MIAMI (AP) — It’s the eagerness to pin the nation’s World Cup hopes on one player that irritates England coach Roy Hodgson so much.
No sooner had the focus in Miami switched from Wayne Rooney’s scoring struggles than Hodgson grew frustrated at what he perceived as a fixation on another product of Everton.
“There always seems to be an enormous obsession with one player,” Hodgson said at England’s pre-World Cup base. “I’m not prepared to address your obsession with Ross Barkley.”
Such is the 20-year-old prodigy’s raw talent, youthful energy, and fearlessness that he has already been cast as the player who can lift the England team to another level in Brazil.
The midfielder clearly isn’t lacking in self-belief, surrounded by established Premier League players.
“He’s rather hoping he can get in the starting XI and be the main man,” Hodgson said. “He has wonderful pace and ball control.”
As fans saw on Wednesday when Barkley accelerated through the Ecuador defense in the humidity of Miami before laying the ball off for Rickie Lambert to score in the 2-2 draw. But that was only Barkley’s first international start in England’s penultimate World Cup warmup.
“He’s only going to get better,” midfielder Frank Lampard said. “That’s his first start so considering that when you look at him and what he’s done, he’s made the second goal and shown enough there that we can say that he deserves his place in the squad and he’s a great addition.”
It’s little wonder that Barkley is already compared to Rooney, who announced himself onto the international stage with four goals as an 18-year-old at the 2004 European Championship.
“I’ve been watching a lot of the Everton games and seeing what he has done there is great, having a young English lad coming through like that,” said Rooney, who played for Barkley’s team before joining Manchester United.
“Training with him and seeing him up close is great. He has got so much talent and if he gets his chance, I am sure he will do fantastic and he can light this World Cup up.”
The similarities between Rooney and Barkley haven’t been lost on Lampard.
“It’s that fearlessness of youth,” said the 35-year-old Lampard, who has made 104 England appearances. “Great ability on the ball, running at people with the ball, that’s what you want to see.
“He’s got the bit between his teeth. He’s more (a) number 10 than I ever was but he’s very good at receiving the ball and turning quickly.”
Barkley has climbed through the England youth teams to earn just his fifth full cap against Ecuador. The danger is over-hyping a player who is clearly skillful — as typified by the backheeled ball to set up Rooney for a shot on Wednesday — yet inexperienced.
“I’ve seen too many young players lifted to the stars, made the new (Kevin) Keegan, the new (Glenn) Hoddle, the new (Paul) Gascoigne,” Hodgson said.
Hodgson added he was “anxious to play down the expectations,” which explains why he was highlighting flaws in Barkley’s game, including giving the ball away too easily.
“What he’s got to learn is at this level every mistake can be crucial,” Hodgson said. “The trick you try at the wrong moment could lead to the turnover that costs you the game. When he’s been playing for his club side, or in junior years, that’s not been a feature. He’s got to learn at the next step up.”
Everton manager Roberto Martinez has already sounded a note of caution, and highlighted the need to protect a player who is still developing.
“We shouldn’t expect Ross Barkley, at the age of 20, to go into a World Cup and be someone who has to win games single-handedly,” Martinez said. “That would be very wrong.”
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris
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