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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 February 2007, 07:02 GMT
Barton books in
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Barton has been welcomed into the England squad
Joey Barton has been welcomed into the England squad

Joey Barton was never destined to make a quiet entrance to the England squad - that is just not the way he goes about his business.

The 24-year-old Merseysider has never been accused of lacking confidence and he will feel his rightful place is among England's elite footballers as they prepare for a friendly against Spain.

It is unlikely he will have felt the slightest sense of unease about meeting up with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, even after criticising their post-World Cup flop books and their uncomfortable England midfield alliance.

A precious few suggested Barton had bridges to build with the so-called "establishment" inside England's squad - presumably the same establishment who talked a good game and delivered nothing in Germany.

Nonsense.

Indeed Barton's attack, while undiplomatic, may have helped if it pricked some of the egoes England and their entourage carried around Germany in such embarrassing fashion.

Anything that shakes "Team England" out of the belief that it is the best at everything it touches and brings them back down to reality - the reality of their actual place in football's league of importance - should be greeted with open arms.

Gerrard, to his great credit, laughed off Barton's criticism, although it does appear Lampard's rather more sensitive side was bruised by Barton's plain speaking.

Barton has never been far from controversy. He has courted it, embraced it even.

Joey would not disrupt any squad. He does not disrupt mine, he is a good member of it

Manchester City manager Stuart Pearce

But now is his chance to cast off the shadows that have clouded his career and confirm the maturity that has marked his football in the last year.

Barton's commitment to City and the manager who supported him, Stuart Pearce, was emphasised when he refused to entertain Everton's advances in January, despite his agent Willie McKay clearly being more than willing to help him enter negotiations.

It suggested that Barton finally wants continuity and stability in a career littered with brushes with authority.

In December 2004 he was fined six weeks' wages for poking team-mate Jamie Tandy in the eye with a cigar at a Christmas party.

Manchester City manager Stuart Pearce
Pearce insists Barton is not a disruptive influence

He was also fined eight weeks' wages after an incident involving an Everton fan in a Bangkok hotel bar in July 2005.

Even this season, he was fined 2,000 for baring his backside at Everton supporters at the end of a draw at Goodison Park.

In Barton's defence, this was a light-hearted - if misguided - gesture at the end of an afternoon of fearful personal abuse and just after he gave his shirt away to a disabled fan.

This is the baggage Barton brings. But this season he has show signs of shedding this load and becoming one of the country's most talented midfield operators.

Combative, but with a good passing range and an ability to score goals as well as ruffle feathers, Barton will not be daunted by the international stage.

And Pearce is convinced Barton is the right man for England.

He said: "Joey would not disrupt any squad. He does not disrupt mine, he is a good member of it.

"On occasion he speaks his mind but I do not have a problem with that. I think over the last 18 months I have seen a general maturity in him as a player and a man.

"If he is picked Joey will bring drive, energy and the ability to score a goal."

And if he does, the England establishment will be more than happy to accept the Scouser who refuses to mince his words.

SEE ALSO
Keeper Foster given England start
06 Feb 07 |  Internationals
New faces lift England - McClaren
06 Feb 07 |  Internationals
Owen Hargreaves column
06 Feb 07 |  Football


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