Don't make Barkley a star before he is one
ENGLAND v SLOVENIA
English football just cannot help itself.
Young, talented players are no longer just promising prospects. They are one decent game away from joining their nation's immortals, one dazzling dribble from a £60 million ($122m) move to Manchester City.
A handful of international caps are now a shortcut to superstardom and a few accolades are enough to give rise to the Great White Hope.
Ross Barkley is at risk of being pulled from a pedestal he never wanted to stand on in the first place.
As he prepares for only his 10th England cap against Slovenia tomorrow morning (Singapore time), the Everton midfielder is having greatness thrust upon him without so much as a fancy flick or a driving run from the centre circle.
The Premier League's endless, insatiable demand for hyperbole has been supplied by the ludicrous comparisons thrown in Barkley's direction.
In recent days, the 20-year-old has been mentioned in the same sentence as Paul Gascoigne not by a lazy hack looking for a cheap headline, but by the manager of his national team.
Barkley's dynamism and his muscular ability to leave markers trailing do share faint echoes of the most naturally talented English footballer of his generation (and arguably the generation after that), but there is no more than a passing resemblance at this stage.
Barkley and Gascoigne are united in their youthful potential. But Gascoigne delivered, if only briefly, before reaching for the self-destruct button.
At the age of 23, Gascoigne achieved infamy in Turin, but also came close to immortality at Italia 90.
He was more than a Cruyff turn and a reliable free-kick taker. He was an instinctive leader in a nightclub bouncer's body.
Blessed with the upper-body strength of a boxer and the dainty toes of a ballerina, Gascogine was the first of the modern English footballers. Barkley is barely a facsimile of the fallen giant.
The Everton man has also represented the Three Lions at a World Cup, but barely registered in an abject side.
The failings of his fumbling comrades were not Barkley's fault, but he rarely tried to steer his own course, changing the direction of a game as Gascoigne once did for England, Tottenham and Lazio.
Of course, Barkley has done nothing wrong here. He is a victim of England's incessant demand for success and its deluded opinion of both its national game and its professional league.
After an erratic start to the season, the Toffees are 10th in a Premier League bedeviled by inconsistency where, apart from Chelsea, the financial powerhouses remain paupers on the European stage and mired in their domestic mediocrity.
Since recovering from a knee injury, Barkley has made just five appearances in all competitions for an Everton side struggling to reassert their identity after a terrific campaign last season.
Despite being part of England's most unsuccessful World Cup campaign since 1958, Barkley started only one game and came on in two others, as a hapless Hodgson desperately sought to salvage a little dignity.
The midfielder hardly took the Brazilian tournament by the scruff of the neck and silenced the samba with one devastating display after another. He was adequate in a distinctly unexceptional squad.
And that's fine. He made his international debut only a year earlier and was completing his apprenticeship in reserve football a year or so before that.
His professional development exceeds expectations, but he is not yet an exceptional footballer.
Like swallows and summers, one season doesn't make a superstar, even one that yields six goals in 34 Premier League appearances as a midfielder.
Barkley's progress has been commendable, but commendable doesn't cut it in the deluded cocoon of English football. He must be something more.
He's a world-beater in waiting, the navigator to Euro 2016 glory, the new Gazza, the new Wayne Rooney, the next £60m target for Manchester City and the next bright young thing to shine in the constellation called Barcelona (that last one came from Xavi Hernandez, who really should know better even if he was asked a loaded question).
In recent days, Barkley has been showered in both praise and pressure, none of it was his own doing; none of it was particularly desired.
As he continually points out, he can only go out and play. But that won't be enough now. He may progress, but a fickle audience demands perfection.
Barkley bears the weight of a nation's perennial failure; the latest young talent tasked with the impossible job of ending all those years of hurt.
The flimsiest of pedestals is already in place. It might as well be a trapdoor.
- San Marino v Estonia (Tomorrow, 1am)
- Switzerland v Lithuania (Tomorrow, 3.45am)
Tributes for a great from a great
Rooney, set for his 100th cap, lauded by ex-teammate Scholes
"The goals Wayne has scored are testament to his quality and you have to say that even now he is the man whom England look to when they need a breakthrough."
- Scholes on Rooney being the talisman
"He can finish... He can pass the ball long or short. He can head the ball and he can tackle. At Euro 2004, he was a flying machine."
- Scholes on Rooney's technical abilities
"He is running out of time to win (a trophy) for England... I would not like him to end his international career as so many of us have done."
- Scholes on his hopes for Rooney's England career
Gerrard: Too much attention on rising stars
"I think maybe our country is guilty of putting too much pressure and spotlight on any one individual. You start to see similar things now with Raheem Sterling." - Steven Gerrard (above) - PHOTO: CARL RECINE/ACTION IMAGES
Former England captain Steven Gerrard believes too much hype is generated around young stars breaking into the national team.
The recently retired international saw it first with Wayne Rooney, who succeeded him as skipper and will make his 100th appearance in the Euro 2016 qualifier tomorrow morning (Singapore time), and most recently with Reds teammate Raheem Sterling.
Rooney made his debut aged just 17, as did Sterling just over two years ago, having burst onto the scene as a precocious teenager at Everton. He has been held up as England's main man since.
Gerrard does not think it is helpful for all the focus to be on young players, but he accepts Rooney's talent has meant he has commanded centre-stage for a long time.
"It is his own fault for being so good," Gerrard, who won 114 caps himself, told ITV Sport.
"It is almost a compliment to Wayne because he is so good and the press know, on his day, he is a world-class player who can create magical moments.
"It is only normal he is getting all the attention. Wayne has had it for years but he has handled it well.
"But I think maybe our country is guilty of putting too much pressure and spotlight on any one individual.
"You start to see similar things now with Raheem Sterling.
"It has always been the way; the media and punters try to grasp onto that one hero and hope he is going to be the person who makes everyone happy at a major tournament."
Sterling was in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons during the last international break, when debate raged about his fitness after he told England manager Roy Hodgson he was feeling tired ahead of the qualifier in Estonia. - PA Sport.