Joey Barton will soon be a free man: Football beware!
Like him or not, there is no denying Joey Barton is a character in the English game. He’s been around the block, even taking his trade to the northern reaches of Scotland and the south of France. His gambling ban will expire in May. Then he’ll be free to return to football.
Barton has been in the news yet again. His spat with Scott Brown has reignited. Somehow he’s managed to fall out with both sides of the Old Firm, perhaps an unprecedented achievement. It's probably just a quick run-out to make sure he's confrontation fit after an extended stretch on the shelf.
Just to recap, Barton was banned by the FA for his involvement with betting agencies. He went so far as to bet on his own team when already ruled out of action. Originally, he was given an 18-month ban. It was later reduced to 13 months on appeal. Going through the process indicates he hopes to return to the game. But in what capacity? And where?
At 35, many would consider Barton an old man. Others have played longer. He could easily do a job for many clubs. When the ban lifts he’ll have missed a full season. He won't be able to step right into a team in May but he can still put pen to paper on a deal at that point. The problem is, who wants to take on a 35-year-old, ban-ridden midfielder?
Barton's last stint was with the Clarets and arguably the best football in his career. He was getting involved and looked like he wanted to play for the shirt. That has been questionable at points in his career.
As a Barton fan I think there are few better leaders on the pitch. He can command a team and get them playing for him, even if not for the manager, as he did towards the end at Newcastle. He can lead with his head and not in the Zinedine Zidane/Marco Materazzi sense.
Burnley could offer him a pick-up package where he can continue his work there. A year is a long time on Sean Dyche’s clock though. The team has progressed significantly in Barton's absence. He might only be offered a supporting role.
The English second tier is rife with clubs that would benefit from Barton’s steely demeanour. He has a fierce determination and relentless graft befitting any of the 24 clubs but most notably Nottingham Forest or Leeds United. Both clubs once based their games on grit, fight, and power, qualities not easily found at the City Ground and Elland Road these days. Barton would restore them. He played a massive part of Burnley’s 2014/15 promotion campaign. He's proven himself at this level.
That said, he may wish to take his act on the road again. His high profile makes him an excellent marquee signing. MLS and the A-League like a good marketing campaign around an imported player. Barton has the personality to rock up in both divisions, although Americans are sensitive about gambling ties to their sporting competitions. India might be an appealing option. He’d easily be able to compete in all three for at least two or three seasons.
Rigidly defined roles in modern football have consigned the dual role to the lower divisions. Top clubs only avail themselves of the option in emergency caretaking scenarios, such as Ryan Giggs at Manchester United and Swansea's Leon Britton. Neither had the stones to act on the thought, “Hmm, I know what this team needs: me. I’ll get my kit on.” Barton would, that is if he doesn't simply pencil himself into the starting lineup. A League Two club might consider the option to get the most value out of 'the old man'.
Plain old manager
He would need to gain some experience before taking the primary role but Barton has many attributes that make a successful boss. Foremost he commands respect. He’s often been captain during his career and never been afraid to play with his heart on his sleeve. He's more animated than the contemporary gaffer who sits impassively in the player's box. Even Jose Mourinho has taken to practising his poker face, claiming United need to maintain an even keel. Forget that. Give me an Antonio Conte or Jurgen Klopp everytime. Who doesn't want to watch a manager lose his mind on the byline?
Commentary has become a collective echo chamber in which we hear the same opinions and tired lines week in week out. Few are the so-called personalities who live up to the name. Like Gary Neville, Barton would speak his mind. Anyone who’s scrolled down his twitter feed will know he can often be eloquent.
The anecdotes would also be refreshing. Barton has made sensational headlines with the antics that have been made public. There must be more that have been kept under wraps. His work for TalkSPORT reflects the outspoken, fiery demeanour we've all seen on the pitch. Can he bring it to the studio or broadcast booth? His post-match interviews when he's not trying to be French are always interesting.
That said, he's already experienced a backlash. When he appeared on BBC's Match of the Day 2 a few years ago there was an outcry from TV license payers who disagreed with his felonious presence on their screens. He would have to appear on a private network.
Whichever path he chooses one thing is certain: we haven’t seen the last of Joey Barton.