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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Feb 5, 2007

Gerrard backs Barton to impress

Rather than drive a wedge through the dressing room, Steven Gerrard is convinced Joey Barton's arrival will give England the shake-up it needs.

After questioning the dedication of Gerrard and Frank Lampard and condemning those who detailed their World Cup failings in lucrative autobiographies, there were many who felt Barton would be in for a frosty reception.

Gerrard responded by playfully suggesting he would present Barton with a signed copy of his own book before Wednesday's clash with Spain at Old Trafford and suggested that he and Lampard would probably 'have a few chats' with his fellow Merseysider over the coming days.

But the Liverpool man, who will skipper his country this week in the absence of John Terry from Steve McClaren's starting line-up, believes Barton can make a positive contribution to the England camp.

'If you look at our performances over the last couple of tournaments, a shake-up is what we need,' said Gerrard. 'We need to start playing better as a team and the additions to the squad help to freshen things up.

'It keeps you on your toes when you know there is competition for places. It makes you raise your game.'

Barton's introduction should certain focus the minds of Gerrard and Lampard - currently two of the first names on McClaren's team sheet.

Given that they grew up on neighbouring Huyton council estates and were thought to be close friends, it was somewhat of a surprise Barton should highlight Gerrard for personal criticism.

While Lampard responded with his own stinging attack on Barton, Gerrard has kept his counsel and so far has not even spoken to the player about his comments.

'Joey is quite like myself in that he likes to be really honest and say how he feels,' said Gerrard. 'Every footballer has said things they regret slightly. You just have to learn from these things.

'I have read the interview and there are no hard feelings, although I did have a little smile to myself when the squad was announced.

'I am going to give him a knock later and give him a signed book to read over the next couple of days.'

Barton's public persona has hardly been helped by a string of negative off-field incidents, which include stubbing a cigar out in a young team-mates' eye during a City Christmas party and a bar-room brawl with a teenage Everton fan during a pre-season tour in Thailand.

The 24-year-old has also been in the headlines more recently, when he was carpeted for baring his backside to Everton fans at Goodison Park earlier this season.

That incident cost Barton a £2,000 fine and earned him a warning about his future conduct.

But, as Gerrard accepts, Barton's energies have been focused in in a more positive direction in recent months.

'Joey has definitely matured as a player,' he said. 'When you saw his name being mentioned a while ago it was because of incidents off the pitch. Of late he is letting his football do the talking and is playing really well.

'I enjoy watching him. He is committed and works really hard. When you go into a battle, you want him on your side.'

Barton's best hope of a first cap appears to be from the bench as Michael Carrick looks certain to start in midfield with Gerrard and Lampard.

For the three remaining members of the quartet handed fresh call-ups by McClaren, there is far more reason for optimism.

Jonathan Woodgate seems certain to start instead of Terry in central defence despite missing training as a precaution. Kieron Dyer could profit from a combination of Andrew Johnson's withdrawal and the ankle injury which continues to make Wayne Rooney a doubt, even though the Manchester United man was cleared to link up with the England squad.

The loss of Wayne Bridge to a thigh injury - a problem which could have devastating consequences for Chelsea given Ashley Cole is already sidelined for two months with a knee problem - only enhances Gareth Barry's chances of appearing under a fifth different England coach, despite winning only eight caps so far.

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