England Exit Euro 2016 With Two Unused Players

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As England slumped to a humiliating defeat to Iceland, just two outfield players remained unused for the Three Lions’ 17-day stay in Euro 2016: Everton’s John Stones and Ross Barkley. While out-going manager Roy Hodgson did not feature Toffee duo for even a second in France—unlike the majority of the England squad— they cannot be held to account in the team’s failure.

John Stones and Ross Barkley: Unused and unaccountable

Fluctuating form

Coming into the tournament, Stones and Barkley had performed somewhat inconsistently for Everton in the 2015/2016 season.

The former began the campaign as one of the most talked about players in the country. Three times Chelsea had bids for the ball-playing defender knocked back, leading to the then 21-year-old to submit a transfer request. Everton held firm and Stones stayed put.

In the immediate aftermath, Stones looked unfazed on the pitch, putting in a series of professional, assured performances. As the season wore on, Everton’s performances wavered—and so did Stones’ form. Notable costly errors included a desperate lunge in the last minute vs Stoke and an under-hit backpass to Tim Howard, both resulting in penalty kicks. In the new year, Stones dribbled towards his own goal against Tottenham, Son Heung-Min in pursuit, performed a ‘Cruyff turn’ and then demanded his supporters calm down amid a roar of discontent.

His maturity and professionalism seemed to regress, costing his club as well as fans’ support. By the time the Euro selection process was underway, he was third choice centre back, behind Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill.

Barkley, meanwhile, impressed for a lengthier period. After the 2014/15 season virtually passed the explosive midfielder by, the 22-year-old was back to his best—for the first half of the season at least.

His 11 goals and ten assists in all competitions were more than any other English midfielder. The last of his goals came in February against Bournemouth in the FA Cup. He went on to assist another three times in the remaining months of the campaign, but the level of performance curtailed.

Benchwarmers

After much deliberation, both players found themselves selected by Hodgson for Euro 2016, but neither would get a taste of the action. During the three warm-up friendlies against Turkey, Australia and Portugal, Stones started twice and Barkley appeared as a substitute twice.

For the final pre-tournament run-out vs Portugal, both players remained on the bench. It set the tone for a frustrating month in France.

At no point during their four matches at Euro 2016 did England look in complete control of a game or suffering a bombardment at the hands of their opposition. They had the majority of possession in all four games, but struggled to create a wealth of clear cut opportunities.

Yet Hodgson never felt it necessary to try two incredibly talented technical players.

If there were worries about Stones and Barkley’s respective frailties in defence or carelessness in possession, there needn’t have been.

When England fell to another premature exit at a major tournament, they did so with a whimper. They lacked authority, imagination and conviction. At the back, the defence was no more assured without Stones than it would have been with him.

And while he certainly has much to improve on in his defensive capabilities, he would have offered England something different starting from the back. His ability to take players on and drive the ball forward would have given the team a bit more urgency and directness.

Equally, Ross Barkley would have offered much the same and maybe even more. His pace, power, dribbling ability and eye for goal would have offered a much-needed alternative to the slow-tempo build-up play that England’s midfield were serving up these last few weeks. As it was, England’s passing was sloppy at best on Monday night and countless attacks were stopped before they had even began.

When England needed a catalyst, two players who boast all the talent in the world weren’t afforded an opportunity to showcase it.

Time for duo to take their chance

There is a number of reasons why England failed at Euro 2016, some of which can’t be attributed to the manager. But Hodgson’s mishandling of a number of players in the 23-man squad was without doubt a significant one.

Put simply, England do not have similar players to John Stones and Ross Barkley in their defence and midfield respectively. They are two unique talents who were sorely underused.

It was choices like these that ultimately led to Hodgson’s demise. His refusal to take risks on players, who may be inconsistent, but are definitely potential game-changers, contributed to England’s most embarrassing performances.

For Stones and Barkley, their aim must now take their chance and ensure they are certain starters for the next England manager. They can distance themselves from this abject display. They played no part. They are not accountable.

But now they need to show they can be responsible for England’s performances by proving they can do it across the entirety of a Premier League campaign.

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