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Manchester City: Joey Barton for England?

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Colin Illingworth


A journalism graduate and Aberdeen fan he has a keen interest in the game north and south of the border. Hopes that the two Jimmies can restore the Dons as a major force in Scottish football....
[full biography]
23/01/2006 10:00:00.
read: 625 times.

It’s every footballer’s dream to represent their country at the World Cup and Manchester City enforcer Joey Barton is no different. The 23-year-old has recently been quoted as saying that he would be prepared to be the water carrier for Sven’s men just so he could be involved in Germany. But after an impressive season at Eastlands, doesn’t Barton deserve a chance to be in the actual playing squad?

Barton has visibly matured on and off the pitch following his pre-season antics in Thailand which forced City chiefs to send him to Tony Adams’ Sporting Chance clinic to sort himself out. He spent a week at the clinic and City have been reaping the rewards of the grown-up Barton ever since. The Huxton-born midfielder has been instrumental in driving City up the table and his battling and lung-busting performances have not gone a miss by those in the game.

Support for Sven to give the City ever present a call-up has been mounting throughout the season as he continues to give 100 per cent in every game. City manager Stuart Pearce knows what qualities Joey possesses and he believes that it’s up to Barton to force his way into the England set-up.

“Joey is improving, he has a willingness to learn and he is always one of the last off the training pitch," Pearce recently told the Daily Mirror. "He has to keep listening and learning from the coaches and senior players, and he has to keep his feet on the ground. He has had to learn his lessons very quickly and now he is more open minded and willing to embrace the things people have got to say. His football has improved on the back of that.

“I think there's a situation where it's very easy and quick for players to break into the international fold,”
added Pearce. “It's certainly a lot easier to get into the England set-up than when I was playing, that's for sure. Whether Joe is good enough, we'll have to wait and see. He's got to keep working hard and remind himself he's not the finished article. If he keeps doing that then who knows where he can end up?"

Former Arsenal skipper Tony Adams has also tipped Barton to make the step up, although he told BBC Sport that the World Cup in Germany may have come too early for him.

"It's a question of when, rather than if, Joey receives international honours,” Adams said. “If any player puts in the kind of performances he has, they put themselves in contention for England. Realistically, the World Cup might be a bit soon for him. England have some outstanding midfielders and I think Sven already knows who he wants to take to Germany. But he's making a strong claim and can't be ignored."

England’s midfield is definitely one of the strongest in the world with Lampard, Gerrard and Beckham, but some fans and pundits have questioned whether Lampard and Gerrard can actually play together and even if the England captain deserves his place in the team. Personally I cannot see Sven dropping either of these stars who have served him so well over the years, and with Joe Cole filling in on the left it would be impossible for anyone to break into the midfield. However Barton has done everything right this season and thoroughly deserves to have his name thrown in the hat for a squad place at least.

Barton has always been prepared to put himself about on the park but he has managed to add a great level of composure on the ball to his game and has been more willing to test the opposition’s goalkeeper than ever before, which has resulted in five goals, a great tally for a young midfielder. (In fact he has scored more goals this season than he has in his entire professional career). His passing game has also improved by opting for the simple option instead of attempting something more ambitious.

Manchester City fan Simon Brown has watched Barton progress over the years and although he feels that Joey still has a lot of work to do he has been greatly impressed by him this season.

“Barton is by no means the finished article. Footballers age at different speeds to each other and Barton is still relatively green. He may be 23 but from the way he plays it is clear he still has some maturing to do. His tackling can be over-exuberant to the point of recklessness and ill timed and his distribution can be ill judged, although this is improving. Yet his positioning is spot on, his movement and enthusiasm always beyond doubt and his strength and resolve make him the back-bone of the City team along with the older, more experienced, Claudio Reyna.”

One of Joey’s best games this season came at the Valley in December when City went to Charlton, just days after his brother was jailed for his part in a racist attack. It must have been a difficult time for Barton but his performance on the pitch was one of a true professional and scored in a memorable 5-2 victory. Simon was particularly impressed with Barton’s “strong” display that day, and the way that he had conducted himself during the whole affair, which Simon claims is “testament to Barton’s talent, ability, application and focus”.

