As Joey returns from his sojourn in France he is enlightening all with his joie de vivre and excellente football.
Joey Barton or @Joey7Barton, as he is perhaps better known, is something of an enigma. Misunderstood, misrepresented maybe and much maligned. Everyone seems to have a view. He is either loved or hated, seemingly in equal measure. Opinions are divided and his high profile nature, with over 2.3 million twitter followers, provokes reaction across the land.
Much has been written about his tweets, his talking, his transfers, his tortures, his tantrums, his temperament yet less about arguably what he does best, his football.
He left QPR on a sea of recrimination, hounded out by the Mark Hughes regime, seemingly never to play for Rangers again. His actions on that unforgettable final day of the 2011-12 season at the Etihad marred what had otherwise been a positive end of season, as he stood up and was counted like several other players, as Rangers incredibly survived the drop. But the positives that Joey brought to the team were quickly overlooked as the press, the club and the supporters seemed to think that heads needed to roll. Joey was the obvious scapegoat.
As he was shipped off to foreign lands, supposedly out of sight and out of mind, the club seemed to heave a collective sigh of relief. But always be careful for what you wish for, as Rangers’ new collection of misfits stuttered, stumbled and ultimately stagnated at the foot of the table, whilst Joey was being lauded in Marseille. He quickly achieved cult hero status with his new employers and supporters, yet at the same time no doubt casting a wry smile back towards events unfolding back in W12.
Yet life can change in the blink of an eye, Marseille seemingly could not muster the Euros to retain Joey’s services so, all of a sudden and to much surprise, Joey returned and was thrust into action for the R’s in the opening fixture of the season against Sheffield Wednesday. Stunned faces in the crowd were interspersed with those of quizzical look to those with a sense of excited expectation.
Harry Redknapp is a shrewd operator, an astute judge of a player and perhaps more so of character. Joey did not have a slate to wipe clean in Harry’s eyes and the new manager was immediately impressed with what he saw – a hard working player of endeavour, with no little skill who, above anything, values fairness, decency, honesty, commitment and a sense of camaraderie with his fellow player.
Harry must be credited for his faith in his returning “General” and likewise the man himself, for responding in such a positive vein. He was magnificent on his return to action, played a large part in both goals on that opening day and the standing ovation that he received from large parts of the ground as he left the field was fully deserved. The season has continued in similar style as Joey has been a major influence on the team and the outcome of matches – his sublime crossfield pass that led to the winner in the dying seconds against Ipswich was as good as any seen at Loftus Road for many a year and his whipped free kick delivery at Elland Road resulted in Rangers’ winning goal yet again against Leeds.
The way he has embraced his return to QPR has been both mature and committed, yet humble too. He has been openly moved by the reception that he has received from the Rangers’ supporters, quite contrary to what he may have expected and, in his own words, what he might have deserved. He has responded with performances of spirit, character, skill and confidence. He speaks of the pleasure of playing with such a committed ‘group of men’ and the results are there for all to see. There certainly seems to be a contentment in mind, body and soul.
Even the sceptics and his harshest critics are now eating their words, welcoming him back to the fold as they recognise the positive influence that he is having. It is fair to say that the vast majority of Rangers’ supporters were secretly praying he was not going to leave in the transfer window as rumours circulated of interest from Crystal Palace and West Ham, so it was with much relief that the window closed with Joey still in the ranks.
Yet clearly there is much more to Joey these days than just his football, as his twitter followers will testify to. He is often criticised for his tweets, mostly unfairly, and whilst he will probably admit that on occasions he takes some arguments too far, above all he writes eloquently and with feeling, with an overriding sense of what is fair and right. A reformed character many might say.
He is keen to explore thoughts and ideas and has become a self made spokesman for many a cause. He sometimes uses his profile and his twitter platform to raise the profile of campaigns that he feels passionately about and his recent excellent support for grass roots football and RBGF being cases in point.
Similarly, his recent blog about the need to improve the quality of coaching in this country was well thought out and considered, coming as it did well before the public outcry along similar lines following England’s inept showing against Ukraine recently.
His twitter followers will also have noticed that he is a man with diverse interests. How many footballers will spend time watching the Solheim Cup ladies golf, yet in seemingly the next breathe comment on a programme about the Bastille? Maybe all footballers should have a French sabbatical? Some will no doubt argue this is all for show, a PR exercise on a large scale but that would be harsh and undeserving.
He can of course be controversial and mischievous on occasions and it could be argued that he openly courts attention, yet often he is full of wit and good natured banter. His recent description of Jamie Carragher’s high pitched voice causing mayhem among the Sky-watching canine population of this country was extremely funny and described what thousands thought but did not have the language to convey and his ridiculing of the Mackems following Di Canio’s departure was provocative yet amusing, coming as no surprise, the adopted Geordie that he is.
Supporters and pundits alike often talk about the lack of characters in today’s game. It needs the talented mavericks, the outspoken and the controversial ones to spark debate and cause a stir and if they are able to back up their words with performances of quality on the pitch, their credibility is much enhanced.
So as QPR try and continue their impressive start to the season, much will depend on the man who has returned to the fold, who has come back in from the cold and who is leading the revolution for Rangers. Allez Joey!