Thursday, 7 April 2011

Barton: I'm England's best midfielder

Joey Barton has issued a damning verdict on the state of the England team, claiming they have no chance of winning any of the next 50 World Cups and pointing to Gareth Barry's presence in the side as evidence of a lack of midfield talent.

Barton labelled Barry "a teacher's pet" and likened the player, who captained England in their last game against Ghana, to a tortoise. The Newcastle United man also described himself as the country's leading midfielder and insisted the time had come for him to be forgiven for past misdemeanours and recalled to the national squad.

Barton has won just one England cap, against Spain in 2007. His often controversial career was put on hold as he served a prison sentence the following year, yet the 28-year-old appears to have rediscovered his best form and is convinced he has a role to play in Fabio Capello's team.

"Honestly, I think I'm the best [English midfielder]," Barton told the French magazine So Foot. "Luka Modric and Samir Nasri are very good, but in terms of English players... well, Jack Wilshere isn't bad, but Frank Lampard's on the way down and Steven Gerrard's been injured a lot."

Barton saved his most withering remarks for Barry. "Did you see the game against Germany at the World Cup?" he asked. "If you watch the fourth goal, when [Mesut] Ozil was up against Barry, it was like the hare and the tortoise.

"Barry's got a very good agent," Barton offered as an explanation for the player's success. "He's also discreet and always agrees with the manager. He's like the guy who sits in the front row and listens to the teacher. I certainly don't lose any sleep when I play against him."

Barton, who revealed he spends his spare time watching football on television at home now that he has given up drinking, was particularly struck by the technical and tactical deficiencies in England's 2-1 friendly defeat by France in November.

"Look at Jordan Henderson [against France]," he said. "He was up against [Yann] M'Vila, [Mathieu] Valbuena, Nasri and [Yoann] Gourcuff. And he had Gareth Barry alongside him. What could they do against those players?

"France killed us at Wembley," added Barton, before going on to paint a dark picture of England's future. "We English will play the next 50 World Cups and we'll never win one," he declared. "The people in charge at the FA played football maybe 50 or 60 years ago and still think that we can win a World Cup in the same way we did in 1966.

"We're too focused on tradition in England, like always having to play 4-4-2. Sometimes you need to experiment, drop a bit deeper so you have more space to move into. France, Italy and Germany have done it. We've been doing the same thing for 20 years."

Despite his pessimistic outlook, Barton is keen to lend a hand to Capello. "I'm English and I love playing for my country," he said. "Maybe the people at the top have a problem with me. I don't know. But the trouble I had was four years ago. They should be able to forgive, shouldn't they?"

Newcastle supporters might not regard Barton's appeal as unreasonable. As well as conducting himself in a better fashion, he has been one of the club's most effective and consistent players in a difficult season that has seen popular manager Chris Hughton sacked and striker Andy Carroll sold to Liverpool.

Barton admitted he had been unsettled by Carroll's departure in January and wants Newcastle to prove they can match his own ambition before he extends his contract, which has a year to run. "It's important to respect the people who come to the stadium or watch the games on telly," he said. "That's what I told [the Newcastle management]. I told them the goal shouldn't be just to survive, to finish 16th or 17th, every season.

"We had a good player, Carroll, and we sold him. I told the management that I was worried, that I was scared this might happen every year. But they assured me they don't want to go down that road."

Barton, however, was not entirely convinced by the talks and is urging Newcastle to act by tying their leading players to new deals. "I don't know if I believe them," he said. "I told them I might stay this summer because we have some good players and money to spend. But I'm going to wait and see if players like Kevin Nolan, Cheick Tioté and Jose Enrique stay.

"If Nolan signs a new deal, I will as well. But I hope the club step things up. I want to be ambitious and I think the club share that desire."

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