to not back a young player but we have to be realistic. He’s still learning his craft, another full season at Everton with more game time and Europa League football will see him improve to the point where the national team have to play him. Unfortunately for Ross, this World Cup has probably come a year too soon for him to have an impact from the start that fans would hope for.