Barton has words for Owen in club or country debate

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Sam Allardyce is discovering that life as the manager of Newcastle United is rarely straightforward. With Michael Owen's every gesture and phrase being dissected for signs of chinks in the Owen-Allardyce relationship – not difficult when Owen is quite so blunt – yesterday then brought comments from Joey Barton which could easily be interpreted as a nip back at Owen. "People get carried away about playing for their country," Barton said.

Barton, whose one cap came in February against Spain, spoke after playing 65 minutes for Newcastle reserves on Monday. Coming a day after Owen made his Newcastle comeback then said he would listen to his surgeon rather than Allardyce as to whether he can play for England on Saturday, Barton must have known the context of what he was saying.

"I haven't been bought to play for England, I am here to play for Newcastle United," Barton said. "It is always nice to be selected, and it is always a privilege and an honour. But the thing I have to do first and foremost is to play good football for Newcastle.

"If England comes then so be it, but I have played for them once now and that'll do for me. I am more interested in winning domestic honours. This is my bread and butter. Hand on heart, I would much rather be successful for Newcastle than for England."

Elsewhere, the Manchester City midfielder Stephen Ireland has withdrawn from the Republic of Ireland squad for their forthcoming Euro 2008 qualifiers. He pulled out of the Republic's last qualifier against the Czech Republic in September, citing the death of a grandmother. He later admitted he had made it up as he wanted to be with his partner, who had suffered a miscarriage.

"I have thought long and hard about whether I would do my country and myself justice if I joined up with the squad," he said. "Unfortunately, I don't believe I would on this occasion."