Most of Newcastle United’s experience of recidivism concerns their team's tendency to inflict psychological abuse on successive generations of supporters by persistently failing to tread the straight and narrow path to major trophies.
But now the club are embroiled with the more basic, criminal-court kind of recidivist in the belligerent person of Joey Barton. A six-month jail term the 25-year-old United midfielder is currently serving for affray and assault in Liverpool city centre was punctuated by his appearance last week on another charge of assaulting his former Manchester City teammate Ousmane Dabo during a training session in May 2007.
Since Barton previously achieved notoriety for stubbing out a cigar in a companion’s face, he is one Premier League footballer who could be said to have consistent form. At least his official record wasn’t noticeably worsened by the result of the latest case.
For the Dabo attack he was given a four-month sentence suspended for two years.
His spell in prison for the street offence in Liverpool is due to end soon, and the talk now is of a return to the bosom of St James’ Park under a strict set of conditions. Given the reports that those conditions will involve a wage cut, we may be forgiven for wondering if the emphasis of the exercise is on rehabilitation or protection of Newcastle’s financial investment in a player who cost them £5.8m when he was transferred from City a year ago.
If Barton’s Tyneside employers are in fact hopeful of bringing about redemption they should perhaps remember how little reward their Manchester counterparts gained from paying to have him treated for anger management.
Nobody would wish to be prejudice against any young man’s chances of mending his ways, but it seems reasonable to suspect there might be a practical football problem in welcoming back pal Joey.
Is such a combustible presence conducive to the development of team spirit? Togetherness would hardly be enhanced if the coaches had to widen the bib-distributing routine at training to include the handing out of headguards and gumshields.