How will football cope without the spiteful rants of this humourless, angry little man
21:35 GMT, 26 March 2012
Some joyous news from Queens Park Rangers this week, amid the gloom of a relegation battle.
After being booed off by his own fans before his team-mates staged a remarkable comeback against Liverpool, then dropped for the 3-1 defeat by Sunderland on Saturday, Joey Barton has decided to take a ‘little Twitter sabbatical’.
The midfielder tells us he is anxious to avoid saying something he’ll ‘end up regretting’. Presumably he didn’t intend this to be a joke, but it is very funny. After 4,598 tweets it’s a bit late for that, Joseph.
Shouting his mouth off: Joey Barton has earned a reputation for making his voice heard on Twitter
We shall miss him, of course. We will pine for the incessant, sanctimonious musings of Twitter’s self-appointed sage. As Lent draws to a close, it is we who will be cast out into the wilderness without football’s unofficial spokesman and resident philosopher to show us the light.
Will the game be able to cope without born-again Barton taking a sip from his cappuccino and casting judgment on the burning issues of the day, trampling over those who disagree and basking in the unashamedly ego-stroking nonsense of it all We may not function properly without our all-seeing overlord.
In his attack on the media, published in The Times this year, a comically oblivious Barton wrote: ‘This is the medium of Generation Y, the kids today that will become tomorrow’s leaders. These are my people… I want to be one of them.’
It was a statement of such misguided arrogance it would have been amusing if it wasn’t so scary. Joey Barton, a convicted thug, the spokesman for my generation What a depressing thought. This is a man who wants desperately to be a football thinker, a voice of authority who speaks and people listen. But, instead of replicating the enigmatic brilliance of Eric Cantona, another footballer with a violent past, he is often just Vinnie Jones with Wi-Fi.
Benched: Barton has struggled for form in recent weeks and was booed by QPR fans against Liverpool
Barton has tried hard, too hard, to shed the skin of the man who stabbed a lit cigar into a team-mate’s face at a Christmas party, served 74 days in Manchester’s Strangeways prison for assault and left another team-mate unconscious after a training-ground attack. The fact we still give his opinions credence is itself remarkable, but also a testament to his intelligence, determination and sheer gall. But, even today, it still takes more than a username, a password and a BlackBerry to change the world — and the world’s perception of you.
He wrote in The Times: ‘Last year I realised no journalist was going to tell my tale truthfully. So I’m doing it myself. Anything I said, anything I did, was given an angle to fit in with the bad-boy image.
‘They projected someone who was not the real me: it was the “me” that the press wanted to project. People are now beginning to see the man I am.’
Are we, though Is anyone capable of reflecting the ‘real me’ in 140 characters It is doubtful. The ‘virtual’ Barton is a different beast to the one described by those who know him well.
‘Generous’, ‘thoughtful’ and ‘good fun’ were just some of the words associated with a man capable of committing little acts of kindness — a round of golf here, a bottle of champagne there — without ego or ceremony. This is so far removed from the angry, humourless little man behind @Joey7Barton that it was hard to imagine we were talking about the same person.
Yet he is a Premier League footballer
who contributes a column to The Big Issue and a Liverpool-born athlete
who has used his 1.3million Twitter followers to campaign passionately
for justice for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster. He is the
capitalist with a conscience: the man who swapped a 170,000 Aston
Martin DBS for a Toyota Prius, a moped and an Oyster card, allowing him
to travel on London’s Underground network concealed by a pair of Harry
Potter glasses and a hat. He wears a 6 plastic watch instead of
500,000 of designer bling.
In action: Barton was named QPR captain after his move from Newcastle last summer
But, just as the newspaper interviews to which Barton now seems to object reflected journalists’ interpretations of the man, his Tweets project their own self-portrait.
He may decry the ‘bad-boy image’ he considers a media fabrication, but he repeatedly enhances that negative persona. If you do not like what you read in the papers it will always be somebody else’s fault, but you have no excuse if you actively celebrate the fact it is you, unfiltered, behind the Twitter avatar.
The result is certainly not pleasant. Barton comes across as a mean, dislikeable individual; the classic playground bully who revels in snide ripostes and stamping on those with a lower profile — simply because he can.
His tweets come like bullets, one after the other. He doesn’t interact; he just spews vitriol on the screen whenever he feels like it. ‘He tweets when he wants,’ sang the QPR fans. Don’t we just know it.
Barton’s behaviour was particularly
despicable when he insulted Neil Warnock earlier this year. The former
QPR boss said owner Tony Fernandes had been ‘slowly poisoned from
outside the club and no doubt from within the club as well’. Barton
responded by telling Warnock to ‘shut it’, calling him ‘embarrassing’
and comparing him to Mike Bassett, a fictional football manager and a
figure of fun.
Court dates: Barton was in trouble with the law during his spells with Manchester City and Newcastle
‘If I talked about Neil, he’d do well to get another job,’ added the player Warnock made captain of QPR after Newcastle United were so desperate to get rid of him they let him leave for free.
It was unprofessional and smacked of ingratitude, but it was typical of the way Barton responds to those who hit back. He simply dismisses them with utter contempt.
‘I don’t want or need ur advice, praise, negativity…or any other thing that u offer,’ he wrote. ‘U will never effect me. I am far to driven for u.’ Barton isn’t interested in dialogue. Monologues will do nicely, thank you very much.
‘Spineless maggots’ was the phrase he used to describe two journalists who dared to criticise him. ‘Numpty’ was another example. The fans who have paid good money to watch a string of average performances at Loftus Road from QPR’s No 17 this season are ‘bells’ and ‘trolls’.
As Barton himself has noted, form is temporary but class — or lack of it — is permanent. For all his highfalutin talk about freedom of speech and his undoubted intelligence, his responses are consistently shallow and insulting.
The anonymity of a Twitter account
encourages people to pour bile on you, unacceptably so, but ignore them
or argue coherently — do not retreat into a shell of abuse. We had just
begun to hope you might be better than that.
Never far from trouble: Barton (right) has hit the headlines both on and off the field this season
What do most other players think of his constant vitriol ‘I thought you journos liked honesty’ was one footballer’s response. The question jarred because, of course, we do. There is nothing more disconcerting than being presented with a series of prettily arranged clichs tied up in a ribbon of disinterest at 5pm on a Saturday.
The footballer was right — in theory, we should celebrate Barton’s decision to wax lyrical about whatever takes his fancy. In the increasingly sanitised world of top-flight football, it should be a refreshing and welcome injection of personality.
But it is not. His depressing diatribes came so thick and fast they rendered themselves almost irrelevant. It was just all too much; a bitter stream of consciousness laced with spite.
The direct channel Twitter gives Barton to talk to the outside world makes it a dangerous tool for him. QPR manager Mark Hughes has deep concerns about the midfielder’s incessant tweeting and rightly so: a description that came up frequently when talking to those close to Barton was ‘impetuous’; another was ‘instinctive’.
‘He does things without thinking,’ proved a common theme. @Joey7Barton will be back, all right. He won’t be able to resist it.
‘Some guys like a game of golf, some play snooker, Joey seems to Twitter all day,’ said Hughes.
Now, can somebody please pass him a seven iron