The controversial midfielder earned the fans’ affection at St. James’, but four years on, only fond memories remain.
“Every day and twice on a Sunday.”
When a potential return to Tyneside was broached by a fan on Twitter, Joey Barton demonstrated for the umpteenth time that he still holds a torch for Newcastle United.
Since leaving the club, he has endured separation and reconciliation with QPR, either side of a brief dalliance in France. Barton is a love-hate figure at every place he hangs his hat, but with any lingering romanticism put aside, it is hard to see the committed, convicted midfielder reuniting with old flames at St. James’ Park.
It’s been four years since Barton last pulled on the black and white shirt. Back then, he was arguably one of United’s top players, scoring four times and laying on nine goals for his teammates. These performances in 2010/11 were tempered by long spells on the sidelines, spats with the coaching staff and a couple of months behind bars for assault; a typically tumultuous Barton affair.
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Despite this – or perhaps because of it – Joey was on the verge of becoming a cult hero up north, his genuine passion endearing him to the equally fervent fanbase. He constantly coos at them on social media, but almost half a decade has passed since he held a place in the Mags’ midfield.
Local lad Jack Colback and Dutch wizard Gini Wijnaldum are now the objects of affection, with Tiote and Anita bolstering the ranks.
That’s not to say United couldn’t use a player like Barton. He was one of the few who put everything into QPR’s failed survival campaign when those around him became jaded with the cause.
His only crime last season was a playful flick at Tom Huddlestone’s genitals, a far cry from full-scale assaults on teammates, pedestrians or children. In fact, he hasn’t committed any truly heinous acts since the temporary madness at Man City three years ago. If it wasn’t for his Twitter feed, you could say he’s let his football do the talking.
Many of the newer boys are either leaders or characters. Barton fits the bill on both fronts, with top-flight experience to boot. It’s taken twelve years, but he might finally be more of an asset than a liability.
However, the Scouser’s keenness to play for the Magpies came with a caveat.
“If, and only if, the powers that be changed their approach to the club.”
Joey might foster a love for the city and the fans, but none of it is lost between himself and the board.
Would they forgive him all of his social media sins, past, present and future?
Would they offer a squad player on the brink of 33 the kind of bumper contract he has enjoyed elsewhere?
Would they undermine their own standing by bringing one of their fiercest critics back into the fold?
Of course not. It’s not so much unlikely as it is unthinkable. It’s something for the Nietzsche-reading footballer to be philosophical about.
For his part, it would be interesting to see if Barton would forgo a slice of his pride and his salary to turn out in front of the Gallowgate faithful – and whether they’d take him into their hearts again.
As always, opinion is divided between those who would welcome his no-nonsense brand of play, and those who believe the former England hopeful is a human powder keg of wasted potential and limited ability.
The club’s position is, one imagines, far more black and white.
Too much water has passed under that bridge. It doesn’t matter if Joey Barton is a reformed character (or at least as reformed as he can be), or a useful addition to the squad. There’s no rekindling this relationship.
Thanks for the memories, Joseph, but we best be moving on.