Does England Have The Most Poisonous Soccer Player of His Generation?

In all my years of watching Queens Park Rangers, it's hard to recall a more unpleasant individual pulling on the famous blue and white hooped jersey.

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Peter Byrne / Press Association via AP Images

Queens Park Rangers' Joey Barton argues with Manchester City's Carlo Tevez before being sent off during the Barclays Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, May 13, 2012.

From a personal perspective, Sunday, May 13 will go down as quite possibly the most amazing day of my life. Our second child was born that morning (and don’t even think about repeating the “most amazing” line to my firstborn). Plus, on that day my  – and my new daughter’s – favorite English Premier League team, Queens Park Rangers, avoided being relegated to the lower leagues; though QPR succumbed to Manchester City 3-2, Bolton Wanderers’ 2-2 tie meant that QPR’s safety was secure.

When you pull for QPR, just staying in the big leagues is a major victory.

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But amidst the joy for QPR’s players, management and fans, was an ugly side. QPR captain Joey Barton saw red for a blatant foul on City’s Carlos Tevez. On its own merits, the red card was incredibly damaging, forcing his teammates to play with 10 men for the majority of the second half. But the melee which ensued was among the most regrettable of scenes witnessed on a football pitch in recent years. Barton proceeded to aim a kick at Sergio Aguero (the look on Barton’s face is almost evil incarnate), attempted to head-butt Vincent Kompany and thought about some afters with Mario Balotelli (to be fair, the volatile City substitute shouldn’t have got involved).

Hilariously, Barton tried to maintain that his post-red card actions were carried out in the forlorn hopes of inciting one of City’s players into being sent off. The vehicle for Barton’s thoughts, of course, were on Twitter, a medium the midfielder has championed for cutting out us unreliable journalists and speaking directly to the more than million people who willingly want to read his 140-character missives.

You could argue that a fair amount of those people are drawn to Barton’s tweets much like people are morbidly fascinated by car crashes. Barton doesn’t just tweet about football but culture, some politics and, when all else fails, Morrissey, whose lyrical wit with seminal British band The Smiths, is still held in high regard. “For there are brighter sides to life, and I should know, because I’ve seen them, but not very often.” Indeed.

As of Wednesday evening, Barton’s playing career wasn’t seeing the bright side. “We are all just travellers passing on a journey. Enjoy today its Sunny,” read Barton’s most recent tweet. But the English Football Association certainly disagreed with Barton’s bright outlook. We already knew that Barton’s second red of the season carried a four-game ban, rather than the usual three. But the FA decided to rightly make an example of Barton, by serving the 29-year-old with an almighty 12 game suspension. He was found guilty of two counts of violent conduct plus got a £75,000 ($118,000) fine, which will barely make a dent in his pay packet. But he won’t kick a competitive ball (or fellow professional) in anger for many months.

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The chairman of the regulatory commission said after the hearing, “There are rules of conduct that should be adhered to, and such behavior tarnishes the image of football in this country, particularly as this match was the pinnacle of the domestic season and watched by millions around the globe.”

It’s a salient point: U.S. television, for example, carried the QPR game live. QPR is beginning to make inroads into the Asian market, after being bought by Malaysian businessman Tony Ferdandes. Fernandes has smartly passed the buck when it comes to whether Barton has a future with the West London club to new manager Mark Hughes, who inherited Barton when he took over at the start of the year. Rangers are set to conduct their own investigation; you have to wonder if  lawyers are trying to find grounds to tear up his lengthy contract, which is reportedly worth a staggering £10.5 million ($16.45 million) over the next three years.

And as the saying goes in Britain, Barton has “previous.” On his rap sheet are numerous alarming incidents. He assaulted a man outside a McDonald’s in Liverpool in 2007 (you can watch the CCTV footage for yourself here) which resulted in Barton serving 74 days of a six-month sentence. Then there’s the time he jabbed a lighted cigar into the face of a trainee footballer during a Christmas party in 2004 while at Manchester City, to say nothing of a training-ground brawl with a player three years later, which resulted in that individual requiring hospital treatment.

What seems clear is that every team who dispenses with his services improves once the poisonous player leaves the scenes of his crimes. In all my years of watching QPR, it’s hard to recall a more unpleasant individual pulling on the famous blue and white hooped jersey.  You suspect the team will try to dump him this the summer. Possibly the most depressing piece of analysis, when all’s said and done, is there may well be another top team willing to take a chance on Barton, somehow convinced that he’s changed his ways. But I’d bet that Barton hasn’t. He never does.

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