It would not be unfair to say that British football has more than its fair share of controversial players. For every Sergio Aguero, Britain’s clubs have a host of players better known for their antics than for their footballing ability, but few have achieved quite the notoriety of one Joseph Anthony Barton.
After a brief spell of relative calm, Barton has once again hit the headlines following a training ground altercation with Rangers teammate Andy Halliday and the ensuing ‘frank exchange of words’ with manager Mark Warburton. Barton has been suspended for his part in the incident while, tellingly, Halliday was made captain in Rangers’ comfortable victory over Queen of the South.
Perhaps it should not be surprising that a character like Barton once again finds himself under the media spotlight for less-than-savoury reasons.
The midfielder, formerly of Burnley, QPR and Newcastle, has never shied away from controversy and, in his own words, has “never ran from a challenge”, though the double meaning of that ambiguous sentence is not lost on anyone who has followed Barton’s career.
Despite being dogged by controversy for much of his professional career, Barton has always shown glimpses of a player who really should stand out in the Scottish league.
The mere fact that Marseilles were interested in his services while making an, admittedly futile, run at the French league title says a lot about the quality that Barton is undoubtedly capable of producing. The concern, as always, seems to be that he appears to be significantly more trouble than he is worth.
From the moment of his arrival at Rangers, Barton has been followed by questions over his loyalty, following a Twitter exchange where he claimed he was a Celtic fan, as well as doubts about whether he was genuinely as hungry for success as he claims or if the move to Glasgow was, in effect, one big cross-border chase for a last paycheck.
Having shown little to suggest that he is the answer to Mark Warburton’s midfield conundrum and faced with increasing competition from the up-and-coming likes of Andy Halliday, Jason Holt and Matt Crooks, Barton looks more and more likely to be heading for the exit door at Rangers.
Though there is certainly a high quality player somewhere in there, at the age of 34 Joey Barton – and potential clubs – just do not have the time to go looking for it anymore.
Of course, Barton is not the first, and certainly will not be the last, player to never fully fulfil their potential for a variety of reasons.
The pressure cooker of professional football, the platform that it allows players, and our willingness to give them a second chance will make sure of that. And if this latest ignominious chapter does end in disgrace for Barton, he has only himself to blame. Whether Warburton has the patience is another thing entirely.
Image courtesy of Dom Fellowes