Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England shirt is now

EXCLUSIVE COLUMN: The former Manchester United midfielder sees traces of Paul Gascoigne and Wayne Rooney in Barkley, thinks the England U21s can win the Euros and wonders why Raheem Sterling would leave Liverpool

There are times in the career of every young English footballer when they simply need to take their chance to establish themselves. Having burst on to the scene last season, that moment is now for the bright young talent that is Ross Barkley.

Against Italy as a second-half substitute on Tuesday night he showed exactly the kind of form that is required to make his own the position in the team that I think he is best-suited to: the No 10, either at the top of a diamond or behind a lone striker. When England play again in June, Barkley has to take the next step and claim that starting role as his own.

I rate him highly. He has the kind of pace and physique that few footballers his age can boast and technically he is an accomplished player. He can go past an opponent on either side. He can score goals. This lad has a lot to offer, but that alone will not be enough. He is still young, not 22 until December, but as ever in football there is no time like the present.

Looking at England’s midfield over the last two games I would say that there is a great deal of energy and enthusiasm in there. Fabian Delph and Jordan Henderson are two players who can get to the ball quickly and disrupt opponents’ play.

The experiment with Phil Jones was conceived along the same lines – a player who could break up the Italians’ rhythm – although it was obvious what that first-half line-up lacked.

In the second half, it was crucial that Michael Carrick was on the pitch. As I have said many times before, Michael is capable of breaking up play like a good defensive midfielder but he can also pass the ball well. He is always in the right place. On top of that, Barkley gave the team the attacking creativeness they had lacked.

Michael Carrick


Before the break, Italy showed just how to execute a 3-5-2 formation against a diamond-shaped midfield, finding space in the wide areas and putting pressure on the full-backs. For England, it was an experiment and it did not work. That happens. Roy Hodgson addressed it just before half-time and again in the second half, and the team were the better for it.

England need that touch of quality at the tip of the diamond behind the two strikers. Raheem Sterling has played there in the past and Wayne Rooney was asked to do it against Italy, but to my mind those two are strikers. It is that creative position, the  No 10, that Barkley can make his own. But he has to force the issue.

That difficult moment when you have to move from being a kid with potential to a consistent first-team regular who is one of the mainstays of the team is hard for young players. Many don’t get the opportunity in the first place, or if they do they get only a brief one. At Manchester United, for example, the striker James Wilson has been given a number of chances this season and although he has done well, at no point has he made it impossible for Louis van Gaal to leave him out.

Our modern coaching culture is not to put too much pressure on any one performance, to let an individual flourish over time. But when it comes down to it you do have to accept that you can’t keep putting the moment off. At some point a young player has to grasp the opportunity and make himself undroppable.

Rooney did that at a very young age, and Harry Kane has done the same at Tottenham. I also like the way that Delph has taken his opportunity with England since the World Cup. If anything, the development of those two players has taken some of the spotlight away from Barkley and he may welcome that.

Fabian Delph


Barkley reminds me of a footballer I played alongside against Italy in La Tournoi in Nantes, 18 years ago. That was Paul Gascoigne, a substitute that day and, at his peak, a brilliant creative player. I think there is a bit of Rooney in Barkley, too. Barkley has the energy and enthusiasm of Delph and Henderson but he has that creativity too, and that kind of ability will be what wins England games against the better football nations.

The people I speak to about Barkley cannot talk highly enough of his professionalism and dedication. He is, apparently, a boy who trains as hard as anyone and you rarely, if ever, read anything about him that is not to do with football.

Playing for an Everton team who have struggled this season, despite a better run in the last four games, has not helped Barkley. When I have watched him play for his club recently I have felt that he has tended towards the safe option in his play. That is natural when you are playing in a team who are losing or drawing a lot of games. But that is not what has made him the player he is so far in his career.


Barkley is one of those players who has to be encouraged to run at opponents and take shots at goal. At his age he needs to be given the assurance that he can do that with confidence, and while he has been criticised in the past by Hodgson for giving the ball away too much, Barkley should never be afraid to do that in attacking positions.

Since the World Cup last summer, England have become a much more energetic, aggressive team in midfield and that gives them a good basis.

In Barkley they have a player who may one day be capable of raising the national team to the next level. But in order to do that he needs to start taking his chances as he did on Tuesday. It’s the hard part of making it as a top footballer, but there really is no alternative.

England U21s are genuine contenders for the Euros

Watching the England Under-21s beat Germany on Monday night it was obvious that they have a chance of winning the European Championship in June. Why the Football Association would not take its strongest squad is beyond me, as I have said before in these pages.

As a country, we simply are not that good that we can overlook these kind of opportunities to win an international tournament. David De Gea, Asier Illarramendi, Thiago Alcantara, Isco and Dani Carvajal were all in the Spain squad which won the same tournament in 2013 and it does not seem to have done their careers any harm.

Looking at the England team, there are some players who stand out, and none more for me than John Stones. I really like the look of this defender, even though he did not have the best game at the Riverside on Monday. He looks quick and strong, and I like the way he steps out from the back four with the ball. You need to have good ability to do that at international level and he clearly does.

England’s James Ward-Prowse celebrates his winning goal against Germany at the Riverside Stadium on Monday night


Carl Jenkinson had a good game against the Germans. James Ward-Prowse’s delivery from set-pieces looks excellent to me. And I think Danny Ings has come on a lot. He is a better player than I gave him credit for at first. He missed a good chance in the game but his movement is very good.

And on top of these players there are the likes of Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Harry Kane and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Even Jack Wilshere and Phil Jones would be available this summer.

So many times England have been a short price for tournaments when you knew really that they would struggle to win them. For once their position as second favourites feels realistic.

All is perfect for Sterling at Liverpool. Why leave?

When it comes to his future, my view is that Raheem Sterling should stay at Liverpool. They have elevated him from the junior sides and he has a manager who has built a team around him. He plays every week. What more do you need at that age?

Raheem Sterling


Sterling is a good player. He can beat a man and on his day he looks impressive. But he doesn’t score enough goals, not yet anyway.

You have to be careful when you time a move to one of the biggest clubs. Occasionally, these young players do not realise what a good thing they are on to when they know that they will be playing every week.

Weekly awards

Player of the week

Michael Carrick. Two typically classy  performances for England from their oldest player

Moment of the week

It has to be Lee Casciaro’s goal for Gibraltar against Scotland. A little bit of history

Match of the week

England Under-21s 3-2 Germany Under-21s. A great comeback and a well-worked winning goal finished by James Ward-Prowse

Manager of the week

North Ferriby United’s Billy Heath for his team’s win over Wrexham on penalties in the FA Trophy final