Joey Barton: 18-month ban adds more controversy to complex career

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Barton has become a highly valued player by fans at Burnley

Joey Barton was never destined to leave football by going quietly into the sunset - so it should come as no surprise that one of the game's most complex, contradictory and divisive personalities has effectively been forced into retirement by an 18-month Football Association suspension for betting offences.

The 34-year-old has travelled a troubled and tempestuous road since emerging as a talented youngster at Manchester City, earning one England cap and a career full of headlines while also playing for Newcastle United, Queen's Park Rangers, Marseille, Rangers and Burnley.

The headline on Barton's personal website reads: "Footballer. Question Time Guest. Philosophy Student. Future Coach. Fluent French Speaker. What Has Become Of Me?"

Many will wonder what will be become of Barton after his ban, £30,000 fine and warning about his future conduct after accepting he placed 1,260 bets on matches between 26 March 2006 and 13 May 2016.

What is certain is that it is highly unlikely football has heard the last of an outspoken controversialist who mixes intelligence with a self-destructive streak that has too often disguised a player of genuine talent.

The controversies

Joey Barton arriving at court
Barton was given a four-month sentence suspended for two years after assaulting his Manchester City team-mate Ousmane Dabo

Barton comes from the same Huyton area of Merseyside that produced former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard - a tough, uncompromising part of the world that shapes characters.

He survived rejection by his beloved Everton to emerge at Manchester City, where his ability after making his debut against Bolton Wanderers on 5 April 2003 made him stand out.

Barton's constant courting of controversy, however, often overshadowed what he offered the team. It was a strand that has run through his career.

He picked up his first red card in an FA Cup fourth-round tie at Tottenham in 2004 and later demonstrated his rebellious streak by storming away from the stadium after being dropped by then City manager Kevin Keegan for a game against Southampton.

The more serious problems came off the field when he was fined six weeks' wages, with two weeks suspended, for stubbing a cigar out in the eye of young team-mate Jamie Tandy at City's Christmas party. Tandy later sued Barton and won £65,000 in damages.

Barton was also fined eight weeks' wages after being found guilty of gross misconduct following a confrontation with a teenage Everton fan at the team hotel in Bangkok on a pre-season tour in summer 2005.

In May 2007 he was suspended by City after a training ground altercation left team-mate Ousmane Dabo needing hospital treatment. He was charged with assault, receiving a four-month suspended jail sentence on 1 July 2008 as well as being ordered to perform 200 hours of community service and pay £3,000 in compensation to Dabo. He was also banned for 12 matches, six suspended, by the FA and fined £25,000.

Barton made his one England appearance while at City, a 12-minute appearance as a substitute against Spain in February 2007. He was linked with a recall in 2011 but then-manager Fabio Capello wrote him off, saying: "He is a good but dangerous player because you could end up 10 v 11."

It was the old, old story. The talent was obvious. The temperament too risky.

Joey Barton
Barton has been sent off six times in his Premier League career - two fewer than Patrick Vieira, Richard Dunne and Duncan Ferguson

Barton joined Newcastle United in June 2007 for £5.8m but was arrested on 27 December 2007 after an incident in Liverpool city centre. He was charged with common assault and affray, and subsequently jailed for six months on 20 May 2008 after admitting the charges.

He served 77 days of his prison term and also continued to suffer on-field disciplinary problems, drawing heavy criticism from then-Newcastle manager Alan Shearer after being sent off for a late challenge on Liverpool's Xabi Alonso in May 2009 as the Magpies fought for their Premier League life.

Barton was suspended by the club and the misery was compounded by Newcastle's subsequent relegation.

He stayed with Newcastle but his career on Tyneside concluded amid acrimony in August 2011 after contract talks broke down and Barton aired his frustrations on social media, tweeting: "Somewhere in those high echelons of NUFC they have decided I am persona non grata."

Barton then joined QPR but an unfulfilling spell - which included a sending-off at former club City on the day the hosts won the Premier League so dramatically in 2012 - ended with a loan move to Marseille in France.

QPR were relegated in his absence, but even far afield Barton could not escape controversy, receiving a two-match suspended ban for likening Paris St-Germain defender Thiago Silva to an "overweight ladyboy" on Twitter.

Barton's first spell at Burnley was an unqualified success as they won promotion to the Premier League and he was included in the 2016 PFA Championship team of the year, but a short stint in Scotland at Rangers turned into a nightmare.

