Time For Barton to Stand or Fall
Bring up Joey Barton's name amongst football fans, or even anyone with a mild interest in sport, and the words "thug", "scumbag", or "waste of space" will probably be thrown back with alarming speed.
Joey Barton is obviously a man with deep character flaws. His list of misdemeanours is lengthy and well documented. Nobody could argue that he has anger management issues that produce behaviour that is often indefensible.
But Joey Barton is two other things as well. He is a an exceptional footballer. He is also a young human being living a life that is highly unnatural for a young human being. Both of these facts are swiftly overlooked these days, it seems.
Young footballers today are placed in a position that at first glance may seem entirely enviable. An occupation that you love, the adoration of thousands of loyal fans, and more money than you could have ever dreamed of.
But look at it another way. Young players must also deal with the pressures of living their lives in the spotlight, with the sort of money at their disposal that is inevitably going to cause resentment from their contemporaries and the public at large.
The majority of footballers are working class lads, from working class areas, unused to the cash that is thrust upon them at such an age. It is inevitable that some of these players are going to find their environment challenging at times, and that incidents are going to occur.
This is not to defend Barton's actions, but instead to suggest that he should have received greater help at an earlier stage, when it became clear that he was a man for whom the pressure could occasionally become too much.
The middle class media dismisses Joey Barton as a "thug" without a second thought. Writers claim that they would have been sacked if they were convicted of assault and affray, yet they fail to acknowledge the fact that they would never find themselves in the position Barton found himself in, under extreme provocation for simply being who he is.
Nonetheless, Joey Barton must now sieze what will surely be his final chance in English football. He has started strongly since his return from a six-game ban for assaulting a former team-mate, but needs to continue to concentrate on his football.
Beneath the troubled exterior lies a talented player for whom Newcastle paid £5.8m in 2007. This is a man, do not forget, who was selected on merit to play for England not so long ago.
He will have to rise above the stick he will undoubtedly receive week-in, week-out from opposing fans, and the attempts of other players to tease out his troubling temper. But if he can do this, then there is no reason Barton cannot realise the talent that he has demonstrated he possesses.
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