It’s a love hate thing. No not marmite, but Joey Barton; a 30-year-old Scouser who has single-handedly invoked reactions from fans of the ‘beauti

It’s a love hate thing. No not marmite, but Joey Barton; a 30-year-old Scouser who has single-handedly invoked reactions from fans of the ‘beautiful game’ throughout his career.

Usually the reaction is one of utter disbelief, you know kind of like ‘he should be sacked from the game’, or ‘if I did that in my desk job I’d get sacked’, reasonable reactions to be honest.  I’m quite sure if I decided to stand up and try to head butt my boss, or stub a fag in his eye then I’d not be expecting a wage packet the following week. Nor would I expect a glowing reference from him.

But the thing that evades many people’s mind is that the football – top level football in particular – does not operate in the realms of...well, reality. What happens on the pitch can have no possible comparison to working a nine to five in a local Cash Converters.

The best example of the whacky world of top level football is a player’s wage. Take Yaya Toure for instance, rumoured to be on £200k per week. That’s per week. He earns what would take the UK national average worker around nine years to earn, in a week.  To rub it in, if I want to play football at the weekend I have to pay!

Barton has proved he is a troublesome character. Problems have blighted his career, admittedly most of them self-inflicted, but it’s hard to wonder if the fact that The Smiths fan is being given a rough deal.

                                  BARTON: Not the first time the 30-year-old found himself in a confrontation

He has shown at times that he can be inspirational and can add moments of unnoticed quality to a game – just ask Arsenal fans about the 4-4 during his tenure at Newcastle. Joey was outstanding that day. He has also never been one to shy away from the truth about his abilities and what he can bring, in an interview in 2006 he told The People:

“I’m not the best player in the world but if they want somebody to do the crap jobs for them, then I’d like to think I was capable of doing that. Win the ball back, give it to either one of them and let them pull the strings,” said Barton regarding the England set up.

The Olympics shed a lot of light on a debate of footballers failing to be role models. But did any of them actually ask to be role models? Joey was born in Huyton, Merseyside and had an unsettled upbringing. His parents split when he was 14-years-old and Barton admits had it not been for his grandmother he would never have made it out of the gritty North West estate.

I’m not vindicating his actions. He deserved his prison sentence for attacking Ousmane Dabo. But whereas Joey has been viewed as some sort of lowlife who slithered into the game and is just a thug earning money, across the way from one of his old haunts, Roy Keane at Manchester United was hardly much better.

‘Keano’ as the United faithful called him was renowned for his bone-crunching tackles. His angry head-to-head battles chalked up some of the most unforgettable moments of the Premier League when clashing with Vieira and Shearer for example. The ex-United captain was also linked with countless assault probes from the police – including being cleared of assaulting a teenager (strike a resemblance to Barton’s altercation with a 15-year-old Everton fan in Thailand anyone?).

But whilst every fan will look back at Keane and see a warrior who was feared by all, Barton is seen as a nothing more than a blip on the English game. Fortunately for the FA he has been shipped off to France on a season-long loan; out of sight out of mind anyone? Yes Keane won a considerably lot more than Barton, but anyone who chalks up 255 club appearances, 240 at the highest tier of English football, must have some ability and offer some level of quality to a side.

His actions were indefensible on the final day of last season, but is he not what football fans spend a lot of time shouting for? How many times have supporters hissed at players going down too easy, or players lacking putting in a shift for 90 minutes, or sticking in a leg?

In a game increasingly dominated by players who ‘fake’ their football, there is always a place for an engine, for someone who is willing to do the ground work and be the grunt. Joey even said it himself in that 2006 interview. With that in mind, it explains why Barton will always find a club.

A manager will always recognise the balancing act that comes with 30-year-old; the good of Barton versus the baggage. It’s easy to forget the time before City were rolling in money, but during his time with the club he was consistently one of the top players in terms of assists, passing, crossing, dribbling, and tackling (he finished the 10th best in 2005).

I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t return to the Premier League before he bows out of the game...