A major indication of how well Ross Barkley has put his international career back on track will come tonight with his likely involvement in England’s UEFA Nations League semi-final.
The midfielder played all three of the Three Lions’ games at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil and he had 22 caps by the age of 22, but the injury problems that afflicted the end of his time at Everton and the start of his Chelsea career played their part in no match action in an England shirt for almost two years.
Barkley spoke at the start of the season just completed about having worked hard to ensure he was in the best possible condition to do well at Chelsea, and during a campaign in which he made 48 appearances for the club and won a major trophy, he also won his England place back and made five starts. Those included in three of the Nations League games which took his country this far in the new competition. In his most recent international, a European Championship qualifier, he scored twice in a 5-1 win in Montenegro.
‘I believed coming to Chelsea was going to boost my chances of playing for England and I have played a lot this season,’ Barkley told the official Chelsea website before he joined up with the England camp.
‘I have been in and out of the [Chelsea] team doing well and I have played a lot of games for England this year which is what I believed would happen when I was on my holidays in the summer, being back in the team with big games coming up and I am looking forward to them.’
For the 25-year-old, and for plenty of others in the England squad who were involved in the two all-Premier League European cup finals, there has been barely the chance to break stride between the end of club action and what is this week’s chance to win silverware with their country. Barkley considers whether that is a good thing, and whether the inaugural Nations League, which has replaced the old and often derided programme of friendly internationals with competitive games, is welcomed by the players.
‘Having a good break is good for the mind but if you have nine days off or two weeks you are in holiday mode, so it just depends how you look after yourself with those days off,’ he explains. ‘It can be good or bad, it just depends on how you approach that, but for me this time we are just having a couple of days off before we meet up, so I will be in football mode.
‘There are also positives and negatives about replacing the friendlies. There are some more risks to playing competitive games but it is what you dream of when you are a kid. You can’t complain. You just look forward to it. We approach every game in the way that we want to show we are one of the best.’
And there will be no better way to do that than to beat Portugal to win Sunday’s first ever UEFA Nations League final, but before Barkley and his colleague can contemplate that prospect there is the no small matter of having to overcome the Netherlands in tonight’s second semi-final, which kicks off at 7.45pm UK time.
‘The Dutch are starting to do well again,’ notes Barkley. ‘I saw that their Under-17s side won the Euros the other day with a Chelsea player [Ian Maatsen] involved.
‘They are just starting to kick on again. They have a good group of players and will be challenging, and it will be a good competitive game.’