You can’t beat a World Cup year. Regardless of your team’s chances in the tournament, it’s special, and as soon as the calendar clicks over to January 1, the excitement starts to build. Supporters give thanks that they won’t be without football during the seemingly endless summer break, the media begin to speculate on who might be in contention for the trophy and perhaps most importantly of all, the World Cup sticker collection is released.
In the modern age, players’ performances are under the spotlight more than ever. Supporters, journalists, commentators and pundits all have their say, but in a World Cup year, the top players are under further scrutiny still. Stellar performances are rewarded with a place on the plane, whilst an untimely loss of form sees the unfortunate footballer left on the sofa (or sunbed) watching the tournament from afar. This speculation is all part of the ever increasing fervour that surrounds a World Cup and only ends when the official squads are announced, an occasion which for me, truly signals the start of the countdown to the greatest festival of football.
Roy Hodgson has announced that he’ll name his 30 man squad (comprising 23 players with a further 7 on stand-by) on May 12, the day after the end of the Premier League season. The announcement is scheduled for three weeks ahead of the Fifa deadline, signalling that the England boss has a firm idea as to those who’ll be wearing the Three Lions in Brazil. This early announcement is good for everyone. The supporters will know the identity of those that will carry their hopes, whilst the players themselves will be made aware of their destiny and can plan accordingly.
Until that point however, the jury is out on who will make the cut, though one young Premier League star has staked a claim to a place with a series of impressive performances this season.
That player is Ross Barkley.
I’ve been championing the inclusion of younger players within the England squad for some time. I don’t see lack of experience at international level as an issue, especially when it comes to England, for whom recent tournament experiences have been largely disappointing. Younger players have nothing to fear, and unburdened by the failures of their peers, they have the opportunity to play with freedom and expression – something that Roy Hodgson wants to make a characteristic of this campaign.
The 20-year-old midfielder has caught the eye for Everton, with his club manager Roberto Martinez not shy about telling anyone who’ll listen about his prodigious talents. His eye-catching goal against Manchester City propelled him further into the limelight, and with Roy Hodgson seen nodding his approval when that perfectly flighted shot flew into the net, it seems likely that we’ll be seeing Barkley in Brazil.
And why not? He’s regularly shown he is more than capable of delivering the sort of inspirational moments that can change a game, something that England have lacked for some time. Barkley is powerful, skilful and perhaps most importantly of all, is brimming with confidence. His presence would be a powerful statement of intent from Roy Hodgson as he looks to send out a team capable of seizing the initiative and taking the game to their opponents.
Not everyone is convinced however. Some Goodison Park regulars question whether he is the finished article, whilst others suggest his distribution and decision making need work. In pointing at other youngsters that have failed to make a permanent mark on the England set-up, like Ashley Young and Tom Cleverley, some worry that sending an inexperienced player to a World Cup is setting him up for a fall and asking too much of someone too young.
They may be right, but World Cups don’t come around often in a player’s career. They are the pinnacle, they are the ultimate. Every player dreams of taking part. Ross Barkley will be no different and if England are to begin to turn their tournament fortunes around, they need to be brave and to utilise the talent they have available.
Should England and their fans bank on Barkley? Perhaps not, but as far as I’m concerned, his presence in the 2014 squad wouldn’t just be valuable, it could prove to be priceless.
Mike Parkin is a lifelong football fan, a season ticket holder at Watford FC and a fervent supporter of the national team. Mike presents the popular Watford FC podcast ‘From the Rookery End’ and will be documenting his trip to the World Cup on the website: www.fromtherookeryend.com. You can also see Mike’s images on Instagram (RookeryEnd) and you can interact with him directly on Twitter by following @RookeryMike.