With qualification to Euro 2016 virtually guaranteed, Roy Hodgson has 18 months to build a team ready to challenge the continents best in France. Everton's Ross Barkley simply has to be one of the focal points and it is imperative that England start to utilise him in this manner.
Whilst 2013-14 was a magnificent breakthrough season for the talented youngster at both club and international level, which culminated in selection for England's World Cup squad, the opening to this campaign has been an immensely frustrating period for the 20-year-old and he'll be eager to prove his worth to the national side throughout the coming months. Nobody can argue with a raw talent that has seen Barkley touted as the next Paul Gascoigne, but it is crucial that he recovers from his recent injuries to cement his place at the heart of the Three Lions midfield.
For all of the hype surrounding one of the Premier League's hottest prospects, Barkley has made just two starts in an England shirt. Whilst he is clearly at the forefront of Hodgson's thinking, he has yet to force a way into a prominent role and this must be rectified immediately if he is going to be the inspirational figure that millions of Three Lions fans are anticipating to see at Euro 2016.
With the emergence of Raheem Sterling as a genuine key member of the team as an example to follow, Barkley knows that age won't be used as an excuse to dismiss his talents and he will be given a fair crack of the whip. England still have six qualifiers and a host of friendlies between now and the tournament so time is also on the midfielder's side as he bids to bounce back from the aforementioned knee injury that had robbed of his chance to stake his claim at the start of this campaign. Another promising sign for the young Liverpudlian is that this team is still very much a work in progress, with various positions yet to be nailed down; there has arguably never been a better time for talented players to steal the limelight.
Sitting on the sidelines at the start of a new season will have hurt Barkley but it is no fluke that his return to the team has coincided with Everton's improved results. Despite boasting a brief professional career, he has showcased his ability to dictate the play and win #Football matches on multiple occasions and if he can bring those qualities to the international arena then the Three Lions will surely be on to a winner with this prodigy pulling the strings.
Despite completing just a single international fixture, Barkley has now hit double figures when it comes to England appearances thanks to his late introduction in the recent 3-1 triumph over Scotland. He has been involved in a total of 15 squads and can also call upon his experiences with various youth teams and should be more than ready to fight for a regular starting berth over the coming year.
It is no secret that Hodgson essentially sacrificed England's slim chances of success in Brazil in favour of nurturing future stars and Barkley is one of the brightest. The combination of skill, dribbling ability and a key eye for goal - whilst additionally cutting a powerful 6ft 2in figure - means that the youngster boasts all the credentials to becoming a major player on the international stage. Perhaps just as significantly, he also appears to have the mentality of an honest working grafter who is eager to put in the desired work to ensure those immense talents don't go to waste.
After an awful World Cup campaign, more promising times appear to be on the horizon for England once more. If Barkley can cement a leading role between now and Euro 2016 then maybe, just maybe, 50 years of hurt will finally come to an end. #Euro2016