Ten years ago, a young lad from Liverpool made a name for himself at a major international tournament. Nonplussed by the reputation of supposedly more illustrious opponents and unfazed by the pressure of the European Championships, Wayne Rooney dazzled at Euro 2004.
At 18 years old he was naturally a little rough around the edges and prone to the odd lapse. But he was enthralling to watch, taking players on, making plenty happen and scoring goals for fun. Thinking back through all the major tournaments since, it was probably the last time that watching England play was a such consistently exciting spectacle.
Since that Rooney of 2004, England have been without a player who has that kind of mercurial edge. But they could potentially have one in Ross Barkley.
In England’s warm-up game against Ecuador, the 20-year-old from Wavertree showcased qualities comparable to Rooney’s a decade ago. He drove forward with menace, glided past opponents and was irrepressible in his attempts to conjure openings in the final third. A wonderful nutmeg on the turn was the highlight of his display, helping to set up England’s second goal.
Barkley lost the ball on a few occasions, as is expected of any attacking player, but he performed pretty well all in all. He had better games for Everton last season and he had worse. So it was especially peculiar when Roy Hodgson came out and publicly criticised the midfielder’s profligacy with the ball in the post-match press conference in Miami:
“I’m not prepared to address your obsession with Ross Barkley.
“If he’s going to be the player we want him to be, he has to make better decisions of when he turns with the ball.
“That’s not a criticism, but there were other performances out there today.”
It’s very rare in the game for a manager to castigate players in front of the media these days. Even more so when they’ve put in a rather decent performance. There were defintiely plenty in England shirts that warranted that kind of public disparagement more so than Barkley.
Perhaps Hodgson is indulging in some mind games, trying to spur the youngster on to bigger and better things ahead of the tournament? Maybe he’s trying to quell the hype after a strong performance? But the England boss is not typically one to indulge in those sorts of exploits. He’s a straightforward, safety-first boss by nature.
And you suspect Hodgson’s conservative make-up is why he may have singled out the Everton man after last night’s game. In short, the attributes of Barkley and the principles of Hodgson don’t really make for a happy marriage.