England are heading into the European Championships this year with, arguably, the most exciting squad for many years.
The youthful exuberance of Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Ross Barkley coupled with the talent and experience of Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy ensures that England, in attack at least, have some exciting options available.
With youth, however, does, occasionally, come the danger of indiscipline and there have been two separate incidents over the weekend that should give England fans a slight cause for concern before the Euros in June.
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The first was late into the second-half of the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday between Manchester United and Everton. Ross Barkley was carrying the ball past the half-way line with Everton on the counter-attack and looking for the winning goal, with the scores level at 1-1.
Barkley was in full sprint-mode and United were in danger of being outnumbered, until Ander Herrera committed a rugby-style tackle on the young Englishman, pulling his shirt and dragging him away from the ball and to the ground.
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The tackle itself was cynical, but it is a foul that is committed regularly by players whose team is about to be hit with a counter.
Some suggested that Herrera, who received a yellow, should have seen red for the challenge but, while it was clearly an unfair challenge, he was not preventing an obvious goal-scoring opportunity; therefore, the referee made the correct decision.
As Barkley rolled to the ground, rightly incensed at the unsportsmanlike challenge, he appeared to aim a kick at the Spanish midfielder which, had he connected with Herrera, the referee may
have been within his rights to produce a red, instead of a yellow, for the Everton man.
It was fortunate for Barkley that Romelu Lukaku was close by to the action to pull him away just as the Evertonian looked like he had truly lost his cool and was about to give the referee a reason to show a red card.
In another incident, on Monday night, the talismanic Dele Alli, it appears, punched West Brom midfielder Claudio Yacob in the stomach before aiming a kick at the Argentinian.
The Spurs midfielder had been wound-up by Yacob during the game and the Argentinian’s tactics clearly worked, as Alli lost his head and may now miss the remainder of the season with a retrospective ban.
It would be incredible if the incident does not lead to a ban and the FA could well be accused of a bias towards England’s star players as opposed to Diego Costa, who has been consistently banned for his antics on the pitch this season and last.
Youth will play a very important part in Roy Hodgson’s England squad this summer and the fearlessness that often accompanies young players may well propel England into waters that have been uncharted since Euro 1996; but Hodgson and his senior players must help to keep the younger ones focusing their anger on the ball, not the opponents.
Intelligent teams will be aware of the hot-headed tendencies of Barkley and Alli and will look to exploit it at every opportunity when the pressure is intense.
England have been victim to such tactics in the past with David Beckham (1998) and Wayne Rooney (2006) both kicking out at opponents after Diego Simeone and Cristiano Ronaldo played the wind-up merchants with successful results.
Lessons must be learned from the past but the worry will be, for players like Barkley and Alli, that they will be targeted by teams looking to gain a psychological, and numerical, advantage.
The two young Englishmen are both passionate players who live in the moment, but they must also learn to keep their cool in the face of pressure.
If they lose control, they may well cost their nation and damage their reputation.
Keep their minds focused on playing, however, and they could play a major role in what could be a successful tournament for the Three Lions.
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