England will fly to Miami tonight for the final leg of their World Cup build-up, more optimistic about their chances in Brazil than seemed feasible when stumbling to a stultifying goalless draw in Ukraine at the start of the season. Much of the new confidence is down to the attacking young guns who again showed signs of their potential in Friday’s 3-0 defeat of Peru.
Daniel Sturridge’s goal took the headlines, but it was encouraging to see Roy Hodgson try both Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley in the second striker role originally filled at Wembley by Wayne Rooney. Against admittedly tiring opposition Barkley looked very sharp, not that his more seasoned club team-mate, Phil Jagielka, was surprised.
“He’s fantastic,” said Jagielka. “You forget how young he is. Has his progress surprised me this season? Yes and no. At that age you can come on in leaps and bounds. You have to give a lot of credit to [Everton’s] manager and coaching staff for nursing that talent through the season, and a lot of credit to Roy for taking the plunge of picking them [young players] and putting them in the [England] squad. It’s nice to go forward. The team that finished the game was as young as I’ve seen it and that can only be good for English football.”
However, Jagielka cautioned: “As a nation we’re desperate for success and for people to do things as quick as possible, but you don’t want to put too much pressure on those sort of players too early. I think the way Roy manages him and the way [Everton manager] Roberto [Martinez] is at club level is absolutely perfect for Ross.
“He’ll play quite a lot of games really well and if he doesn’t it’s sometimes best to rest him for a bit. Tonight he was on the bench and to have people like him and Raheem to come on gives us another dimension and hopefully that will be good for the squad.”
Barkley was 12, said Jagielka, when the senior players at Goodison Park became aware of him. “You notice the bigger kids, and he was bigger than everyone else. There was a lot of talk. You always hear about the kids who are coming through. We had Jose Baxter, who was 16, but we also heard there was another young lad as well – Ross. He had a couple of injuries that put him back but because he was so mature in his physique he was hanging around the first team and probably not getting enough game time himself. He knew he had to go and play a bit of football.
“Lads of his age that hadn’t been injured had probably played 30 or 40 games in the last couple of seasons. He’d probably played five or 10. So he went on loan a couple of times, found his feet and when the new manager [Martinez] came in he put a lot of faith in him. Ross enjoyed that and took it on from the first game of the season, when he scored.”
There will be much tougher tests to come than a young, experimental Peruvian side, but the squad’s mood was summed up by Adam Lallana who said: “I have tried to play without fear. I think that’s the way for England to play.”