Ross Barkley has 'potential to be very exciting' in Brazil, says Roy Hodgson when explaining England World Cup squad

England manager impressed by Everton midfielder’s potential to be ‘exciting’ in Brazil

It was not, Roy Hodgson insisted yesterday, the thrilling brilliance of Ross Barkley’s goals against Manchester City or against Newcastle United that forced his way into the World Cup squad, but the weight of his body of work over the course of the season.

Hodgson made very clear yesterday afternoon, during his media duties, that this England squad was the product of months of careful consideration, that he was so averse to being swung by one particular event that he nearly avoided going to games entirely over the final weeks of the season.

Barkley is not in on the strength of any online clip-show. And so Hodgson – who is not thought to be a regular user of Vine – has grounded expectations to match.

“We have had Barkley in this 23 for a while,” the England manager said. “What I said, is that I don’t want people expecting Ross Barkley to be the Ross Barkley who played against City because I’ve also seen him in other games where he’s been different, not played as well, been taken off. I find that totally normal.

“I was quite prepared not to go to matches in the last two or three weeks because I was determined not to suddenly get a change of heart if a player I’d been counting on played badly in a game or someone I’d not been counting on had a good game. I had enough time from October to the middle of April to make decisions.”

Hodgson understands that Barkley is a risk-taker and is prepared to accept the good with the bad. “He’s in a position where he plays on very small margins,” Hodgson said. “Sometime the margins work, sometimes they don’t. But we picked him because we think he’s got potential to do some very exciting things during this World Cup. Because we think he’s going to be, if he continues, a very good player.”

England manager Roy Hodgson explains his World Cup squad selection England manager Roy Hodgson explains his World Cup squad selection  

Of course Hodgson was unlikely to say that he expects continual repeated brilliance from Barkley, or that he hopes the young Liverpudlian can be for England in 2014 what Paul Gascoigne was at Italia ’90. That would be unfair. But the simple fact is that Barkley, of all of England’s midfield options, remains the likeliest game-breaker, whether from the start or the bench.

Barkley has made glaringly clear this season what Merseyside has known for years, that he is a player of exceptional talent, the finest Everton have produced since Wayne Rooney 10 years before. Like Rooney, what stands out even above the touch, the strength and the vision is the audacity; the confidence to demand the ball from his team-mates and the imagination to try what they would not consider.

 

Roberto Martinez, who has described Barkley repeatedly as a “diamond of English football”, has used him as the pivotal threat in a 4-2-3-1 system for Everton and if Barkley is to feature in Brazil it is most likely to be in the same role. The 20-year-old probably does not quite have the positional discipline or tactical nous yet that is required to play in a midfield pair, but if he has Steven Gerrard and one other playing behind him he can be released further upfield to link defence and attack.

When given the ball in those positions, Barkley can run past players in the middle of the pitch, something that England have lacked for years. But he has shown all season, with his famous goal at St James’ Park, and on the break in games like the home win over Chelsea, that he can make up ground like few others.

That ability is what has earned Barkley the comparisons with Gascoigne. When asked about them in December, after another stand-out performance in a big game at the Emirates, Martinez also spoke of similarities with another great of the game.

“When I see Ross, I see bits of Michael Ballack and bits of Gazza,” the Spaniard said. “It is for us to make those comparisons, but I can guarantee you Ross Barkley is quite unique. He has incredible balance with both feet, really strong, really powerful. He is someone you can compare to any other nation, and I mean the young Brazilians, Dutch, Spanish players.”

Barkley could well be coming up against exactly those players next month but anyone who has seen him play will know that he will not be cowed by the occasion. He has an inbuilt fearlessness and a capacity to seize the biggest stage. His best performances for Everton have come in the most important games. Against Manchester City he showed the eventual champions no respect whatsoever, seeing and executing a chance no one else in the ground had conceived of, whipping the ball first time over Joe Hart and into the far top corner of the net from 30 yards.

This, as Hodgson explained, was not the goal that earned Barkley’s place. No one player got in from just one game. But as a sign of his brain, his skill and his courage, it was impressive enough.

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