It seemed to me incredible that Joey Barton could talk about moving on to pastures new after his first full and effective season for us. The same club that had taken him on when he was as popular as a John Wayne Gacy tribute act for kids parties. The same club that had stood by him while he served a prison sentence. The same club that had its PR department working round the clock to explain away not only his past but his latest lack of discipline. The same club whose managers always talked him up for and England spot even though in truth he should be nowhere near the national squad based on his past transgressions. We treated Joey Barton better than any club he’d been at.
When Newcastle gave Joey Barton a home it couldn’t have been in a more ridiculous fashion, confirming our place as some sort of halfway house for footballing misfits and serial nutcases. Out went the consummate professional Scott Parker, a man so revered by the fans that in his final season he was “Mayfair” on the club shop Monopoly board… In came a player that wasn’t fit to clean his shoes. Sure, he had some talent but his disciplinary problems were well documented. Newcastle were still recovering from the bad press that came out during the Bobby Robson era, a team of young footballing brats that were brash off the pitch and hungover on it. The club was still considered something of an embarrassment after the Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer punch up between team-mates.
One time linked with big clubs, when he left Manchester City the only other teams willing to take a punt on him were West Ham and Middlesbrough. While we may have achieved little in his time with us, we at least rescued him from that sort of obscurity; Newcastle were always in the spotlight for one reason or another.
Yet it was clear that even with the new supposedly authoritative stance of England’s self proclaimed greatest manager “Big” Sam Allardyce, his issues were too much to control. After a spell out injured he returned to the side and tried to ingratiate himself to the fans with a potentially leg breaking challenge against Sunderland’s Dickson Etuhu. He walked away without punishment.
And if he was vicious on the pitch, it seemed he was more prone to violence off it. Despite being on bail for two prior offences he was back in the dock over assaulting two men in Liverpool City Centre, delivering a rash of blows to a verbally abusive drunk (the CCTV footage used in court showed him landing twenty punches) and knocking the teeth out of a teenager. He blamed alcohol, he swore he’d changed. The club stood by him while he served 77 days of his six month prison sentence, welcomed with open arms by English football’s biggest sucker, Kevin Keegan.
Still the trouble didn’t end. He had to serve another suspension for an assault on his former colleague at Manchester City, Ousmane Dabo. When he returned he was universally booed at every ground he went to. Fans jeered at him, they threw missles at him, the press almost went as far as condoning it. It was a rare situation for Newcastle to be in, often a neutral’s favourite because of their status as plucky failures.
Losing Nolan was a much bigger blow, even if this does leave a hole in our midfield that we have to fill before the season starts. Whoever fills it you can guarantee one thing – they won’t be as much of a mess as Barton.
When we were battling against relegation in 2009, a season that Barton had spent a large chunk of on the sidelines, he couldn’t resist showing everyone his true colours with a pointless tackle in our three-nil defeat against Liverpool. Caretaker manager Alan Shearer criticised him and said he wasn’t happy with the actions or having to deal with the pending suspension. The resulting argument that came about showed the level of Barton’s delusion. Telling Shearer he was a rubbish manager was one thing… The best player at the club? Not even close. He’d been for the most part a liability and a public relations nightmare. He was suspended from the club for the rest of the season, Shearer refusing to work with him.
Managing only fifteen fixtures in the highly successful Championship campaign it wasn’t clear whether or not he’d still be at the club but Chris Hughton was as good as his word in standing by the players who had got the club promoted. Finally it seemed Barton was at peace. He was playing his best football, he talked about loving the club, loving the fans, “owing” them something for their loyalty. At 28 had he finally got it? Had he finally found that maturity that was lurking under those new leaves he kept turning over before the inevitable hideous relapse?
Even when we sold Andy Carroll for a hideously inflated price – something that finally feels we got some measure of revenge against Kenny Dalglish for destroying Keegan’s championship challenging team – he said he’d not be going anywhere. Then came the contract negotiations. Then came the inevitable impasse, the claims from the agent that he would take a cut in wages for the right deal but it had never been forthcoming and likely his future lay elsewhere. Meanwhile local newspapers quoted club inside sources as saying it was his increased wage demands that had stalled any deal.
Then the rumblings began, proof that football managers have shorter memories than goldfish and that senility must be more widespread in the over sixties than anyone would care to consider. Newspaper reports linking him with Arsenal, then Manchester United. “He could be the first genuine replacement for Vieira” some Gooners had started to bleat, while the Salford massive saw Barton as “the only player who could fill the gap left by Paul Scholes”. He’s not as good as either and never will be.
Yet even if he were the real issue is the raft of problems that come him, the weighty baggage of a player who genuinely can’t control his temper and fails to understand his opinion isn’t the most important component in the club’s machinery. Refusing to admit that he was trying to manufacture a move for himself he continually Tweeted about how things at the club needed addressing, how he didn’t want to get relegated again. It clearly never occurred to him that this end would best be served by simply keeping quiet and playing his football. Now he seems to think he’s a victim, someone who has been silenced and treated harshly.
Best of luck taking that attitude to any of the big clubs going to take a foolish gamble on him. If it’s United Ferguson will rue the move within a few weeks. If it’s Arsenal, all the muscle he brings to the pitch won’t replace the memories of Fabregas and / or Nasri. Then the suspensions will start piling up, the arguments in the dressing room, the criminal behaviour off the pitch. Christ, it’s no wonder we’ve said he can go on a free. We’re just glad he’s going to be someone else’s problem now.
People sermonised about the message it sent out when we picked him up – “why would ANY Premier League club want to give that thug a job” they asked – so what does it say that it looks likely he’ll be playing his rogue trade in the Champions League this season? What next, a saccharine television movie about how he overcame adversity where the teenager whose eye he stubbed a cigar out in is played by a coke-fuelled Gary Busey, how everything he’s done has all been in self defence, a misunderstood genius who came from the slums to scale new heights for club and country…
Even though on the surface of it all it looks the club got played like an abused partner, left with two black eyes, crying in public and thinking how we’re going to explain this one to the neighbours, the reality is this move can only turn out for the better. Losing Nolan was a much bigger blow, even if this does leave a hole in our midfield that we have to fill before the season starts. Whoever fills it you can guarantee one thing – they won’t be as much of a mess as Barton.
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