Join Now  | 
Home About Contact Us Privacy & Security Advertise
Soccer America Daily Soccer World Daily Special Edition Around The Net Soccer Business Insider College Soccer Reporter Youth Soccer Reporter Soccer on TV Soccer America Classifieds Game Report
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalk Soccer America Confidential Youth Soccer Insider World Cup Watch
RSS Feeds Archives Manage Subscriptions Subscribe
Order Current Issue Subscribe Manage My Subscription Renew My Subscription Gift Subscription
My Account Join Now
Tournament Calendar Camps & Academies Soccer Glossary Classifieds
The Worrying Case of Joey Barton
by Paul Gardner, July 31st, 2008 7AM
Subscribe to SoccerTalk with Paul Gardner

TAGS:  england


I'm not sure that the controversy surrounding the Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton could have happened anywhere else in the world. Only in England would Barton be rated a good enough player to be earning an incredible $140,000 a week, only in England would the coaches and clubs have put up with his incredibly violent anti-social behavior.

Only in England -- because Barton is your typical get-stuck-in player, the "hard-nosed" tackler who "takes no prisoners," who "lets his opponents know he's there", the snarling midfield Rottweiler type that represents -- and you can make the decision -- the glory of English soccer or its shame.

Barton has just come out of jail for an assault he committed on a teenager in Liverpool in December 2007. Nothing to do with soccer. There is a video of the assault. It is chilling, frightening.

One man who would not have been surprised at Barton's seemingly uncontrolled rage was Frenchman Ousmane Dabo, who in May 2007 was a teammate of Barton's at Manchester City. An altercation during a practice session ended with Barton attacking Dabo, knocking him unconscious, and piling on the punches as team-mates tried to drag him off. Dabo was hospitalized for injuries to his eye, nose and lip -- he said his "face looked like Elephant man." Dabo decided to sue Barton.

Barton had already a history for being involved in "incidents." At a ManCity Christmas party in 2004 he had stubbed a lighted cigar into the eye of a youth player. He had been sent home from the club's 2005 preseason tour after assaulting a 15-year-old fan in Thailand.

Earlier this year, Barton's violence faced judgment day in the courts. In May he pleaded guilty to the Liverpool assault and was sentenced to 6 months in jail. At the beginning of July, Barton was again in court, and again he admitted the charge -- of assaulting Dabo. This time the judge surprisingly let him off -- and Barton got only a suspended sentence of four months.

Then, having served only two months of his jail term, Barton was released from jail under an "early release" program. Barton went back to Newcastle to resume his pro career. Newcastle coach Kevin Keegan welcomed him back, wouldn't even consider reducing his enormous salary, and said, in effect, that the past was the past, and all was forgiven.

Compassion is a wonderful quality, and if that is what prompted Keegan's move, he deserves praise. But was it the right move?

Obviously, Dabo was disappointed, and he accused Newcastle of "lacking ethics and morals." He has a point. Many Newcastle supporters were upset, too. Because the fact is that Barton has done precisely nothing to deserve such leniency. Rather the opposite. He is a repeat offender, who has let down his sympathizers with every crime. That he needs treatment -- and, indeed, has received anger-management counseling -- is glaringly obvious.

But how does he manage to retain the respect of his fellow professionals? In February last year, Barton even managed to find himself selected to play for England -- a 15-minute sub appearance against Spain.

A week later he was in trouble again for a slyly nasty tackle from behind on Portsmouth's Pedro Mendes. I watched the replays of this incident again and again -- and there was simply no dodging the evidence. Barton had deliberately trodden on Mendes' Achilles tendon. It was calculated -- and dangerous. Mendes left the field on a stretcher.

But when the Man City coach Stuart Pearce was asked about it, he dismissed the incident, saying "I take it for granted it was unintentional ... people tried to make out that there was something disgusting about him treading on the back of another player's heel. It surprised me, it really did."

What that statement reveals -- and what Keegan's attitude less obviously says -- is that all that matters is Barton's welfare. Forget about Mendes and Dabo and the kid beaten up in Liverpool.

That is not an attitude that seems acceptable to me -- especially given Barton's long record of violent outbursts. The victims have a say here -- or more to the point, the potential victims.

So far, only the presiding magistrate has made the point -- when he remanded Barton in custody after the Liverpool assault and ruled: "I also have to consider the safety of the public."

Keegan (let it be noted that it was previous coach Sam Allardyce, not Keegan, who signed Barton) has made no such consideration.

Sadly -- almost monstrously -- it is left to equipment giants Nike to teach Newcastle a lesson. It has canceled its promotional deal with Barton, reportedly worth $80,000 a year. Said a Nike spokesman: "We have provision in all our sponsorship contracts that take into account any actions by athletes that bring the brand into disrepute. We cannot condone or accept what he did."

In other words, the ethical standards at Nike are higher than those at Newcastle United, one of England's oldest and -- until now, at any rate -- most respected clubs. A truly sad state of affairs.

No comments yet.

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now



Recent SoccerTalk with Paul Gardner
Castillo goes, MLS loses    
The Turkish city of Trabzon holds a cherished place in my thoughts. Not that I've ever ...
Farewell Sigi -- for the moment    
So Sigi Schmid has gone the way of all coaches who don't win games, or don't ...
MLS DisCo makes another dubious diving decision    
The MLS Disciplinary Committee -- the DisCo -- continues its far from satisfactory activities.
Copa America: a lively tournament, a scandalously poor final    
The grand final of Copa America Centenario was simply a disgrace. An ugly, shameful event. It ...
Goalkeeper cheating -- yet again    
Are these guys for real, or what? A penalty kick. A regular occurrence in soccer. Any ...
Imported coaches: A formula for failure in MLS    
This business of foreign coaches in MLS -- why does it drag on? Have we not ...
Soccer's new-look rulebook (Part 2): Making room for the Spirit the Game    
Alongside the changes in the organization and wording that David Elleray and his team have brought ...
Soccer's new-look rulebook (Part 1): Much improved but still a way to go    
No doubt it was asking too much of ex-referee David Elleray and his colleagues to turn ...
Two badly botched PK calls -- but the MLS remedy is misguided    
Well, not that brilliant a weekend for MLS refs. Specifically, a couple of dead-cert penalty kicks ...
Soccer, from the Heart    
A small book, the classic "slim volume" if you like ... but Brian Glanville's "The Man ...
>> SoccerTalk with Paul Gardner Archives