"Rattle some cages" was what Joey Barton promised to do if he was called into the England squad and, yesterday, Manchester City's enfant terrible found an unlikely ally among his new international team-mates. Steven Gerrard said that despite Barton's recent outspoken attacks on England players, he was just the man needed to challenge the team's biggest names.
While Gerrard did the peacemaking, Steve McClaren looks set to keep the faith against Spain tomorrow with a 4-3-3 system that could see Aaron Lennon and Kieron Dyer deployed either side of Wayne Rooney, who has been passed fit. The England manager has not been deterred by the withdrawal of Andy Johnson yesterday from playing a formation that showed promise in the friendly against the Netherlands in November.
Gerrard had no reason to come to his new team-mate's rescue yesterday - he was one of those recently lambasted by Barton for writing "bullshit" autobiographies after the World Cup, and he was also ridiculed by the City man for his incompatibility with Frank Lampard.
But while the Chelsea man has proved less forgiving, Gerrard said a smile came to his face when seeing Barton's name in the squad. "I've signed a copy of my book for him and put it outside his room," Gerrard said. "He can read it in the next couple of days because you get a lot of time to yourself."
Lampard played down the extent of his unhappiness with Barton, although the Chelsea man is understood to have taken him aside for a chat at the team's Lowry Hotel before training. It appeared that the squad was not in the mood for cold-shouldering the new recruit. "Myself, Frank and Joey will be having a lot of chats over the next couple of days - I'm sure we can put it to bed," Gerrard said. The straight-talking interviews given by Barton about the England team before Christmas were clearly a source of amusement for Gerrard. He referred to it as "the Joey Barton situation" although by his tone it sounded like he found it hard to take seriously the words of a fellow Scouser who he also considers a friend.
"I have read the interview he did. As far as I am concerned there are no hard feelings," Gerrard said. "I think Joey is similar to myself. When he does interviews he is really honest and likes to say how he feels. I think every footballer has said things that they regret slightly and you learn from those things."
Whether Barton regrets it is a different matter and certainly he has shown no public contrition for his attack on the players who he said "cashed in" on their World Cup failure with books. At training yesterday, Barton walked sheepishly across the pitches at Manchester United's Carrington base, clearly aware that he will be centre of attention this week whether he wins his first cap or not.
Barton got off the team coach and appeared to be weighing up his chances of getting away with a pee in the hedge before wisely deciding to use the facility on the bus. He mixed in with a couple more "new boys", Gareth Barry and Dyer, who are already internationals but have been recalled from the wilderness by McClaren.
Gerrard echoed a new philosophy around the England squad that the accepted hierarchy of players will have to be challenged in a way they never were under Sven Goran Eriksson and in doing so he endorsed Barton's inclusion - however toxic some players might regard his presence. "I think new additions to the squad help, it freshens things up and keeps players on their toes," he said. "When you know you have competition behind you for places it can help you raise your game."
Two years ago, a shake-up was what Barton needed rather than what he was capable of administering. Just a mile from the England team's current Manchester city-centre hotel is the bar where Barton used team-mate Jamie Tandy's eye as an ashtray for his cigar in December 2004. Although Gerrard's younger days were never quite so wild, he said he recognised the changes Barton had made to his life.
"He [Barton] is a great player who deserves his call up, I think he has definitely matured," Gerrard said. "I think when you saw Joey Barton a while ago it was to do with incidents off the pitch. Of late, he is letting his football do his talking. He is playing really well. I enjoy watching him because he is my type of player. He is committed, he works really hard. When you are going into a battle he is the type you want on your side."
Wigan goalkeeper Chris Kirkland last night became the latest member of England's squad to be ruled out of tomorrow's friendly at Old Trafford. Kirkland has not recovered from a shoulder injury. Wayne Bridge pulled out of the squad earlier yesterday and his absence means that either Barry, Phil Neville or Jamie Carragher could get a start at left-back.
Jonathan Woodgate did not train yesterday but he is the favourite to step into John Terry's position, with Michael Carrick taking the place of Owen Hargreaves behind Gerrard and Lampard.
"I think we can definitely make it work in a 4-3-3 because we have got a natural holder in there who will be disciplined," Gerrard said. "You will get the best out of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard if we're given licence to break forward."Reuse content