A character reference from Joey Barton is perhaps not what Andy Carroll needs right at this moment as the Newcastle United striker presses his claims for inclusion in Fabio Capello's England squad to face France next week.
Were the decision to be made on footballing criteria alone, Carroll would almost certainly be heading for an England debut in next Wednesday's Wembley friendly. His performance and goal in Sunday's 1-0 win at Arsenal suggested he could become the player Capello so desperately craves, someone with the ability and character to put in the work and lead the line, but who also possesses the talent to weigh in with his fair share of goals.
With Darren Bent, Bobby Zamora and Jermain Defoe injured, and Wayne Rooney doubtful, the time has come for Carroll, 21, to be given a chance. Picking him, however, will be fraught with problems. The Football Association has concerns as Carroll faces the threat of jail over an impending court case, and he has so far shown no sign he is willing to curb his wilder moments of excess.
Enter Joey Barton, Carroll's Newcastle team-mate, who served 77 days in jail for common assault and affray in 2008. Speaking after Newcastle's victory at the Emirates, Barton accused Capello and his predecessors as England manager of picking players based on their "goody two shoes" reputations rather than their form and fitness.
"If you want to win football matches then sometimes you need players who don't always toe the line," Barton said. "Every other national team picks players because they're best in their position. The frustrating thing for me is we pick the good guys, the guys who won't cause any problems.
"For me, what do we want to do? What do England want to do? Do we want to win football matches or do they want to attract sponsors and earn a lot of money? For me, on form, Andy Carroll has to be in the England squad.
"Hopefully England will stop worrying about what the sponsors are going to say and if 'goody two shoes' is the right image for Team England. They need to start picking players to win football matches."
Barton may well get his wish, for Capello is understood to be minded to include Carroll when he announces his squad on Saturday, despite the latest incident involving Carroll, which centres on an alleged all-night party at captain Kevin Nolan's house, where Carroll has been ordered to live as part of his bail conditions. Carroll is due to appear before magistrates in January having denied a charge of assaulting his ex-girlfriend.
Barton's comments highlight the dilemma facing Capello, and he has a point. It is doubtful that such a controversial figure as Diego Maradona would have become one of the all-time greats had he been born in Borehamwood instead of Buenos Aires, and he would certainly not have gone on to manage the national team. Instead, England's history is littered with players whose behaviour off the pitch limited their England call-ups, players such as Stan Collymore, who won three caps, Peter Osgood (four), Paul Merson (21) and Stan Bowles (five).
The easiest thing would be if Carroll were to mend his ways, and Barton has shown in the past two years it is possible to change. Now 28, Barton is arguably playing the best football of his career following a concerted effort to clean up his act.
"What I've found in later life is that you become more mature and that was a way of getting the best out of myself," Barton said. "It's helping me now that I've not been in trouble for a long time. It's getting the best out of me and it's easier to perform."
Barton is confident the same will be true of Carroll. "He's a great kid, a wayward rogue like I was. People have walked in his shoes before, probably me more than anyone. There are a lot of experienced heads around him, like Sol Campbell. Everyone is there for him."
Carroll played down the England talk, and was unaware that Capello had been at the Emirates to see him score. "I didn't know that. I've just got to see what happens, really," he said.Reuse content