Joey Barton might have launched a scathing attack on some of the England team's senior players, describing their decisions to write autobiographies after the failure of the World Cup as "bullshit", but Steve McClaren yesterday endorsed the midfielder and hinted he will be in the next England squad.
In a clear signal that McClaren is about to change the perception among some that the England squad is a closed shop, especially to characters like Barton, he said he had read the comments but would still pick the player. If nothing else, it will make for a potentially fraught meeting should the Manchester City midfielder feature in the England squad ahead of the next friendly, against Spain on 7 February.
In a wide-ranging assault on the senior England players and their performance at the World Cup, Barton's criticisms included Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole - all of whom have published books since the summer. "I can't get my head round that," the 24-year-old said. "England did nothing in that World Cup, so why were they bringing books out? 'We got beat in the quarter-finals. I played like shit. Here's my book.' Who wants to read that?"
Barton also suggested that most of the players had been forced to write the books "because their agents told them they can cash in on the English public on the back of the World Cup... that's just bullshit."
No angel himself, Barton infamously jabbed a cigar into the eye of a young team-mate and brawled in a bar in Thailand but, having come through therapy, his performances have caught the eye of McClaren.
Asked if he had read the interview yesterday, McClaren admitted he had with a laugh. The England manager said Barton had been a transfer target of his when he was manager of Middlesbrough, despite the 24-year-old's personal problems. Earlier this year, Barton's half-brother, Michael, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his part in the murder of Anthony Walker, a black Liverpool teenager.
Praising Barton for being "forthright", McClaren said: "I know he has had his troubles. He is one of those players we talk about who has matured. He is a leader. A great character. I saw him in the Manchester derby. You need forthright people like that, not just on the field but off it as well."
Not only did Barton question the wisdom of senior England players publishing autobiographies but he also said that he had set his sights on Gerrard and Lampard's midfield places. Describing how he went for early-morning runs on holiday in the summer, Barton said: "I said to myself: will Gerrard and Lampard and the others ... be out doing this now? Some of them might have been. Some of them not. But if they're not, it means I'll be getting closer to them every day."
McClaren was speaking at an event with the managers of the other three home nation teams that was organised by the sponsors Nationwide to promote their "Cats' Eyes for Kids" child road-safety scheme. McClaren will include Barton in a group of 50 players that he has identified as potential squad players in what he says is his "push" to qualify for Euro 2008 over this season and the next.
Laying out his plans to make sure he has the best squad for the tournament, providing England qualify, McClaren said that there were 15 players who formed the "core" of the squad but that there were "seven or eight" outsiders who were under consideration. Barton is understood to be among that latter group although there may be a few in the "core" who will want a word with him should he make the grade.
Dismissing reports that his assistant, Terry Venables, is considering resigning, McClaren said that a meeting on Monday had given an overview of the contenders for the England squad. "We have identified about 50 players in the Premier League who we are going to target and concentrate on," he said. "They all have an opportunity. We are going to whittle that down by the end of the season to a more manageable number and that will be the squad for the push for qualification and then to go into the tournament."
England's core and fringe elements
Steve McClaren said yesterday that he had identified 50 players under consideration for the England squad: a "core" of 15, "seven to eight" outsiders and the rest already squad regulars or in the Under-21s. These are the men The Independent believes he is talking about.
Paul Robinson (Tottenham)
Gary Neville (Man United)
R Ferdinand (Man United)
A Cole (Chelsea)
J Cole (Chelsea)
Carrick (Man United)
Hargreaves (B Munich)
Rooney (Man United)
On the fringes
Brown (Man United)
Richards (Man City)
Richardson (Man United)
Foster (Watford on loan from Manchester United)
P Neville (Everton)
D Bent (Charlton)
Barton (Manchester City)
Barry (Aston Villa)
M Taylor (Portsmouth)
Green (West Ham)
From the under-21s
Ashton (West Ham)
Agbonlahor (Aston Villa)
Reo-Coker (West Ham)
A Ferdinand (West Ham)
Carson (Charlton on loan from Liverpool)
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