"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"
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?
19 January 2006