ZAGREB: England do have the ability to compete with Croatia’s recently-crowned FIFA player of the year Luka Modrić, insists Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley, who believes he can add a new dimension to the Three Lions on his international return.
Barkley had to watch from afar as Real Madrid’s Modrić and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitić outclassed England’s midfield in a 2-1 World Cup semi-final win for Croatia in Moscow.
Three months on, the two sides meet again in the Nations League on Friday and Barkley is just one of a host of young midfielders drafted into Gareth Southgate’s squad looking to make an impact.
At 24 and with 22 caps under his belt, Barkley is a senior figure compared to many of his new team-mates.
Leicester’s James Maddison and teenagers Mason Mount and Jadon Sancho have all received their first call-ups.
And Barkley believes the future is bright, with England’s youth teams excelling along with the senior side’s run to a first World Cup semifinal in 28 years.
“It’ll be a challenge. You saw in the World Cup how great Modrić was and Rakitić as well, who plays for a great side in Barcelona,” he said at the prospect of taking on Croatia’s midfield maestros.
“We’ve got the players to compete with the big nations. We’ve got an identity now, we went to a World Cup and got to the semifinals, and we are going in the right direction.”
Barkley was part of the England squads that crashed out early at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016.
However, he thinks Southgate’s commitment to trusting youth and attempts to mould a more technically gifted side has changed England since his last appearance over two years ago.
“We have gone in a different direction. We have added a lot of youth to the squad, we are all developing from a young age, developing into big players.”
“We have all got the same goal, we all want to achieve success for England and we are getting close to that.”
“I believe I can bring something different to the England team.”
Barkley earned his recall on the back of a strong start to the campaign with Chelsea after an injury-ravaged first season at Stamford Bridge that cost him the chance to go to the World Cup.
However, while others like Mount, on loan at Championsihp club Derby County from Chelsea, and Borussia Dortmund’s Sancho, have been rewarded for shunning the glamour of the Premier League’s top six to go elsewhere and play regularly, Barkley believes his decision to stay at Chelsea over the summer has been vindicated.
“I made the move because I believe in my ability and I believed no matter what I would eventually kick on at Chelsea.”
“I joined with a long-term injury. I came through a difficult spell.”
“I believe now that I am in the best physical shape I have ever been before and I am starting to show that. I believe I will show what I am capable of.”