Barton takes next step

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The Independent Online
Warren Barton will today become the second player to be capped by England while at Wimbledon. Like the first, he symbolises the style and aims of both sides. But that is all he has in common with John Fashanu.

Barton's selection in England's team to play the Republic of Ireland in Dublin today says much about Wimbledon's progress from snarling upstarts to respectable Premiership citizens, but it also illustrates the changing nature of the national team.

When Fash the Bash elbowed his way into the England team in 1989 he was the most blatant of a string of "classic" centre-forwards thrown into the side to provide a bit of "muscle" up front. It was an outdated option, typical of much of England's strategy in the last two decades.

No more. Even a mobile centre-forward like Les Ferdinand has been unable to gain an England place.

Barton is of an entirely different stock to his international predecessor at Wimbledon. A flexible, intelligent passer-and-mover, he fits comfortably into both Joe Kinnear's restyled Wimbledon and Terry Venables' vision of England. Although he will play today at right-back, replacing the unavailable Rob Jones, he has spent much of the season playing either wide or central midfield.

"Too good for Wimbledon to waste at right-back," Kinnear said. "Exactly the type of flexible player we are looking for," Venables said. But if Barton represents Wimbledon's new image he remains, in many ways, a traditional Wimbledon player - plucked from obscurity and imbued with the hunger that comes from rejection.

Barton was released at 13 by Graham Taylor at Watford, and again, four years later, by Frank Clark at Orient. Both said he was too small. An intensive cycling routine followed while earning a living with a London firm of chartered accountants.

He played part-time for Leytonstone and Ilford, was spotted by Maidstone, newly promoted to the Football League, and signed for £10,000. Within the year Wimbledon had bought him for £300,000. Now, as is the way with Wimbledon players, he is being touted for a move and has already been "sold" for millions on several back pages.

He is, however, still a Wimbledon player but remains in touch with John Scales and is clearly envious of his former team-mate's lifestyle and potential for success at Liverpool.

"I am ambitous and want to go as high as I can, but while I'm at Wimbledon I will give 100 per cent," Barton said. "I have never put in a transfer request, my contract runs out next year and I'm happy to see it out. It is not that players want to leave Wimbledon, the club's policy is to sell them and bring others on."

His appearance at Lansdowne Road today shows that being a Wimbledon player is no longer incompatible with England recognition. It also puts him more prominently in the shop window - and raises his price.

His fiancee and family are flying over for the game and, unlike the England party, will probably be able to stay over and celebrate it.

It is all a long way from the Isthmian League. Barton said he never felt like giving it up, partly because he always believed in his ability, but also because "football is what I love and I would still be doing it now if I was not a professional. It is like a hobby which I am paid for. It is great."