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Barton has bit to go to prove he's no longer a knob

"It was never for me about the cars, the women, the money."

Joey Barton

It's either a measure of how great the perks are, or how sceptical we are of professionals, but footballers often feel the need to come out and insist to fans they enjoy what they do and continue to do it for simply that reason. Joey Barton probably needs to offer more reassurance than most.

His violent conduct on and off the field may have put him beyond the pale, but he can never be accused of not being interesting.

As critical of himself as he is of the environment in which all players find themselves -- the 'Peter Pan world' of professional football -- Barton last week accused all players of being detached from real life, particularly during these recessionary times.

There are perks, he's not wrong there. I can imagine the favours offered to those at the very top, but one particular experience of mine sticks in my mind. One night, the group of lads I was with decided to go to a nightclub. We were in a pub at the time and, not wearing the appropriate footwear, I knew that option was not available to me. Then, the owner of the local designer shoe shop walked into the bar. Though it was after 10.0 on a Saturday night, he opened up the shop, told me to pick out whatever pair I wanted and gave them to me for nothing.

Later that night, one of the lads brought back a £900 bottle of champagne from the bar, even though we had only ordered pints. Though he knew none of us would drink it (the bottle was barely touched all night), such pointless demonstrations of wealth were commonplace .

Cocooned in a world where agents cater for every need, hangers-on keep egos inflated and virtually any misbehaviour is tolerated, taking responsibility for your own actions is entirely optional. I once spent the night in the police station after a night out (innocent bystander, obviously!), and even though the club never found out, I knew the fallout would be minimal enough. Things were going well on the pitch at the time so I would merely have been given a slap on the wrist.

Driving around in flash cars and "changing them like they're your socks" (as Barton said) is the norm. I remember getting regular calls from the local BMW dealer to check on the progress of my recovery from injury (funnily enough, the calls stopped when I retired). Barton also spoke out against the wearing of "stupid diamond watches". When I was only 18, I was advised by one of the senior pros to spend my first signing-on fee on an expensive watch. His was worth 10 grand. That I didn't yet own a house or hold a driving licence was immaterial. To him, the money should go on a watch.

In his typically candid manner, Barton summed it all up by saying "most footballers are knobs". Ironically enough, Barton himself is probably still the player most would nominate to support such an assertion. Whether for assaulting a young supporter in Thailand, bearing his arse in a game, stubbing out a cigarette in a team-mate's eye or drunkenly battering a 16-year-old late one night in McDonalds (for which he was imprisoned), Barton has been a fairly astounding poster-boy for over-paid, average players without a notion of how to carry on.

He has undergone behavioural therapy to control his temper and says he no longer drinks alcohol. He regrets much of what he did, adding there were plenty of other incidents nobody found out about. While he can speak with authority and experience on the inability of players to behave appropriately, he has a bit to go before his words could be interpreted, correctly or otherwise, as anything but hypocritical or patronising.

As for players being detached from reality, it is perhaps foolish to expect a single lad in his 20s

with time on his hands and millions in the bank to relate to a family struggling to make ends meet. Nonetheless, if players aren't "knobs" to begin with, they soon realise there are no real repercussions should they decide to act as if they were. There will always be someone prepared to tell them what they want to hear, do as they please, or cover for them in every way.

Still recovering from a foot injury, Barton will have to wait a little longer to demonstrate his new-found sense of perspective and maturity on the pitch. He may be "crap at life" as he puts it, but regardless of his willingness to change, he will always be pigeon-holed by what he has done. He will not be allowed to forget it by those in the stands who see no irony in threatening him with violence because of his violent past.

It's not just the players who are knobs you know.


Sunday Independent