Joey Barton was theatrically knighted on Saturday as part of Bernardo Corradi's corner-flag wielding celebrations at his first two goals for Manchester City, but his manager would settle for the rather more plausible honour of a first England cap.
"He wants to do everything in his power to play for England, and that involves staying out later than anybody at the training ground," Stuart Pearce said. "He's got bags of energy. If he doesn't make it, it won't be for want of trying. There's maybe parallels between myself and him, that he thinks, 'Hang on, I might not be the best in the world, but I'll give it my best shot and see where it takes me'."
Certainly on Saturday he looked international class, albeit against a dire Fulham. The away side may have had the extra man in midfield, but it was Barton and Hatem Trabelsi who dominated, particularly in a first half the Fulham manager Chris Coleman described as "the most disappointing 45 minutes of the season".
Not for City fans it wasn't. Having seen their side score just four times in six previous home games this season, City suddenly looked like scoring with every attack, Corradi breaking his duck from a Georgios Samaras flick after 12 minutes, and adding a second from Barton's square pass 20 minutes later.
Barton got the goal his performance deserved in first-half injury-time after Trabelsi's intelligent break had made the most of some shambolic Fulham defending to ensure that, even for a team as notoriously fragile as City, Collins John's first of the season was a blip rather than the start of a second-half fightback.
There was a maturity to Barton's performance, a sense of control that has perhaps been lacking in the past, which Pearce insists is indicative of a more general change. "He's matured over the past year," the City manager said. "There's one or two harsh lessons that he's had to deal with. He's got a thick skin that's appropriate to where he is now."
Coming less than two months after Barton mooned at Everton fans, Pearce's words can perhaps be regarded with a level of scepticism, but it is easy to forget that Barton is still only 24. Mind, that still makes him fully a third older than City's most recent England international, Micah Richards, whose example Pearce believes should be an inspiration for all those who have come through City's academy.
"When Des Walker was playing, he had to be the best player at Nottingham Forest for four seasons before the England manager noticed him," Pearce said. "I don't think that's the case now. Once you're playing quite well, the manager will pick you. Micah doing well last week has got to be a massive boost for Joey Barton."
Goals: Corradi (12) 1-0; Corradi (32) 2-0; Barton (45) 3-0; John (62) 3-1.
Manchester City (4-4-2): Weaver; Richards, Dunne, Distin, Thatcher; Trabelsi (Onuoha, 89), Reyna, Barton, Vassell; Corradi, Samaras (Dickov, 67). Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Ireland, Miller.
Fulham (4-5-1): Niemi; Rosenior, Knight, Pearce, Queudrue; Volz (Radzinski, 74), Bocanegra (John, 46), Diop, Boa Morte, Jensen; McBride (Helguson, 46). Substitutes not used: Lastuvka (gk), Routledge.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: Manchester City Thatcher; Fulham Volz.
Man of the match: Barton.
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