If anyone can think of a more unlikely role model than Joey Barton, please do let me know. I can’t see many Dad’s saying to their kids, “there’s a man who you can learn from” to be quite honest. But then again, I think that people are going the wrong way about telling him that he isn’t their ideal role model. The man might be far from perfect, but that is no excuse to throw coins and seats at him.
I must admit that a few years ago, when Barton was in his prime for Man City, I was really hoping that Everton would sign him. He started out in our academy but we let him go (him and Michael Johnson, what’s going on there?!) and i’m sure he’d have loved to have come back. And I thought he would have been great in our midfield. Carsley was getting on (though he stuck round longer than I expected) and I thought Barton would have been a good successor, just as tough tackling, but more about him when in possession.
Well that never quite came off, and I’m quite relieved now that it didn’t. I thought at the time that Moyes would have been able to stamp the stupidity out of him, but now I’m not so sure. There is no questioning his ability though. At times, when he’s at his best, he is unplayable, and I think Newcastle did the right thing in keeping hold of him when he was sent to prison.
For a start, what is he going to do if he gets kicked out of football? I’m assuming he doesn’t have any other real skills (unless he fancies boxing) and so unleashing him aimlessly on the streets might not be the best move. Also, if he is kept in the limelight, he might actually learn his lesson. He’s had a few slaps on the wrist before, but he’d never been to prison. And say what you like about him as a person, I bet he had a rough time of things in there, being a multi-millionaire footballer, and it may just have had the intended effect. Put it this way, I’d be surprised if he’s keen to go back.
No, I think in the end, the best way to sort him out is to help him. Obviously football is what he loves, he showed a lot of determination as a youngster when he was released by a few clubs, and kept on going. And if they can get the best out of him, and if he can behave himself now, Newcastle have got a very fine player. I think Joe Kinnear will be a man who can get the best out of him too, someone who isn’t all up themselves and nancy, but a bit of a rough diamond, like Barton himself.
But while I think that Barton will become a better person and will be a valuable asset for Newcastle, I do not think he will ever really be a role model, as he claimed this week he would like to be. If he does manage to behave himself from now on, he will earn the respect of some people given time, but to be honest, Barton has blown enough chances already to ensure that he will not be the ideal inspiration for even the most wayward of young people.
However, I think that the fans that abused Barton by throwing missiles at him are acting as stupidly as he himself has done at times. It makes no sense to be violent towards a person because they have a history of violence. Not only is it hypocritical, but if they disapprove of the violence as they rightly seem to, why do they want to provoke him? We know that Barton has a short fuse, he has displayed this many times, and I think therefore that treating him in this way is only going to make matters worse.
I’m not asking for Barton to be forgiven, don’t get me wrong. All the things he has done are unforgivable, but that does not mean we should abuse him in the same way he has abused others. We don’t have to forgive him, but we don’t need to encourage him to fail yet again. The justice system is supposed to allow people the chance to reform, and this is Barton’s chance. He has been punished, and now he must learn from his punishment. If he manages to do so, and behaves himself for a while, then he will eventually begin to earn the respect of some fans.
He will never, of course, be universally popular, and as I’ve said, I don’t think he is role model material, contrary to his own belief, but the ambition to be a role model can only be a good thing. In the past he has been angry and violent, and if he feels he can now be a role model to people like him, then it seems to suggest that he feels he has changed. I hope for Barton’s sake that he is right, as it is a shame that such talent should go to waste, and also for Barton’s sake, I hope football fans will focuse on the football, and not become hypocrites by abusing him, otherwise we could contribute to his final downfall. Barton is on his last chance, but the least we can do is give him a fair go at taking it.