It took a mere 2 minutes on the pitch for Joey Barton to reintroduce himself to controversy on Saturday. Now, the fact that he’s embroiled in controversy the moment he steps back on the pitch is no surprise (as I will illustrate in a moment) but what is surprising is the English press’ reaction to what happened.
Literally, Barton’s first action on the field was a reckless, full blooded challenge on Samir Nasri: running full speed at the Arsenal winger, before the ball has even been put back into play, by the time the ball was played to Samir, Barton was flying in to poke the ball away. I think that at that point in the game (89th minute of a 3-0 blow out) there’s no point in that level of aggression, but others would disagree and say that it’s a legal challenge: fair enough, he won the ball. Just humor me and watch the video again.
As he’s flying in to win the ball, Barton leans into Nasri and raises his elbow. The only purpose of this is to give maximum collision and try to produce maximum damage with and on the young Frenchman. And then, as if to completely prove that what he did was cynical and intentional, Barton gets up and smirks and has a few words with Nasri. That smirk is the footballing equivalent to Ronaldo’s wink to his teammates as he’s having Wayne Rooney sent off in the World Cup: the wink heard round the world.
And that’s the bovver innit? If Joey had been a Spaniard named Jose Bartolo and he’d done the same thing on one of the precious English internationals (Joe Cole let’s say) replete with smirk and all, the British press and fans would have been in a huge uproar and calling for him to be banned. And yet, the silence from the press over Joey Barton’s infraction is deafening.
Instead, the press have seized on Gael Clichy’s comment and are running headlines as if Arsenal are starting the second Hundred Year War. “Clichy Proud of Nasri!” screams the headline on Setanta and of course goes on to insinuate that Clichy’s quote proves that Arsenal targeted Barton.
We know the guy (Barton). He wanted to make something for his first game back and I don’t want to talk about it, but Samir did well and I am proud of him.
“Did well what?” is the question. Taken out of context Clichy’s quote looks like he’s patting Samir on the back for his supposed retaliation but if you ask “did well what?” the whole story falls apart. Because as far as I can tell from the video linked above Samir Nasri didn’t trip Joey Barton at all but instead he fell over his own feet: probably because he’s an untalented clod who’s incapable of running 100 yards without tripping over his inflated sense of self. So, I seriously doubt that Nasri did anything in retaliation.
“Did well what?” Well, Nasri did well keeping his composure when confronted with a criminal who had beaten his friend’s face in. He also did well in the game; turning in a scintillating performance that a no talent clown like Barton could only dream of having. So, Clichy is right, Nasri did do well and we are proud of him. Even more so, because all evidence points to the fact that he didn’t even stoop to Barton’s level.
Football has changed, folks. This is not the 1970s; players are highly paid public figures who are expected to comport themselves with dignity and respect for their fellow man both on and off the pitch. The drinking, smoking and fighting culture of yore is over. Teams, nay fans, pay too much money to bring in the world’s top talent to allow for such nonsense as took place in the days of Graham Souness or even as soon ago as Roy Keane. It was a gradual change at first, the 80s and 90s saw changes in footballing culture with the abandonment of the terraces, Wenger banned drink among his players when he came in, teams starting valuing athleticism and skill over crunching tackles and “hard men.” This gradual change in Football started speeding up a few years ago, as transfer fees starting spiraling up and the stakes for your club went up tolerance for people like Joey Barton has gone way down — as it should. So, all of you who like to remind me (and others) of those “days of yore” you need to remember that those days are long, long gone. These days people have learned to discern the difference between good physical play and just plain brutality, between an athlete and a thug, and between talent and a clown.
Barton’s Rap Sheet
2000-2003: His career starts off inauspiciously — he’s a hard working young man determined to prove his worth. Rejected by Forest, he works his way up through the youth team at Citeh to finally secure a 1 year deal, offered by none other than current manager Kevin Keegan.
Feb 2004: Sent off in an FA Cup match against Tottenham for arguing with the officials during half time.
Apr 2004: Storms out of a game because he wasn’t selected to be part of the first team
Jul 2004: Sparks a 10 man brawl for a dangerous tackle against a Doncaster player — during a pre-season friendly. Kevin Keegan decries the actions of Barton and he apologizes.
Dec 2004: MERRY CHRISTMAS! Joey gets into the Christmas Spirit and stubs his cigar out in teammate Jaime Tandy’s eye during a Christmas party. Fined £60,000 by the club, Tandy is still considering pressing charges and suing.
May 2005: Gets into an altercation with a 15 year old Everton fan. Reports vary from Barton using racist language to the boy attacking him first. Regardless, a grown man assaulted a child and was fined 6 weeks wages by the club and forced to go into rehab for his alcohol problems.
May 2005: Breaks a man’s leg while driving in Liverpool’s city center at 2am.
Sep 2006: Just when everyone thinks Joey’s on track to be a decent human being, he moons the Everton fans after a contentious 1-1 draw. Fined £2000 and warned by the FA.
Feb 2007: Criticizes the English National team for their performance at the world cup.
Feb 2007: Accused of overly physical play and of making obscene gestures by Pompey supporters and Harry Redknapp. No charges filed.
Mar 2007: During a night out in Liverpool he was accused of attacking a taxi driver. Cleared of all charges.
Apr 2007: His own club bans him from talking to the media after he rips them for their performances during the previous season.
May 2007: Viciously attacks French teammate Ousmane Dabo. Reportedly hitting the man from behind and knocking him to the ground then climbing on top of him and repeatedly pound his face with a flurry of blows. Charged, convicted, and sentenced to jail by the courts. Fined £100,000 and suspended by his team indefinitely. Sold to Newcastle United shortly after. The FA are to hear this case on Friday and decide if Barton should be further punished given his long rap sheet and recent troubles.
Nov 2007: Now at Newcastle, and featuring in his first Newcastle Derby, he puts in a ludicrous tackle against Sunderland’s Ethuhu. No action taken, though, because the referee saw the tackle and didn’t do anything. Once again Barton apologizes.
Dec 2007: Partying in Liverpool, Barton loses it and viciously attacks a man at a McDonalds. Caught on CCTV, he cannot get out of this one, he’s sentenced to 6 months.
Mar 2008: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: during a night out in Liverpool… McDonalds… altercation… this time a taxi driver accused Barton of damaging his cab. Barton’s cousin takes the rap, Joey is cleared of all charges.
No further charges have been leveled at Joey Barton since.