No stranger to making outspoken comments, either via word of mouth, or making statements over the internet, Joey Barton has once again hit the headlines in controversial fashion. Of late, his weapon of choice has been Twitter, when voicing his dissatisfaction during the summer goings-on at old club Newcastle United, which ultimately led to his departure. But this time it was via the medium of radio, where Barton used a football phone-in show to brand the English national team as an ‘elitist, southern-based club’ that the majority of fans in the country no longer connect to. With a long-list of ‘colourful’ (some disgusting) misdemeanours behind him, many fans have little time for Barton. But this time, does the controversial midfielder have a point? Is Barton merely voicing the opinion of the people?
Far from a deliberate attempt to hit the headlines the QPR midfielder rang up the ‘Absolute Extra’s Rock’n’Roll’ football phone-in show on Saturday evening to simply talk about his team’s 1-1 draw with Blackburn Rovers. However, the controversy-magnet that is Joey Barton was soon about to hit the headlines again when asked about his chances of securing an England recall by Ian Wright, a former England international who himself, was no stranger headlines during his time as a player.
‘No … I’m not bleating about it, at the end of the day I’m playing for QPR, I’m playing in the Premier League, you know, I’m far from hard done by, but it would have been nice to play for England’ said Barton, before continuing: ‘I’ve played well enough over the last 18 months for them to select me, he’s [Capello’s] chosen not to, so for me I’m planning on going away and playing golf and watching the [European] Championships on TV, and no doubt being massively let down by an England side coming home quite early’.
He finally added: ‘I mean, my massive issue with England, or Team England as it’s now known, is it is now an elitist, southern-based team. I mean, it’s neat to have Wembley, you know, but why should England specifically play there? How can you be passionate about England if you live in Newcastle and you’ve got to travel over 200 miles, or if you live in Carlisle. I mean, they’ve become an elitist, southern-based club, and for me I think your average Englishman really doesn’t care about England anymore.’
Is Barton speaking for the ‘average Englishman’, and do most fans think the national set-up has become ‘elitist’? Of course, this could be just sour grapes coming from a player who feels hard done by. After all, despite his obvious abilities, Barton has only represented his country once during a period of time when numerous other midfielders have been given ample opportunities to shine at the highest level. Maybe he has had somewhat of a raw deal. On the other hand, his highly controversial ways haven’t helped his cause, were at times, he has been literally public enemy number -1.
However this time, one senses Barton is right and not speaking from a purely selfish point of view. His beliefs surrounding the England setup have been echoed outside of London for years, particularly ‘up-north’, where he is from. How can fans connect with a team who constantly play in one particular stadium, hundreds of miles away?
Yes, it is nice to have a recognised ‘home’ for the national team, especially one that HAD so much heritage attached as the old Wembley did. But perfect opportunity was given for a fresh approach when the famous old towers were demolished and ‘new’ Wembley was built. During this time, England HAD to ‘tour’, playing its home games up and down the country whilst the new ‘home of football’ was built. It gave local fans the opportunity to go and see and support THEIR countries team, and feel a national pride once more – not feel like an outsider going for a daytrip to the nation’s capital. It is something that the national teams in Spain and Italy have done for years – and these are countries that have bigger regional differences and issues than England. However once the new stadium in Wembley was built, it was back to London, Team England went. It was another point Barton noted: ‘I felt England really came back or became a part of the nation again when they toured while Wembley was getting built’.
The ‘Team England’ topic is also an issue. Many England managers have come in with the mantra that players will be chosen ‘on form’ only. After many years, we know this is simply not true, as certain ‘names’ have always remained a safe bet for national duty regardless of their current club form. It is of little surprise that Barton, an English player in the English league has branded his own national team as ‘elitist’, and I would wager he’s in a majority of other professional players who think exactly the same – he’s just the only one brave enough to say it. What the majority of fans think, I would also wager Barton is correct. Can I take any bets?
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