He was suspended for three weeks following a training-ground row with team-mate Andy Halliday after a 5-1 loss at Celtic and his contract was terminated in November.

Now, after his latest collision with authority, it is hard to see him back on the field again.

The contradictions

Joey Barton has a heated exchange with UKIP MEP Louise Bours

Barton's reputation is as contrary as it is controversial - listen to interviews and an eloquent, thoughtful character can be detected amid the outspoken statements that have attracted such adverse publicity.

There were those at Manchester City, in particular, eager to highlight this other side of Barton. They spoke about an individual with very obvious personal issues who also had a softer side, as well as a bright and intelligent manner at odds with the public perception of an unsavoury, ill-disciplined individual.

Barton's reputation as a midfield enforcer on the field often obscured the natural gifts that saw him represent his country and command much interest when he came on the transfer market.

The man regarded as too dangerous to play for England reported from Rio during the 2014 World Cup, penning an article for his website on 'Social Media, Protest, And The Pacification Of The Favelas'.

Even to those of us who do not know him personally, it is clear there is much more to Barton than meets the public eye.

He was invited to appear on the BBC's flagship political programme Question Time in May 2014, although he admitted first-night nerves led to him being accused of sexism when he likened choosing a political party to making a choice "between four really ugly girls".

It was a sign of his status as someone with something to say that he was asked to be a panellist and an indication that Barton was always keen to operate on a broader front than simply football.

Barton was a guest of the Oxford Union in March 2014, where he was invited to debate philosophy, football and social media at the university. His appearance was later described as "inspirational" by students.

And he can be a character who, for all the lurid publicity, draws loyalty and affection - as demonstrated by Burnley manager Sean Dyche's willingness to take him back into the fold at Turf Moor.

Dyche prides himself on a tight-knit, trouble free, well-disciplined dressing room, so it was testimony to his high regard for Barton that he welcomed him back this season despite the player leaving Turf Moor for that ill-fated spell at Rangers following promotion back into the Premier League.

Only last week Barton displayed his enthusiasm for engaging in community work on the club's behalf, spending time with patients at the local Pendleside Hospice.

Barton, for all the noise surrounding him, was seen as a leader and a mature, experienced voice at Burnley during their promotion season. It was a far cry from undergoing anger management in 2005 and also completing a programme of behavioural management at the Sporting Chance clinic, set up to help troubled sportsmen and women.

If Barton the man is a mass of contradictions, the same could be said of some of his opinions.

Barton was embarrassed earlier this season when he dived theatrically after a clash with Matt Rhead at Turf Moor as Burnley slumped out of the FA Cup to non-league Lincoln City.

He soon found himself reminded of his own former stance on the subject via a tweet from February 2013 that had stated: "Players who roll around when nobody touches them should be subsequently banned. I hate cheats. Authorities should address it."

British boxer Carl Frampton tweeted that Barton should have been "embarrassed and ashamed".

Barton is also prepared to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, often at the risk of ridicule, as when he recently questioned the current praise of Chelsea's Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year N'Golo Kante.

He said of a player on course for a second successive title with Chelsea after Leicester's triumph last season, and enjoying successes Barton could only dream about: "At the moment, in England, people only swear by N'Golo Kante. It's the fashion.

"For pundits he's the best midfield player in the world. Oh, he's very good but I played against him three weeks ago and that's not the case. He's a fantastic destroyer in a phenomenal team but not a creator."

So what has become of Joey Barton?

Barton's club Burnley are sponsored by a betting company

Barton has divided opinion throughout his career - and he was at it again in what was effectively his retirement statement when he said: "If the FA is serious about tackling gambling, I would urge it to reconsider its own dependence on the gambling industry."

He was referring to the links between betting chain Ladbrokes and the FA Cup.

It was a view that, yet again, polarised feelings. Was Barton making a valid point or simply trying to absolve himself from blame for breaking clear FA rules?

If this is the end of Barton's career, it is one that will be remembered with distaste by many and yet he creates interest to such an extent that he has 3.25 million followers on Twitter. He has achieved notoriety, but also plenty of interest, with his opinions on sport, politics and society and the occasional dabble in homespun philosophy.

He is prepared to lay bare his own shortcomings with gambling in his most recent statement and yet is regarded by his many detractors as someone simply excusing himself for more wrongdoing.

For all his faults - and his timeline of trouble hints at many - Barton is an intelligent, but clearly flawed man.

Will there yet be more chapters in Barton's contrary, controversial, eventful story?