”Barton has grown up in the short period since the start of the season,” said Simon. “It takes more than a couple of months to really change the way you live and think – I for one wouldn't be surprised if he shows some childish petulance again, at some time in the future. But he seems to be getting plenty of positive reinforcement from the club and in players like Richard Dunne he has the ideal role model, demonstrating what can be achieved with regards to improving your life. Barton's passing has improved, he has become a little more realistic as to what he can do with a single pass and is doing the simple stuff better. He seems to be working on his decision-making – both on and off the field – and reaping the rewards.”

”Certainly Joey could be hotheaded at times when he was younger but the life coaching really seems to have worked. He seemed to be on a downward spiral following the infamous "cigar" incident last Christmas and the antics on tour in the summer. But with the life coaching he seems to have come of age.”

However, Simon, 29, shares the sentiments of Tony Adams that the World Cup has come too soon for the City star, and he hopes that Barton doesn’t have to leave Eastlands to pursue his international dream.

“I only pray that he doesn't have to move to a "bigger" club in order to earn the approval of the England manager and his first cap. My gut feeling is that Barton won't get his chance to contribute in the World Cup, barring injuries to those ahead of him. To play under the current England set-up you either have to play for a "big" club (one that's in Europe, preferably Champions League) or in London. We could have Rooney playing for us and he wouldn't get near the England set-up.”

If Sven is to be believed then there are three places up for grabs in his World Cup squad and the midfield area is one of the most competitive to break into. Spurs’ Michael Carrick is in the frame and Scott Parker, who has been immense at Newcastle United, is also being touted for a re-call. Other names in the hat include West Ham’s Nigel Reo-Coker and Bolton’s Kevin Nolan. Barton has never been involved in an England squad and Sven would probably rely on one of his regulars to fill the numbers ahead of Barton, even if the City star continues to put in man-of-the-match performances for the rest of the season.

But Barton’s displays have certainly caught the eye of fans and pundits alike and many believe that he has done enough to warrant a chance to show what he can do at the highest level.

Barton for England… what do you think?

Colin Illingworth
19 January 2006


Latest article feedback

Sudesh:

I am a United supporter. But that doesn't mean I think any less of the City players. In my view, Parker and Barton should be on that flight to Germany. They not only do all the donkey work behind the flair players, so that the 'stars' like Lampard, Gerrard and Beckham get on with their jobs, but also are useful box-to-box midefielders chipping in with a fair share of goals. I see United and Arsenal (or even Real Madrid) struggling this season, and the one of the reasons for that is these teams are missing that vital midfield general. Look at the so-called form/world class teams: Milan has Gattuso, Barcelona have Van Bommel, Marques and Xavi, Juventus have Emerson and Vieira, Bayern have Ballack, Chelsea have Makelele, and even Liverpool have Xabi Alonso and Hamann. Sure, Barton and Parker are not in that class yet. But they are England's best at the moment without sacrificing Gerrard in that role. I am not sure about Carrick - How can one truly see his defensive mettle when he has a great defensive support cast around him in Davids, Tainio and Jenas. To be honest, I haven't watched Carrick this season. But I always saw him as a deep playing attacking player, in Pirlo's mould, albeit with lesser flair. Also, in the international set-up, he would be more similar to Gerrard, than Gattuso (who incidentally anchors the Italian and AC midfield behind the influential Pirlo). Carrick and Barton seem to be the anchormen for their respective teams. And they can also do a good job going forward to score/assist a goal (unlike King - Rio would be a better option as against Burton you could see that he's comfortable on the ball + he's started scoring!). So why can't they do a job for England? Yes, they are relative novices in the international set-up. But what's the point of friendlies if you can't try out prospects - Sven's idea of giving everyone in the country with a pair of football boots 2 minutes of international fame hardly counts. Javi Mascherano made his international debut for Argentina before he made his league debut. If a team with such strength in depth can unearth such a gem of a player, why can't England take that risk in a friendly? Granted, Sven wants his best XI to gel before the World Cup. There are, to the best of my knowledge, atleast 3 friendlies before the World Cup. Surely, it would be a good idea to try the fringe players one or two times. Various names come to mind - Carrick, Parker, Barton, Barry, Woodgate, Young, Bridge, Darren Bent, Green, Kirkland, perhaps even Walcott(?). After a long arduous season, the players would welcome a break while the fringe players have it all to play for. In fact, it might actually make the 'senior' players who coast to actually sit up and take notice, rather than forget what they are paid to do. Also, even though I'm an United supporter, I think Pearce should coach England after the World Cup... Maybe not as manager, but in a coaching capacity similar to Mclaren... as he seems like a young coach with great potential.

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