The midfielder's violent outburst against Manchester City overshadowed his side's Premier League survival after they came within seconds of beating the champions
By Oliver Platt
From a neutral's perspective, Joey Barton is an asset to the Premier League. His Twitter account alone separates an interesting and eloquent, yet childish and petulant, sports personality from the stereotypically mundane public persona of a top-flight star. On the pitch, his playing style mirrors his character: sometimes a figure of composure, a thinker; too often volatile and violent.
Barton, Mario Balotelli and the rest are just the latest group of Premier League bad boys - they are not the first and they will not be the last. As much as supporters up and down the country may despise them, they are integral to the enduring appeal of the division. Without Barton and Balotelli we would still have enthralling football, of course, but remove the problem children and the league becomes that little bit less unpredictable.
Balotelli is 21. Wayne Rooney, remember, was no saint at that age, but the now 26-year-old's disciplinary record in league games this season was flawless until a yellow card against Swansea City in the penultimate match of the campaign. Balotelli's talent is undeniable and he has time to learn, improve and grow up, whether or not that is with Manchester City.
Barton is 29 and the story is different. His list of offences has been scrutinised enough times already and on Sunday, at the Etihad Stadium and afterwards, it got longer.
|SEEING RED AGAIN
| FROM OUR PLAY BY PLAY
||Stupid stuff from Barton. He kicks out at opposition players as he reacts to the sending off, and has to be wrestled from the pitch by his own coaches. His players are trying to have nothing to do with him. Could he have just played a major part in the relegation of his own team?|
The most unpleasant aspect of Barton's 'performance' was not the elbow on Carlos Tevez that forced referee Mike Dean to show a red card but the melee that followed afterwards. Sergio Aguero, along with Samir Nasri, was separating Taye Taiwo from Nigel de Jong in the ensuing fracas when Barton, on his way off the field, bumped in to the striker and viciously kneed him from behind.
There is no provocation Barton can point to. He used the past tense when he admitted in a newspaper column earlier in the year to being "capable at the time of mindless acts of violence" but once again that temper rose to the surface. His gleeful explanation for the attack on Aguero - and his subsequent attempt to head-butt Vincent Kompany - as gamesmanship designed in the hope of drawing a City player into a reaction that would have them following him to the dressing room was shameful.
His punishment will be long, and rightly so. Barton has already been sent off once this season and has received 10 yellow cards. He could, and should, be charged with violent conduct for each of his three offences on the field and therefore potentially faces a nine-match ban. The English authorities have not been adverse, either, to taking action with regards to comments made on Twitter they deem unacceptable.
QPR manager Mark Hughes must, surely, find Barton a new club at which he can serve the ban. Discipline was a huge problem for Hughes after he took over from Neil Warnock, with Djibril Cisse one of the main culprits having been sent off twice since joining in the January transfer window.
Unlike Barton, however, Cisse has quickly established himself as a vital member of the QPR team by scoring six goals in eight matches. Barton is a talented player but no better than Argentine playmaker Alejandro Faurlin, who will return from a long injury lay-off in time for the start of the 2012-13 season.
He is simply not worth their time or effort. Barton is not just a player for QPR but also their captain. He is a representative of, and an ambassador for, the club and comments like those that Barton made having heard Alan Shearer's criticisms of his behaviour against City cannot be popular with his team-mates, who, lest we forget, achieved something momentous by securing their Premier League survival on Sunday.
Hughes' indignation when faced with questions regarding Barton after the match spoke volumes: "I understand there will be a lot of comments about what happened [regarding] Joey and his behaviour but please forgive me, I'd rather just concentrate on what we did."
Keeping QPR in the Premier League was the Welshman's immediate task. Now, he has a chance to build a well-resourced club in his image, and it would be a surprise to see a place for Barton.