He has made his name as a literary critic, now Joey Barton has to prove himself as an international footballer. The pugnacious midfielder was named in the England squad yesterday despite his biting criticism of players' autobiographies and will now get his chance to confront those he memorably accused of writing "bullshit" about their summer failure at the World Cup.
It was always going to be a tough decision by Steve McClaren but a welcome one too, whatever the merits of Barton as an international. Along with Gareth Barry, Kieron Dyer and Jonathan Woodgate, the England manager has added a player in Barton who may not push his way into the first XI but will certainly add an edge to the England camp.
McClaren has named a 28-man squad in expectation that there will be a few withdrawals over the weekend before the squad convene on Monday to prepare for the Spain friendly at Old Trafford on Wednesday. He has picked John Terry and Owen Hargreaves who are both back after long delays and will surely both start if they are fit.
Andrew Johnson is another who had been out for the past two weeks but could play. The early indications are that McClaren will play a 4-3-3 formation that would accommodate Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in midfielder with Hargreaves. Aaron Lennon would play as a right winger, as was originally the plan against the Netherlands in November, with Johnson on the opposite flank.
Barton finds himself in a queue behind Hargreaves and Michael Carrick for the last midfield role but rarely has there been quite so much interest in a player with virtually no chance of starting the game. His brusque comments that team-mates including Lampard, Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney had "cashed in on the English public" by writing books will be difficult to ignore for those involved.
As fellow Scousers, Barton's relationship with Gerrard and Rooney is understood to be intact, he was spotted at a PFA lunch in Manchester chatting amicably to the Manchester United striker last month. The same cannot be said of Lampard, who took particular exception to Barton casting doubt on his commitment to pre-season training. Sources at Manchester City claim that Barton has been inundated with letters from fans supporting his views.
As one who knows something about being the target of outspoken public criticism, McClaren attempted to play down the significance of Barton's recent comments, insisting that: "There will be no issues, that is the beauty of England. The players can be rivals on a Saturday and hate each other. But when they come together with England it is a common cause. Joey is coming into a fantastic squad and everybody will be professional."
Barton's inclusion has come to mean much more than just a chance for McClaren to get a look at a rugged little midfielder holding his own in the Premiership, it has come to represent a change in the dynamic of the entire squad. The comfortable hierarchy that was established by David Beckham and Sven Goran Eriksson has not been challenged since their departures and McClaren is keen to see how a different, edgier character, might change the atmosphere.
It is still baffling why the England manager is persevering with Jermaine Jenas, who gets picked for every squad but rarely comes close to playing, especially when the Bolton captain Kevin Nolan has yet again been overlooked. There is a long-awaited recall for Barry, 25, who won the last of his eight caps against Serbia and Montenegro in June 2003 and was virtually ignored by Eriksson.
Solid if unspectacular, Barry provides cover on the left side for England. It is easy to forget that he was picked in the Euro 2000 squad as a 19-year-old and shared a hotel suite with the homesick Gerrard. Their international careers have gone in very different directions since then and the Aston Villa captain said yesterday that he was "mystified" as to why he had not got his chance sooner.
Dyer and Woodgate are also two names from England's past whose careers have been punctuated by controversy. Under Eriksson, subversive elements such as Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and Lee Bowyer were drummed out to maintain the spirit of the group. By changing that, McClaren is doing more than ever to distance himself from his predecessor.
England and Spain squads
Robinson (Tottenham Hotspur), Foster (Manchester United, on loan at Watford), Kirkland (Wigan Athletic).
G Neville (Manchester United), P Neville (Everton), Ferdinand (Manchester United), Woodgate (Real Madrid, on loan at Middlesbrough), Carragher (Liverpool), Dawson (Tottenham), Richards (Manchester City).
Lennon (Tottenham), Gerrard (Liverpool), Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Carrick (Manchester United), Downing (Middlesbrough), Wright-Phillips (Chelsea), Parker (Newcastle United), Lampard (Chelsea), Barry (Aston Villa), Barton (Manchester City), Jenas (Tottenham), Dyer (Newcastle).
Rooney (Manchester United), Crouch (Liverpool), Defoe (Tottenham), Johnson (Everton).
Casillas (Real Madrid), Reina (Liverpool). Defenders
Lopez (Atletico Madrid), Ibanez (Atletico Madrid), Puyol (Barcelona), Capdevila (Deportivo La Coruña), Ramos (Real Madrid), Navarro (Seville), Angel (Celta Vigo)
Fabregas (Arsenal), Iniesta (Barcelona), Xavi (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Liverpool), Angulo (Valencia), Silva (Valencia), Albelda (Valencia)
Villa (Valencia), Arizmendi (Deportivo La Coruña), Torres (Atletico Madrid), Morientes (Valencia).Reuse content