Barkley's man-of-the-match display in Everton's 1-1 draw at Arsenal served to highlight a talent that must be nurtured for the good of the English game
Ross Barkley is so promising that he could stop a Football Association chairman pretend-slitting his own throat. An England future with Everton ’s 20-year-old attacking midfielder gliding forward and slipping passes to older team-mates should bring cheer to Greg Dyke and other pessimists.
Carry on Up the Jungle is the working title of England’s first World Cup fixture against Italy in the Amazonian city of Manaus. The treatment of Roy Hodgson’s team veers between comedy and despair. Neither is any use. With a thrusting and often elegant performance against Arsenal in a captivating 1-1 draw, Barkley served notice that the young England footballer is not mere food for obituary writers and satirists.
There is barely an expert in the British game who is not predicting a fine career for Barkley, who was described by his manager, Roberto Martínez, as a blend of Michael Ballack and Paul Gascoigne. If a Merseyside context is obligatory, he is a mix of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard: a pugnacious Evertonian on the one hand and a marauder on the other.
This may sound overstated. But we are talking here of the player Barkley might become rather than the one he is now. Handing him his man of the match award, the Everton and England centre-back, Phil Jagielka, was careful to say that Barkley still needed to work on the parts of his game that “aren’t so good”.
One – not always, but occasionally – is his decision making when he surges forward. How far to run and when to release the pass is a question of experience and maturity.
These minor quibbles should not obscure a sterling performance against one of the best passing teams in the land. Barkley chose the right stage on which to strut. In these parts they love a floating artist.
He plays with a wide-eyed expression that manages to express intensity and a youthful sense of wonder. His features while Jagielka assessed his game on television was a picture of concentrated curiosity. He is plainly feeding off these reviews to help him work out how good he is.
Good enough to be in the England squad for Brazil, is the answer. In this form he cannot be left at home. Gerrard, Michael Carrick and Jack Wilshere are three most obvious central midfielders. Barkley is comfortably ahead of the other candidates and could become the fulcrum of England’s 2016 European Championship team.
Martínez has granted him the freedom to play in the No 10 position, behind Romelu Lukaku: a gift from manager to player, as well as a show of faith.
This endorsement will allow Barkley to develop in his best position, with the maximum scope for creativity. He is more naturally athletic than Rooney and is the right compound of strength, speed and balance.
A caveat, as ever, is that the road to the top for English youngsters is strewn with tumbleweed. The eulogies penned for Jack Rodwell in his early Everton years were almost as florid as some of those for Barkley. All the signs are, though, that he has a one-track football mind.
“Remember, when you deal with players, you don’t take into account their age or the experiences they have had,” Martínez said.
“Ross is an incredible person and so mature and has a real love for the game. I’ve never seen an English player with that sort of mentality and I’ve had the privilege to work with many youngsters who have been successful.
"We needed to find a role for him, specifically off the ball, and then he needs to be able to express himself. I’ve got great admiration for Ross. He’s got great potential. We need to give him time, we have to recognise him as a real English diamond. He isn’t ready yet and it will take time but he has everything to mark a real era in our football.
“I think the manager of England has to decide what role, if any, he wants for Ross. But what we need to do is make sure we give him another 50 starts to see his evolution. Any player needs to develop an understanding and learn how to be effective and I think that’s what Ross needs. I think I can say the same for all the youngsters on the pitch.
“In this country we need to be more protective of our youngsters, because in Ross we have someone who, if we look after him properly, can give us something unique.”
Martínez is understandably cautious about Barkley being cast into the cauldron of a World Cup, but his own tribute points in only one direction.
Here is a young player England could be proud to show to the world. And imagine how many lights a Brazil World Cup would switch on in Ross Barkley’s head.