“Watching some of the performances in the World Cup over the summer,” he surmised, still revelling in the aftermath of victory, “I think that, on form, I’m as good as anybody in this country.”
Barton’s comments are sure to raise eyebrows considering their context. This is a player who, after all, has made just 47 appearances for the St James’ Park club since his 2007 transfer, 15 of those coming last season as he battled his way back to fitness just in time to join to promotion party.
Considering his personal circumstances over the last three years, the comments are somewhat tactless. However their pertinence in consideration of the summer England endured in South Africa is unquestionable. Ignoring the fact that his career is at a crossroads and as such that he is in no position to criticise the England set-up, his condemnation stings because it is by and large correct. It also echoes his criticism of the squad which flew back from Germany four years previously to much the same national disappointment. “Hopefully this will force the game to change and now they will stop picking big names and instead pick players that are playing well,” he said, no doubt dreaming as wildly of pulling the Three Lions across his chest. There is no doubt that, as tactically inflexible as England were during the tournament, that certain players are incompatible with one another and are therefore being picked on reputation rather than form. Barton is undoubtedly correct in that respect.
Nevertheless, the feeling pervades that his comments jeopardise what remaining England aspirations he has every bit as much as his recent form does. Four years ago, heads nodded sagely at Barton’s analysis. He was in a totally different stage of his career then. Considered unlucky to have missed out on going to Germany in some quarters, his barbed comments were well received. Yet coming as they did as he hit the best form of his career, they also restricted him to one cap – a late substitute’s appearance against Spain in February 2007. He has been off the England radar ever since.
For this reason it would be prudent for the Tyneside bad-boy to do his talking on the pitch. His comments, his injuries and his training ground bust-up with Ousmane Dabo in recent times mask a player of no mean talent – talent he has struggled to demonstrate for a long time. Perhaps it would be better for the midfielder to, just for once, shy away from controversy instead of actively seeking it. His form may very well prove crucial for Newcastle as they return to the Premiership. Concentrating on this should be his priority rather than making what appear to be deluded statements of self worth.