Say what you like about Twitter icon and occasional footballer Joey Barton but he sure thumps a mean tub. After his Newcastle United teammate Jose Enrique was fined for lambasting the club’s hierarchy by way of Tweet, Barton followed suit with the following, widely publicised comments:
“If only we as players could tell the fans exactly how it is, without them above fining us lots of money. There will be a time and a place. If it wouldn’t effect (sic) team morale and cause unrest within the dressing room, am certain Jose’s comments would be the tip of the iceberg….. And again it would be left to those magnificent fans to pick up the remnants of their once great football club.”
As a result of this tirade, the 28 year-old midfielder – whose career thus far would be grossly understated if referred to as ‘controversial’ – will be allowed to leave St James’ Park on a free transfer, an eventuality which he claims not to want but which is sadly inevitable under Mike Ashley’s deeply unpopular regime.
Now, Ashley can rightfully be accused of many heinous crimes against the Magpies’ good name – do we even need to list them? – but if there’s one man on Tyneside other than Alan Pardew who owes him a debt of gratitude then it is Barton, whom the club backed and continued to remunerate to the tune of £50,000-a-week during his seventy-four-day spell in prison for drunkenly attacking a man in Liverpool city centre.
Indignation spewed forth from all corners when Barton was released and allowed to walk straight back into his lucrative position as a should-be role model but Newcastle got him back to match fitness and gave him the platform to re-establish himself as a respected (playing-wise, at least) Premiership footballer.
Barton had a fine 2010-11 campaign and should also take credit for what had been an increasingly unlikely-looking recovery – not to mention Chris Hughton’s no doubt stabilising influence – but for him to throw the cat amongst the Magpies in the manner that he has done smacks of petulance at best and of a covert desire to engineer a move elsewhere at worst.
While Barton’s on-pitch commitment could never be questioned, something doesn’t quite sit right about the way he has chosen to use praise of the Toon Army faithful as a sort of human shield against whatever repercussions his broadsides against Ashley and his cronies might hold for him. Given the pessimism which is currently engulfing the club after the departures of Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan, and possible imminent departures of Barton and Enrique, it would be hard to argue that former Manchester City man is misguided in his criticism.
However, Newcastle fans were perfectly aware of the problems facing their club without the need for a senior player so openly casting aspersions over their survival prospects. What must new signings Sylvain Marveaux, Mehdi Abeid, Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba be thinking now? The club may not be in pristine condition at the moment but, as much as some fans support the player’s supposedly passion-fuelled outspokenness, would things be any worse if Barton had just kept his mouth shut and focussed on continuing his admittedly impressive pre-season form?
A club’s supporters are perfectly capable of identifying issues and protesting them in whatever manner they see fit. Such action may filter down to the playing staff to some extent but not nearly as much as when senior players like Barton and Enrique choose to vent in public with the start of the Premiership season less than two weeks away and with four new signings, all from abroad (barring Ba’s loan spell at West Ham United last season), still to bed in.
If the reasons given by Barton’s agent Willie McKay for his reported tirade in the dressing room after last Sunday’s 3-2 friendly defeat at Leeds United – specifically that he hadn’t been named captain in the absence of Fabricio Coloccini and had been stripped of dead ball duties in favour of Cabaye – are true, then the whole outburst is even more pathetic. A player of Barton’s undoubted ability could command a decent wedge in the current transfer market but you can’t put a price on dressing room harmony, especially if Newcastle do end up finding themselves once again battling against the drop.
And that, at the risk of coming across like some horrible tabloid cliché, is why Joey Barton must shut up or shove off.