Ross Barkley thinks he grew from a boy into a man this summer as a result of loan spells at Yorkshire clubs Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United and his chastening World Cup experience with England.
Barkley looked every inch a star in the making in June when he impressed on his first England start in the humid heat of Miami Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium.
The Everton midfielder nutmegged one Ecuador player and drifted past another before setting up Rickie Lambert for England’s second goal in the 2-2 draw.
As a result of his performance, debate sparked as to whether Barkley, 20, should start for England in Brazil, possibly even at the expense of Wayne Rooney.
So it came as something of a surprise that Roy Hodgson criticised the midfielder at his post-match press conference in Florida.
‘’I’m not prepared to address your obsession with Ross Barkley,’’ the England manager snapped, uncharacteristically.
‘’He lost the ball an awful lot of times. 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.”
Barkley had every right to feel aggrieved. There were shades of Rooney’s show-stopping displays in Euro 2004 about his performance. Ecuador could not handle his pace, power and trickery.
But he was not offended.
“I learned from that experience (of being criticised),” Barkley said.
“I’m the type of player who takes risks so now and then I’m going to give the ball away, but I just have to learn not to give the ball away in silly areas of the pitch.
“And I learned from being around the likes of Bainesy (Leighton Baines), Stevie G (Steven Gerrard) and Lamps (Frank Lampard) this summer.
“I learned that it’s not a kids’ game any more.”
The fact that Barkley even managed to get to the World Cup is remarkable.
“A year or two ago, I was playing reserve football,” said Barkley, who had only one full year of first-team football at Everton before being called up to the World Cup squad.
Barkley had to ‘rough it’ in the Championship with loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds before he was deemed good enough for a place in the Everton first team.
“I went out on loan from being a kid to going into a man’s game,” Barkley said.
“When I came back from Leeds, things started to change as I was getting on the pitch more.
“It’s more serious, more professional, playing with better players, playing against better players.
“When I was younger I was getting the ball and able to take all the players on as I was bigger and stronger but in the Premier League you cannot do that.”
Barkley had struggled for confidence when he first broke into the Everton team, partly because of a career-threatening leg break he suffered as a 16-year-old.
But now he is ready to play a big role for club and country.
Having recovered from a knee injury, the Merseysider is back to full fitness and is eager to take part in tomorrow’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Slovenia and the friendly in Scotland three days later.
Andros Townsend yesterday pulled out of the squad.
Townsend was unable to train with England for the last two days because of a slight ankle injury.