Targeting Players: Joey Barton

Oliver Holt is the Daily Mirror’s Chief Sports Writer, he recently wrote this on Twitter: “Feel some sympathy for @joey7barton . Norwich players targeted him and then got him sent off. No head butt” in this blog, I will discuss all the ways in which this is both incorrect and exceedingly stupid.

Being a writer for the Daily Mirror it’s fair to say that Mr. Holt shouldn’t be hopelessly naive; but perhaps this is more misplaced sentimentality.

Players, teams and managers target other players. They do this in any number of ways. They employ special technical analysts to examine every game and pinpoint a teams tactical weaknesses so they can be exploited. One form of this “targeting” comes in the shape of trying to get an opposition player sent off, often by being physically intimidating towards them or giving them verbal abuse. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. Professional sport isn’t about being nice to each other.

Johnson shares his opinion of Barton's dental hygiene after their face to face encounter

It has been said that this so called targeting, isn’t in the spirit of the game. Well players these days get far more protection from referees than they used to. It wasn’t so long ago when a fullback would get the chance to smash a tricky winger in the opening minutes of the game, safe in the knowledge that the ref was highly unlikely to brandish a yellow card for his first foul. Not only that but now just about every move you make on the pitch is caught on camera, so even if you do get away with a cheeky elbow to someone’s face during the game, you’ll almost certainly be caught retrospectively.

Saying you should feel some sympathy for Barton because Norwich “targeted” him is moronic. Theo Walcott is quick. Everyone who has ever watched him play knows this. Joey Barton has a short fuse, anyone who has ever watched him play or read a newspaper column about him is well aware of this. I don’t feel sorry for Walcott when teams play a deep back line against him to negate his pace, or make sure to double up with a defensively astute midfielder positioned in front of the fullback, because that’s professional football, it’s part of the game.

Gary Lineker never lost his cool on the pitch and only got angry off it when somebody stole his Walkers

Joey Barton has some pretty clear mental weaknesses. He has consistently done stupid things over the course of his career on the football pitch and has reached almost unequalled levels of stupidity off it. He can be easily wound up but I don’t see why this deserves sympathy, any more than for example feeling sorry for Per Mertesacker for having all the pace and agility of a wheelie bin. Gary Lineker didn’t get a booking in his career. He had incredible composure and concentration, the idea that you could “target” him and get him sent off is ludicrous. It wouldn’t work, because for it to be successful it has to stem from the player who is the target, as it’s his weakness being exposed. It’s just the same as any other weakness that can come to light in the world of professional football, so I don’t see why it should get special treatment in terms of sympathy.

Red Mist?

I don’t like Joey Barton. I think he’s self-absorbed and morally reprehensible. He may have fooled and entertained people for a while on Twitter with quotes from historical philosophers but soon enough we began to see the real Barton again as he got embroiled in a trivial, petty row with the participants in a reality TV show, the name of which shall not ever appear in anything I write.

What I find most unpleasant about the Barton sending off against Norwich is that he knew what he was doing when he went towards Bradley Johnson. It wasn’t a Rooney style anger fuelled, frustration triggered kick out. There was a coming together, some handbags, a bit of pushing and shoving and then Barton put his head right in the face of Johnson. Whether or not he actually connected with any real force isn’t clear, but his intentions were obvious.

The disciplinary philosophy of Joey Barton expressed as a graph.

As you can see from the graph, Barton attempts to get away with the largest amount of violence, offsetting it against the smallest risk of a red card. He tries to get the maximum amount of intimidation towards Bradley Johnson, by getting right in his face and leaning towards him with his head, commonly known as a head-butt, but with a calculated amount of force to minimise the chance of a red card. It wasn’t a ferocious head-butt, but Barton is still callous. It was a cynical attempt to intimidate an opponent without going far enough to make a red card inevitable, he walked the disciplinary tightrope and this time he fell off.

So why feel sorry for Barton? At any point he could have walked away, Johnson didn’t go towards him. He wasn’t surrounded by Norwich players. The game up until that point hadn’t even been particularly heated. Everything about the incident originates from Barton being an unpleasant individual and the reason he looked so gutted when he was finally sent off is because he thought he had gotten away with it.

What I find most amazing about what Ollie Holt tweeted, is that Barton wasn’t targeted. He wasn’t subjected to numerous strong challenges like for example when he played against Wolves. As for the Norwich players getting him sent off, just look at Grant Holt’s reaction to the red card, he wasn’t goading Barton or encouraging the ref to issue the red and when it did appear he can be seen in the back ground bemoaning the decision. If anything Bradley Johnson’s reaction was understated. He would have been well within his rights to go down on the floor clutching his face if Barton’s own actions were to be the standard set in such circumstances. But Johnson stays on his feet and rubs his face a bit. So any complaint Barton might make would be staggeringly hypocritical, however that didn’t stop him moaning on Twitter.

Match of the dated

On Match Of The Day they did a tremendous job of explaining absolutely nothing about what happened and then coming to a standard pundit conclusion. The two Alans said they thought Barton was “unlucky” to be sent off. I fail to see how luck can be blamed for his red card. He is perhaps unlucky that he often seems to have all the mental control of a toddler and a vicious personality, but that is where the luck factor ends for me. The job of a pundit should be to make clear whether it was the correct decision or an incorrect decision, but rather than provide clarity, they just said it was unlucky.

If Barton had fallen over and accidentally nutted Johnson, that’s unlucky. If he had been mistaken for a team-mate who was actually to blame, that’s unlucky. If a passing seagull had shat on his face causing him to shake his head while attempting to remove the poo from his eyes and if while doing so he had inadvertently caught Johnson with a head-butt, that would be hugely unlucky.

This is no hard luck story

What did happen is that he went over to Johnson, with the intention of getting in his face, having already swung an elbow and barged into him, made contact with a head-butt and got sent off. Not unlucky. Even if there was absolute minimal contact, why take the chance? Especially with a reputation like Barton’s, it was never going to end well for him and was grossly unprofessional and unbefitting the behaviour of any player never mind the captain. Not that you’d ever hear Neil Warnock admit that in his interview to the BBC.

I am concerned that far too often MOTD pundits are out of touch with what actually goes on in the modern game. It didn’t rate as highly on the out-of-touch-o-meter as Hansen’s recent outburst of outdated “coloured” vocabulary, or when he voiced his opinion on how depression is treated in football, but more and more I get the sense that Alan Hansen is becoming an “in my day” pundit. It is a sad decline for a man whom I used to respect and enjoy watching.

Obvious Opinions

Far too often I think pundits state the obvious and journalists hide behind a cliche. The amount they do this increases even more if they have a propensity to fence sit. Oliver Holt thinks Barton was unlucky because he was targeted for being Joey Barton. Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer seem to think Joey Barton was unlucky because he didn’t break Bradley Johnson’s nose, therefore it wasn’t a real head-butt and the red card for violent conduct was a harsh decision. I don’t think any of the Norwich players did anything untoward. I don’t think they conned or cheated anyone, this mess as with seemingly everything else in his life, was completely the fault of Joey Barton and entirely of his own making. A pundits job should be to comment on what happened and attempt to explain it, this incident is easy to explain, Barton lost the plot. However, it often seems pundits are only able to point out and criticise when a player loses his runner. But they defend him when he’s lost his mental composure. Only Neil Warnock should attempt to defend the indefensible, so we can laugh at him doing it.

Joey Barton was not unlucky and he does not deserve any sympathy.

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