Joey Barton was forced to train alone at the Newcastle training ground on Tuesday, just one day after being released to free agency. Barton, perhaps the most notorious bad boy in the Premier League (or hard man, if you're trying to appear sympathetic to his cause), earned himself a ticket away from Tyneside by continuously badmouthing the Newcastle board in public, and this morning the metaphor of his exile was brought to real life as he performed his exercises away from the rest of the senior squad.
Of course, both sides are scrambling to put their own spin on the recent events, with hilarious results. Barton himself has predictably taken to Twitter, even quoting George Orwell, while his agent Willie McKay (who stands to profit from arranging another contract, by the way) called Newcastle's decision "a wee bit suicidal." (Yahoo!) As a wellspring of inflammatory quotes, Barton has endeared himself to the local journalists, who have quickly taken up his defense. Scott Wilson of The Northern Echo paints a bleak picture of the state of the Newcastle boardroom while barely touching on Barton's past, calling it "chequered," all the while making sweeping statements about the quality of his play last year and cherry-picking useless statistics to prove his impact on the club (never mind his pouty demeanor after the Andy Carroll sale, his subpar free-kick taking over the last half of the season, and his brief yet embarrassing tenure as captain). Lee Ryder of The Chronicle, while less dismissive of his transgressions, is even more effusive of his praise for Barton, ascribing to him powers that would certainly make him a perennial candidate for the Ballon D'or. (The gamesmanship line is pure hilarity.)
Still, the board has done their fair share of public relations work. Officially, the board has only made the brief statement quoted here yesterday, but somebody in the front office wanted the world to know about Mr. Barton's transgressions, so much so that it appears that a list was sent to The Chronicle, which they printed verbatim. Here it is:
The refusal to shake the manager’s hand after being told he hadn’t been appointed captain at Leeds.
The potential to be a bad influence on younger players in the dressing room, with several of the squad still under 21.
The impression created on United’s new signings and future signings of the club, some of which could be in place soon.
A rant during the warm-up at Leeds, at half-time and at full-time following the 3-2 defeat.
Barton’s dismay over the decision to allow new boy Yohan Cabaye take all of the corners and free-kicks during the game against Leeds.
And finally the straw that broke the camel’s back with his remarks on Twitter, which caused unrest for the second weekend running within United ranks.
That's quite an impressive list, and if true, that level of petulance could only be matched by...forcing a player to train by himself while the rest of the team looks on.
The truth likely rests somewhere between the two extremes (as it usually does). Assigning fault in a situation where everybody has blood on their hands won't get us anywhere. So what next? It appears as though this relationship has reached the irreparable stage (if that wasn't made abundantly clear yesterday), so the best thing to do is walk away. A ton of teams are understandably showing interest - despite my claims above, Joey was one of the best players for Newcastle last year, but be careful what you wish for. The sooner he can sign on with somebody else, the sooner we can all move on...and circle a couple of new dates on our calendar.