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“When England’s doesn’t, will Northern Ireland’s door remain open?”

September 29, 2010

On Tuesday, Nigel Worthington apparently included yet another promising graduate of the Northern Ireland under-21 set-up into his the senior squad. On Thursday, that same promising youngster withdrew himself from the squad and future squads in case he is one day called upon by his nation-of-birth, England.

Adam Barton, a promising midfielder under Darren Ferguson at Preston North End, has been watched by a number of Premiership clubs such has been his form so far the season. Released by Blackburn as a 16 year-old with a serious back injury, Preston took a chance on Barton that has royally paid off. Impressive performances for the Preston youth and reserve teams in the following years saw Barton included on the Preston bench in March 2009 for a game against Charlton before he was handed his full home debut just over a year later against Scunthorpe. Since April, Barton has been included more and more in the Preston first-team and so far this season, it’s pretty safe to say that he has been one of Ferguson’s better players. Earlier in the year and in front of the BBC camera, Barton produced a performance beyond his years against Burnley that included a coolly taken goal. Though his side threw away a 3-1 lead to lose 4-3 the performance only caused to attract more attention from bigger clubs and maybe even bigger nations.

Two years ago, it would probably only have been in young Adam’s wildest dreams that an England cap would have been considered a possibility. Now after an excellent start to the season, it’s starting to be whispered in some circles; very, very quietly. So Adam has down the most sensible thing an English lad can do; make himself exclusively available for England.

It’s probably only down to his serious back injury that saw him released by Blackburn that he ever considered pulling on our green shirt. Of course, since then he’s had a ‘wake-up call’ for the want of a better phrase. Someone has obviously sat him down and reminded him that he is English; and while one of his parents is Northern Irish, he dreams of one day leading the Three Lions to victory in a World Cup final; not the GAWA.

But how long will Adam wait for the call-up?

Is it a case of him waiting to see if an under-21 call comes his way from Stuart Pearce? If he turns 22 and nothing has happened, will he give the offices in Belfast a call back? Does Adam wait to see how Preston deal with the Premiership interest he is receiving? If he starts to play regularly and perform well for Sunderland or Bolton, two of the clubs that expressed desires to sign Barton in January; it will help Adam’s cause. And if he is playing in the top flight, then he will rightfully hold out for that call-up for much longer. He could be 26 or 27 before he starts to think of the Green and White Army again. Would he try to get himself into the squad? And if he does, will Northern Ireland simply welcome him back?

It’ll be down to the manager at that time to decide but I think it’ll be hard to turn him down regardless.

Northern Ireland is not a big country blessed with a vast array of footballing talent. Exploiting the parent and grandparent rules of selection is nothing new for Our Wee Country. But the disappointment of losing a decent prospect at such a tender age is what will disappoint the fans the most.  Barton is unlike any other central midfielder in the Northern Ireland squad. Neat and tidy on the ball, his first instinct with the ball at his feet is to look forward. He looks for an attacking pass and tries to make things happen. Not many others do.

And as much as it pains me to say it, Adam Barton holds all the cards in this situation. He joins Nedum Onuoha in knowing that they have ‘fall-back nationalities.’ Should Onuoha and Barton give up on their England hopes, Nigeria and Northern Ireland will be there ready and waiting to give them international football.

He won’t be liked by the fans and he won’t care about the shirt. Everyone will know that he really wanted to play for England; but he’ll probably be the best available.

The whole thing disgusts me.

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