Sport Soccer

Wednesday 16 August 2017

No exclamation marks needed when gift of the gob says it all

Dion Fanning

R oberto Mancini's defence of Gareth Barry may well have proved whatever point Joey Barton was making last week.

As always, it is impossible to detect a flaw in Barton's reasoned analysis, especially when his brutal honesty is directed outwards rather than overlooking whatever warrants for his arrest might have been issued recently.

Barton gave his interview to So Foot, the French magazine which recently stitched Stephen Ireland up by asking him questions and then printing the answers. Barton has made no attempt so far to distance himself from his interview as Ireland did.

That doesn't really seem like Barton's style and if he was to get involved and issue some corrections and clarifications, he would probably only do so to stress that some point could have been made a bit more strongly rather than take something back.

He will have upset the great pillars of the English game with his comments and he will have upset Gareth Barry who has become one of the established players in the England team while not doing very much at all.

Mancini's defence of Barry only confirmed Barton's claim that "he's like the guy who sits in the front row and listens to the teacher. I certainly don't lose any sleep when I play against him."

His manager praised Barry by saying he was a "fantastic" player who "does not speak back", something that would appear to be important to Mancini after working with Craig Bellamy. Barton was getting at a deeper truth when he spoke of how Barry had "a very good agent". There is always an assumption when players are bought by big clubs or a club spends a lot of money on somebody that the people know what they're doing.

Most of the time, they don't. They are swayed by good agents, persuasive headlines and other factors so that one player can be ignored and another prosper.

The very best, like Arsene Wenger in his prime, take advantage of the herd mentality, but most are willing to join the auction.

Barton's violent past has understandably shaped his reputation. Yet when he punches Morten Gamst Pedersen in the chest, it is reported as if Barton had engaged in some sort of medieval butchery on the football field. There is a strange desensitising process going on as many incidents are covered in the media. In sensationalising a story, newspapers are in danger of making the stories less interesting. Everybody wants a "war of words" so when Giovanni Trapattoni says Kevin Doyle is among those players who is tired after a long Premier League season, this is presented to Mick McCarthy as a criticism of his club and McCarthy then "hits back".

This is not a culture exclusive to journalists. Journalists are always being hit with libel actions in which lawyers will insist that the words written meant something else, something worse. "No," the journalist should say, "if I meant to say those things you say I said, I would have written them."

Barton's interview was more interesting than some of the screaming headlines, although given that one of them screamed 'I am not a whore!', and this was a direct quote from the interview, for once it was a close-run thing.

A punchy headline cannot do justice to Barton's wide-ranging dissection of his life and his failure to be appreciated in England. Yet shrieking is deemed necessary even when Barton's words need no added emphasis.

Again, Barton's words get so much attention because amid all the noise, most of the time nobody is saying anything at all.

English football has many failings as Tottenham demonstrated on Tuesday night. A team dependent on the best of British talent ended the night doing what England always does best: searching for a scapegoat.

Of course, there were plenty of candidates as Aaron Lennon's fever took him down in the tunnel and Peter Crouch demonstrated that it is not always intelligence that is lacking in English footballers, it is temperament.

I know of one manager who always hesitates before buying an English player because he believes "English players are stupid". If he was watching on Tuesday, he would have felt Lennon and Crouch were confirming everything he felt.

In the Sky studio, Jamie Redknapp tried to add foreigners to the rap sheet by saying they had somehow contributed to Crouch's sending off. Unless one of these lousy foreigners whispered in his ear "Jump around like a madman", it was hard to see what part they had played.

Jamie's father was off the hook as the scapegoats presented themselves. Madrid's first goal was the result of poor coaching rather than any scapegoat but that didn't matter.

Barton is conducting a noble crusade but there is part of him that demands scapegoats too. He excoriates the English mentality and its manifestation on the football field. Barton appears to have grown tired of apologising for his brutal attack on Ousmane Dabo. "He started it and I finished it," was the stark verdict last week.

Yet he wants to be forgiven too which is normal and, when he isn't, he also looks for someone to blame. In Barton's case, it is Dabo who started it -- something Dabo denies -- and Dabo he can blame.

"I am a man. If someone hits me, I respond as a man. I am not a whore. Frankly, Ousmane is a little pussy. Where I come from, when you fight there is no rule. You fight 'til it's over."

Barton has made great efforts to distance himself from the reflex actions picked up where he came from. He takes responsibility for most of the things -- like prison -- that have landed him in trouble.

Barton receives little encouragement from the establishment so he is free to speak the truth as he sees it. That Gareth Barry and the rest see it differently is all the encouragement he needs.

dfanning@independent.ie

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