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Joey Barton was right - but was he the right man to say it?

By Mark Douglas on Apr 7, 11 12:08 PM

ERUDITE, engaging and frequently eviscerating, there is a reason why an interview with Joey Barton is considered the sports journalist's equivalent of winning the lottery.

Forthright opinions are not rare in the world of Premier League football but finding someone at the peak of his powers willing to express them certainly is, which is reason why any dialogue with Barton is invariably dynamite.

Almost nothing is off limit with the Newcastle tyro, no matter how unpalatable it may be. Just recently, in a scandalously sensationalised French TV interview that thankfully went mostly unnoticed on these shores, he was asked about the Ousmane Dabo incident for the first time. His defiant response to an interviewer that I understand frequently crossed the line with the tone of his inquisition was something along the lines of "no-one died, did they?"

His latest missive in French magainze So Foot is, again, fascinating stuff. Branding Gareth Barry a "tortoise" and a teacher's pet, he tees himself up to have a pop at the tactical inflexibility of the Three Lions before publicly admitting doubts about United's ambition in the wake of Andy Carroll's sale.

Given that Derek Llambias recently responded to Kevin Keegan doing the same thing with a furious rebuke it should make for a few interesting phone calls over the next few days.

But - and therein lies the rub - you can't argue with his main points. Barry was pathetic during the World Cup, England will go another 240 years without winning global's sports major prize at their current rate and United's board does have to put up or shut up this summer.

I also agree, and have argued all season, that it is pathetic that the sins of four years ago should be held against Barton when it comes to international recognition. His crimes were serious but his efforts to reform have been equally impressive and you can't construct a case against his inclusion based on form. Few if any eligible for England have been better and the last time I checked the national team is hardly staffed exclusively by saints now, is it?

Still, I wonder how much good Barton has done himself or Newcastle with this latest state of the nation address. It has certainly invited unneccessary pressure on him.

His England advocates in the North East press pack have long argued that he has been overlooked for international honours for political reasons and this interview gives Fabio Capello another excuse to weasel out of a big decision to pick him. By so publicly criticising one of Capello's lieutenants, he has given the Italian a get out - namely that Barton's selection would dent already fragile team spirit.

And for all that Barry has been hyped beyond his ability, is Barton the right man to say it? His performances have been superb of late but where was he when Barry was establishing himself in the England team? Injured or worse. As he himself admitted in the past, his first three years at St James' Park were a series of costly, catastrophic mistakes.

Part of the problem is that mature discourse is nearly impossible in football. Barton's salient points will be lost in a flurry of "tortoise" and "teacher's pet" headlines and maybe he knows that. Maybe he felt it was time for him to land on the national agenda again, because unfortunately a "Barton playing well" story just doesn't appeal to the football public outside Newcastle's city gates.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, it is great to have someone with such sharp opinions on the patch. I have never found him anything other than polite and generous when it comes to his media responsibilites and his self belief should not be mistaken for ego or conceit.

Life is rarely dull where Barton is concerned but this season has been different - the headlines have been almost exclusively positive; invariably backed up his performances.

Long may that continue.

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