Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley admits that he has “matured” as a footballer after being recalled to the England squad after a two-year absence.
Barkley has not played for the Three Lions since the friendly against Australia prior to Euro 2016, but was handed a recall last week by Gareth Southgate as England continue their Nations League campaign against Croatia and Spain.
The Chelsea man came through a difficult end to his Everton days as well as a serious hamstring injury at the start of his Stamford Bridge career to establish himself in the first-team picture under Maurizio Sarri, and he feels he deserves to be back in the squad after maturing on and off the pitch.
“I’m over the moon to be back, I feel like it’s been a long time coming but I feel like I have worked hard over the last couple of years and that it’s fully deserved that I am back here,” he told a press conference.
“I feel like I have matured as a person and understood what football is, and taken little details on as I have done now under the manager (Sarri). Things are going really well for me now and I’m fully focused on improving and kicking on.”
On missing out on the summer’s successful World Cup campaign in Russia, Barkley added: “It was frustrating for me because England means the world to me, to play for your country, but these things happen in football and you have to react and work hard to get your rewards, which I am doing.
“I was proud to see the lads do really well and see how proud the country was of the boys.
“After where I was at, I had had a difficult season through injuries and I had a few niggles but kept a positive mind. I had a strong pre-season and things are going well for me now.”
Barkley has long been viewed as a potential successor in the England midfield to Paul Gascoigne, but form and injuries have hampered his progress since making his debut as a teenager in 2013.
With Southgate still desperate to find a player capable of unlocking defences at the highest level, Barkley’s return to form could not have come at a better time, particularly with regulars Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard missing through injury.
And he recognises that he has a chance to make a name for himself in the coming matches.
“All of the midfielders will be thinking that,” he said. “It is a challenge for us to go out there and produce the goods as Gazza did when he was a player.
“We have a lot of talent in the squad that can produce magic at any point in the game and we have a confident bunch of lads and there is a lot of talent coming through.”