Football FanCast columnist Alex Dimond Looks at our troubled Joey Barton and asks is he worth the hassle?
For Joey Barton, last night's game
against West Brom was just a taste of what redemption might feel like.
But for neutral fans around the country, it was a cause for more conflicting
Many casual fans believed that, after
his criminal conviction earlier this year, Barton should have been hung
out to dry by the footballing community. Even inside the game, many
of those in power were more than prepared to turn their backs on the
former Manchester City midfielder.
Yet, even in the face of a media maelstrom,
Newcastle United stood by Barton – giving him yet another chance to
actually make something of the great talent he evidently holds.
Last night, in his first start since
emerging from prison and subsequently serving an FA ban for a separate
indiscretion, Barton finally began to repay the faith and support the
club had shown in him.
That he put in a man of the match performance
was cause enough for celebration amongst the Newcastle fans, but the
fact he topped it off with a crucial penalty was even more encouraging.
At great cost to their public reputation,
the club can now begin to look forward to seeing a return on the £5m
they paid for the player, back in June 2007.
"Obafemi Martins was supposed
to be the penalty taker but Joey just grabbed the ball," said
manager Joe Kinnear, after he saw his side move out of the bottom three
with the win.
"He wasn't on penalties and
he'd have been in trouble if he'd missed, but fair play to him, he's
obviously a very confident lad. Joey's on fire in the dressing room
"He stuck it away well and
he's trying to prove a point – all he wants is to play football and
be given a chance."
The majority of Newcastle fans were
already more than willing to give the 26-year-old a chance – watching
Saturday's game against Sunderland with the London branch of the Newcastle
Supporters Group, the biggest cheer of the game was reserved for Barton's
late arrival – as they appreciate how valuable his steel and drive
in midfield will be in getting them out of their current turmoil.
As far as they are concerned, if Barton's
presence is good for the team then that is good enough for them, and
few would argue that it was a coincidence that Barton's return coincided
with some of the most stimulating football Newcastle have played for
After that sort of performance, few
Toon fans will not want to see Barton on every subsequent team-sheet.
The players will feel the same.
Further afield, however, Barton still
has a lot of work to do. Few football fans will ever forgive his past
indiscretions, and he can continue to expect similar abuse to that he
experienced at the Stadium of Light (where a coin was thrown at him)
at every away ground he visits.
Nevertheless, with the right guidance
and support, the opportunity for redemption is certainly there. He might
never be the most popular of players, but if he keeps his nose clean
off the field (by no means a forgone conclusion) then his performances
on the pitch can be his route to salvation.
The committed, all-action displays
that Barton has so often exhibited in the past will always be popular
with casual fans. Cutting out the snarling, abusive talk and cynical
tackles that marred his return to the Premiership against Arsenal earlier
this year (where Samir Nasri was on the receiving end) will also go
a long way to improving his perception amongst the masses.
All in all, last night's performance
was the perfect blueprint for how Barton needs to play, in order to
atone for his previous misdemeanors.
For so long used to attempting to change
people's minds with his fists, finally it looks as though Barton might
be beginning to try and change minds the way he should have been all
along-with his feet.