England need Barkley more than Rooney
England midfielder's brilliance means there is no room for his skipper
(Theo Walcott 45, Raheem Sterling 85)
Ross Barkley shone a bright light on his England future, but potentially left his skipper in the dark.
The more things change for the Everton midfielder, the more they stay the same for Wayne Rooney.
Barkley's brilliance undermined a senior colleague who didn't even feature in the routine 2-0 victory over Estonia yesterday morning (Singapore time). Rooney wasn't missed and his heir apparent passed the audition for the role both men covet.
Rooney thinks he's a No. 10, but his upcoming 30th birthday suggests otherwise.
And Barkley's performance hammered home the skipper's increasing irrelevance with the blunt force of a brass nail in a coffin.
When Barkley drifted inside from the left, he looked to the manor born. The back of the jersey labelled him a No.8, but a No. 10 is stamped through his game.
Roy Hodgson, the eternal ditherer, the indecisive servant to the superstars, stuck Barkley on the left side of central midfield, alongside James Milner and away from the only position realistically available to Rooney at Euro 2016.
But the 21-year-old refused to sit. His instinctive, cerebral talent could not be contained by his archaic manager's caution.
His boots are made for rampaging. The build belongs to a gazelle, but the spirit is all Gazza.
Barkley owned the Estonians, playing with an insouciant swagger that felt about as English as paella. For too long, Hodgson has served pie-and-chips football. It's functional and sometimes filling but rarely surprises the senses.
But Everton's nascent star performed without restraint. Since Paul Gascoigne's sad fall from grace, the Three Lions jersey has clung to England's rare mavericks like a straitjacket, eventually suffocating the likes of Paul Scholes and Joe Cole.
But Barkley appears impervious to conservative tactics. Despite being managed by one of the most uninspiring English managers of his generation, he still plays uninhibited.
Against Estonia, he threw off Hodgson's shackles in a matter of minutes, coming in from the left-sided wilderness to annex central midfield.
It's hard to recall an England pass being worth the price of admission, but Barkley's through-ball was part Gazza, part Harlem Globetrotters, part Brazil 1970 and utterly irresistible.
He picked out Theo Walcott with a precise, balletic 15-metre diagonal nutmeg, taking out five defenders along the way. He didn't just thread the needle. He threaded five. And the needles were all moving.
No one was more surprised than Walcott to find the ball at his feet, on the run, just six metres from goal. The in-form Arsenal forward deserves credit for dragging his jaw off the turf long enough to slip the ball inside the far post for the opener.
England do not score goals like this, certainly not under Hodgson, and rarely with Rooney in the side.
But Barkley elevated an otherwise drab affair, floating above the common fray with every surging run. He might have bagged a brace in the second half as the Estonians chased fading slipstreams.
Comparisons to Gascoigne appear lazy, but the 21-year-old gracefully combines the Geordie's upper body strength with a balance that defies his physique.
Like Gazza, Barkley is more Rolls Royce than Porsche, relying on a peerless engine to glide past rivals with an effortless elegance.
Rooney once did something similar when he wore Barkley's club colours as a tempestuous teenager at Everton. But those days are done.
And Hodgson's post-match insistence that Barkley's natural position for his country is centre-left in midfield smacks of a futile bid to accommodate his skipper.
Rooney's recent fumblings for United make it improbable - and perhaps even unfair - for him to lead the line at Euro 2016.
Harry Kane's outing against Estonia was hardly exemplary, but he remains the most dynamic, enterprising contender for England up front.
Hodgson's reluctance to move Barkley to his natural position, roving in the hole as he does so imperiously for Everton, is not an attempt to placate Adam Lallana.
The struggling Liverpool midfielder endured a similarly uninspiring night for the Three Lions and isn't likely to trouble Hodgson's first 11 in competitive contests of any significance.
This is about Rooney, as it so often is with England. If Barkley slots in behind Raheem Sterling, Hodgson gets a younger, livelier focal point up front in Kane and pacifies his biggest name with the No. 10 jersey.
But Barkley's finest showing makes him not only a leading contender for England, but for the tournament itself. Italia '90 defined Gazza. Euro 2016 could do the same for the Barkley.
His sublime display should be the beginnings of a stellar season for his country. But his skipper stands in the way.
BY THE NUMBERS
19: England are unbeaten in 19 competitive home games, their best run since a run of 20 between 1984 and 1996.
Hodgson hails blooming Ross
England manager Roy Hodgson heralded Ross Barkley's improving form after the Everton playmaker was named Man of the Match following a 2-0 win over Estonia in Euro 2016 qualifying.
Barkley created Theo Walcott's 45th-minute opener in yesterday morning's (Singapore time) Group E game at Wembley with a beautifully weighted pass and went close to adding a second with a couple of mazy runs and shots before Raheem Sterling got on the scoresheet late on.
Blooded by Hodgson (above) in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup, Barkley experienced a dip in form last season, but the 21-year-old has made a positive start to the new campaign and the England manger was enthused by his latest display.
"I'm pleased Ross got Man of the Match. We saw what he can do today (Friday)," Hodgson said. "Like all his managers, I had to work hard on his decision-making as to when he struts his stuff, which is fantastic, and when he plays it more simply.
"I'm quite proud of the fact Ross Barkley is still only 20 (sic), but has been in the national team for over two years, when he's quite often not been in the Everton team. That shows the faith I have in him."
"I'm sure (Everton manager) Roberto Martinez is working with him, talking to him, and giving him the same instructions. He's learning the lessons, not least by playing at the highest level."
Hodgson revealed after the game that captain Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart, Gary Cahill, James Milner and Michael Carrick will all skip Tuesday morning's game in Lithuania, when England will look to complete their qualifying campaign with a 10th straight victory.
Rooney missed the game with an ankle injury, but was present before kick-off to receive a commemorative golden boot from Bobby Charlton for scoring a record 50th England goal last month.
His Manchester United colleague Carrick has a groin injury, while goalkeeper Hart, centre back Cahill and midfielder Milner are all being rested. - AFP.
Swiss book berth with 7-0 romp
Switzerland booked a place at Euro 2016 by thrashing minnows San Marino 7-0 at home yesterday morning (Singapore time) to clinch second place in Group E with a match to spare.
The Swiss, who scored six second-half goals, have 18 points from their nine matches and are five points clear of third-placed Slovenia, whose own faint hopes of automatic qualification were dashed in a 1-1 draw at home to Lithuania.
Slovenia can now only qualify via the play-offs.
The Swiss were initially made to work harder than they might have expected in St Gallen after taking a 17th-minute lead through Michael Lang.
They had to wait until 10 minutes before the floodgates opened with Gokhan Inler, Admir Mehmedi, Johan Djourou, Pajtim Kasami, Breel Embolo and Eren Derdiyok completing the rout. - Reuters.