If you can count all of Joey Barton's misdemeanors on both hands, then I would advise you to see a doctor, as that many fingers is not normal.
Born-again Frenchman Barton yet again hit the headlines recently—and yet again for all the wrong reasons—after a "disagreement" with AEL Limassol's goalkeeper Matias Degra during their Europa League tie. Barton then stepped it up a notch later in the week through a clash with FC Istres striker Guy-Roland Niangbo during a friendly.
Yes, Joey, a friendly.
The Marseille man showed that although he may have departed for foreign shores, he didn't forget to pack his temper, presumably alongside his "The Smiths" album and Alan Shearer autobiography.
But despite all his transgressions, I sometimes feel that both Queens Park Rangers and the Premier League is lacking a little Joey Barton je ne sais quoi.
Not for one minute am I condoning any form of violence that Barton has been charged with either criminally or professionally, but his aggressiveness—when channeled in the right way—can be highly beneficial to a team on the field. Barton has often been criticized for his physical approach, but he is renowned for muscling his way into a game and breaking up possession—something which QPR have struggled to do on occasion since his departure.
Nowhere close to the Cesc Fabregas or Paul Scholes class of passing, but Barton is still very good at picking out a player and threading a pinpoint ball through to them. Alejandro Faurlin and Esteban Granero are going some way to compensate for that—in fact, they are probably better than Barton. But with Barton in the middle as well as these two, he would have shored up the Rangers midfield, and provided more cover for the flailing back line—something he did exceptionally well last season.
But the best attribute of Barton's game, is his incredible mental toughness. It would have been very easy for Barton to have given it all up after being shepherded out of Manchester City, or Newcastle United or QPR for that matter. But Barton has an incredible attitude to be able to shrug off the critics, and that keeps him playing at the top of his game.
With QPR CEO Phil Beard admitting they have "moved on from Barton," there are not many managers left in the Premier League who would be willing to take on such a fiery character—and all the baggage that comes with it. The Manchester City fracas could well have been the Merseysider's last hurrah in top-flight English football.
Barton's aggressive temperament is more akin to a bare-knuckle street fighter than a professional footballer. But underneath that macho-thuggery, is simply a player who's hotheadedness gets the better of him too many times, and deep down knows that his banishment from the Premier League was all his own-doing.
Everybody needs a pantomime villain, but Barton has crossed that line between stage and reality too many times.
However, I was there when the QPR fans were chanting "there's only one Joey Barton" each time the opposing fans booed his every touch of the ball. Fans who enjoyed having a character like that of Barton on their side, enjoyed the show and stuck by their man who was in a blue and white hooped shirt. And Barton—for the majority of the season—repaid that faith with some stellar performances.
In Barton, there lies a player who in spite of everything, plays with his heart on his sleeve and will do his utmost for the team he is signed for and the shirt he is wearing—and the fans can appreciate and relate to that.
Yes, as soon as Barton attacked half of the Manchester City team on the final day of last season, threatening Rangers survival chances—the supporters turned their backs on him. That sort of behavior is looked at in a dim light by fans who spend time and money following their team—and when one of their own threatens their future—there is an almost instantaneous change of opinion and the player is shown the proverbial cold shoulder.
There are few players like Barton left in the game—which some might say is a good thing. But QPR are missing his leadership and quality, and the Premier League is missing a character who they love to hate, who can change games, who takes the boo boys on the chin and gives his all for the love of the game.
It is unfortunate for Barton, that in the same way that John Terry will never be mentioned without the word "racism," Ryan Giggs and "affair," and Glen Johnson and "toilet seat," Barton will be synonymous with "violence" for as long as he is in the public eye—and beyond. But, there is too much history for fans of any club to be able to wipe the slate clean, and therein most likely spells the end of Barton's Premier League career.
Am I a Barton fan? No. Do I respect him and his behavior? No. Do I feel that in the right mind frame, he is a top footballer, will play his heart out, lead a team, make that last-ditch tackle and pick out that pinpoint through ball for the decisive goal? Yes. And I feel—probably controversially—that QPR and the Premier League misses him just a little bit.
Although I could well be on my own in that thinking.
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