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Why Roy Hodgson was right to criticise Ross Barkley

The England boss took an unusual approach to expectation management

Richard Heathcote

I really hope Roy Hodgson forewarned Ross Barkley about what he was going to say to the press about his performance against Ecuador in Miami on Wednesday.

Barkley made a thoroughly impressive first England start, laying on the second goal for Rickie Lambert and showing the kind of cavalier play that may just win the side a few games in Brazil.

Yet afterwards Hodgson chose instead to lay into the 20-year-old, pointing out that he gave the ball away too many times.

To confuse matters further he chose to lavish praise on the likes of Phil Jones and Jack Wilshere, more experienced internationals who did not shine as much as Barkley.

Hodgson is far too experienced to have not been impressed by the midfielder's display, so his post-match sideshow was almost certainly a case of expectation management.

With little to talk about until the start of the World Cup the press need to fill their back pages, TV screens and airwaves, and Hodgson does not want it to be about the Everton man.

It is little wonder that he also talked about the media’s ‘obsession’ with one player.

Because of that there will now be a clamour for Ross to start England’s first game against Italy in Manaus. There will also be a similarly frantic expectation for him to deliver, belying the fact he is only 20 with a handful of caps to his name.

You only had to look at Twitter to catch a glimpse of what might happen if Barkley doesn’t perform at the World Cup. Fans of rival sides were all too quick to lay into Barkley during the game while praising those who play for their own club side.

And this was only a friendly; you can magnify that tribalism 10-fold when the tournament kicks off.

What makes Barkley so exciting is the fact he takes risks. He goes on surging runs when a simple pass is on, he takes shots from distance; it is what makes him a special player.

The Evertonians have fully bought into that and do not get on his back when it doesn’t come off but instead applaud him for trying.

The England fans will not be so accommodating.

By saying what he said Hodgson seems to be admitting that Barkley is his secret weapon at the World Cup.

His tough love is actually his form of protection.

He is yet to be tainted and ground down by years of under-achievement by the national team, not helped by the unfair weight of expectation they are forced to drag around with them at every major tournament.

Those England players are the opposite of Barkley, they fear making a mistake given the hysterical reaction that will follow. If that happens to Ross he will no longer be the same player.

I fully believe that Barkley has the potential to do something special at this World Cup, yet having watched him this season I also know that may also flatter to deceive.

Hodgson knows this as well.

And while I applaud his efforts to try and spread the word among the press and England support, I fear it will fall on deaf ears.