McClaren considers Barton call-up for England
Manchester City's Joey Barton is in line for an England call after coach Steve McClaren identified the midfielder as one of 'seven or eight' Premiership stars capable of breaking into the national team.
Barton has never made any secret of his England ambitions but his regular dalliances with controversy appeared to have counted against him, especially as he was not among the 28 players picked for last month's friendly with Holland.
After hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons on too many occasions over the past couple of seasons, the 24-year-old Liverpudlian was back in the spotlight this weekend when he condemned the 'book' culture of so many England stars, claiming he would not want to read the thoughts of anyone who had failed so miserably to perform at this summer's World Cup.
Broadcast live on TV, such thoughts are hardly likely to endear Barton to future team-mates.
However, this will not stop McClaren giving serious consideration to drafting Barton into his squad for the friendly against Spain at Old Trafford in February.
'I tried to buy Joey Barton when I was at Middlesbrough so yes, he is a player who interests me,' said McClaren.
'He has had his troubles but he has come through them and he is a player who has matured over the year.'
McClaren was at Old Trafford at the weekend to see Barton do his best, but ultimately fail, to engineer a first Manchester City derby win in 32 years at the home of their local rivals.
'Joey is a leader,' he said. 'He has great character. You need people like that, forthright people, not just on the field but off it as well.'
McClaren was speaking at the 'four managers' event organised by Nationwide, the sponsor of the England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales football teams to review the home nations' international football year and to promote Nationwide's 'Cats' Eyes for Kids' child road safety scheme.
Back on the front foot once again following the positive display in Amsterdam last month, McClaren is adamant England are heading in the right direction again after October's Euro 2008 qualifying disaster when they gleaned just a single point from a home encounter with Macedonia before slumping to a dismal defeat in Croatia.
The three-month gap between games is a frustrating period for any international manager.
However, McClaren appears to be using his time wisely, getting to see as many games as he can and identifying potential international stars of the future.
From a Premiership overloaded with foreign players of dubious quality, McClaren believes there are around 50 capable of representing their country, a figure that will be whittled down over the next couple of months in consultation with assistant Terry Venables and the remainder of his coaching team.
Of the 50, McClaren estimates seven or eight are now beyond the Under-21 stage but were not selected for the Holland draw.
Aside from Barton, Bolton's Kevin Nolan and Aston Villa's Gareth Barry seem sure to be among that number, with Alan Smith, Robert Green, Glen Johnson and Dean Ashton heading a fascinating list of potentials for the other four, which presumably does not include deposed former skipper David Beckham.
'We have a core of about 15 but in total we have identified 50 in the Premier League who we are going to target and concentrate on,' said McClaren.
'They will all have an opportunity but, by the end of the season we will bring that down to a more manageable number. That will be the squad for the push for qualification to Euro 2008.'
For all his general optimism, a further loss in Israel when the qualifying campaign resumes in March is bound to result in further calls for McClaren's head.
However, the man who succeeded Sven-Goran Eriksson in the summer has insisted his star names will be flying next spring, fully recovered from the hangover brought on by their exertions at the World Cup.
McClaren has noted both France and Spain suffered even worse setbacks than England in the autumn, losing to Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively.
So, by adding a touch of traditional British bulldog spirit, he is confident the season will end in far more encouraging fashion.
'When their backs are against the wall, the British players all have the same attitude,' he said.
'They will fight right to the end. That is when they come to the fore and that is what we have to do because we have to get back into that major Finals arena again.'