"He’s not good at taking responsibility," BT Sport pundit Neil Warnock said of Ross Barkley two months ago. While that corporation has started the season as direly as Stuart Pearce in San Marino, Barkley has begun so well as an Everton regular he is one of the outstanding early contenders for young player of the year.
The brilliant free-kick he scored at Swansea oozed responsibility. With Leighton Baines sidelined, Romelu Lukaku, hitherto anonymous, was eager to belatedly make his mark. Barkley dismissed him and pinged the ball past Gerhard Tremmel from 20-odd yards out, via the underside of the crossbar to please the aesthetes. He admitted afterwards he doesn't even practise free-kicks.
David Moyes was cautious about Barkley's progression. The former Everton manager granted the lad from Wavertree his debut as a 17-year-old in the 2011-12 opening day loss to Queens Park Rangers, but Barkley conceded a penalty the following week at Blackburn - which was missed - and did not make another Premier League start all season. Promising performances at Tottenham and Arsenal earlier this year were described as "okay", by Moyes.
Barkley celebrates his match-winning free-kick for Everton at Swansea
Barkley was certainly ambiguous when he tweeted "Love proving people who doubt you wrong," after his match-winning strike on Sunday. In less than a year, he has transformed from a player Warnock sent back early from a Leeds United loan spell to rough diamond who could play a significant role for Roy Hodgson at the World Cup finals.
Hodgson must regret not starting Barkley in either of the friendly defeats to Chile and Germany last month. Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana were both granted full debuts, whereas Barkley was reduced to cameo roles which totalled just 32 minutes of playing time. It is essential he lines up for the national anthems on the Wembley turf, rather than on the bench, when Denmark visit in March.
The danger with Barkley is any sort of a compliment is, rightly or wrongly, regarded as hype. The Paul Gascoigne comparisons were even made by his manager, Roberto Martínez, following his excellent performance at Arsenal two weeks ago, and the skinhead he sported in south Wales hardly played down his billing as England's equivalent of the "new Maradona".
Although there is five months' worth of football to be played between now and the end of the season, Barkley poses a dilemma for Hodgson, who has clung onto experience like a comfort blanket with England. Astonishingly, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard partnered each other for the Montenegro win two months ago, which predictably failed despite the 4-1 scoreline.
Gerrard, out injured until the new year, experienced perhaps the worst campaign of his club career in 2012-13 and Lampard, now 35, has not effected games like he used to for Chelsea and might not reach his once-guaranteed 15-goal haul for the first time in 11 seasons. Michael Carrick, too, is injured and has struggled for form at the post-Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United.
Barkley, Lallana, Jack Wilshere and Ravel Morrison are four budding talents who could feasibly make Hodgson's 23-man squad for Brazil, but Barkley is best placed to start against Italy in Manaus on 14 June. Quite why Hodgson would select 30-something relics like Gerrard and Lampard, who started alongside each other as far back as September 2003 and are synonymous with England failure, is another discussion entirely, but it would embolden England's next generation, including Barkley.