Monday 20 November 2017

Mad, bad, dangerous to know but not the villain of the piece

Dion Fanning

The final minutes of the Premier League provided the greatest drama, perhaps in any of our lives. They were so monumental that Vincent Kompany became the first footballer to admit that he was only obeying what he called a 'politically correct' convention when adding that it was matched only by the birth of his children.

These magical moments at the Etihad were, unfortunately, ruined for some by the actions of one man who let himself down as he has so often on this field of dreams. This is a man who has shocked football with his shameless behaviour for many years, who has form when it comes to this kind of thing and was again outraging football with his recidivism. This time there must be answers: what was Gerard Houllier doing on the pitch in the middle of Manchester City's title celebrations?

Houllier was working for French TV last weekend so had every reason to be on the field amid the celebrations just as he had a very good reason for being on the Soccer City pitch at the end of the World Cup final in 2010.

In fact, when we look back now, it seems amazing that he limited his celebrations when Liverpool won the European Cup in Istanbul to the dressing room. With all that we know, it seems strange that Houllier was not on the podium, competing with Josemi for space at the front, receiving the cup from Lennart Johansson before handing it over to the team he had built.

His genius for placing himself at the heart of these beautiful moments can only be applauded. He remains one of the toughest men in football, prepared to risk ridicule to promote himself and do his job for his employers and for himself.

Houllier was present at the end of this glorious day, but while City were hailed for the thrilling way they clinched the title, Joey Barton confirmed what many thought of him.

At the Etihad, they said, we saw the real Joey Barton, a dangerous and despicable man, a thug, whose well-thumbed book of quotations was a sham, possibly even merely hollowed out to store a shiv.

Those of us who essentially view Barton as a preposterous eccentric had to question our own moral values and our absence of outrage.

If you were Mark Hughes or a QPR fan, you were entitled to be outraged, feeling that Barton had jeopardised so much when he retaliated and was sent off. Many others, I suspect, were simply entertained by the ultimately harmless elbows and digs he doled out on the field.

One thing is no excuse. What is no excuse? Retaliation. Barton was reminded of this several times even if it is clear that retaliation is only no excuse when people don't want to excuse the retaliator.

It seemed there was no difference between the Joey Barton who used to drink 15 pints, rampage through the streets of Liverpool and end up in jail and the Joey Barton who, in the most intense competitive sporting environment, lost his temper and lashed out last Sunday.

He has made massive changes in his life but last week they were considered to be worthless. Next they will be telling him that if he has really changed like he claims, he should be able to enjoy a drink at the right time or practise moderation with a nice glass of wine.

Barton may not be the man he thinks he is, but he is not the man they insist he can't leave behind either. Last week's reaction to his foolishness demonstrated that.

Like many who have abandoned the pursuit of oblivion through alcohol, Barton has discovered that, in some ways, he has less peace not more. Of course, he doesn't have to wake up wondering what he did the night before, which offers liberation.

But the drinking life is a very simple life, a daily programme if you like, when all a man has to worry about is if he is going to drink today and what will happen if he does.

Without it, he sees things clearly which is a mixed blessing. Barton is able to spot the bluffers and spoofers and this is a cause of torment rather than consolation.

Barton is right about a lot of things, something which doesn't appear to bring him any contentment.

He is right mainly about the failings of others. He no longer medicates his rage with alcohol, although in Barton's case, if alcohol was modifying his responses, it wasn't working.

This isn't a question of Barton fooling people with his visits to art galleries or his Nietzche quotes. He is, I imagine, an exhausting, infuriating pain in the arse who, like many people who consider themselves sensitive, is sensitive mainly to his own feelings.

This is about perspective. If you hadn't seen Barton's actions last Sunday and relied on the hysterical reports, you would have imagined they bore some resemblance to the CCTV footage of him drunk and violent on the Liverpool streets.

They didn't. Tevez hit him, he responded and then he lost his mind, driven by his own shame and an understanding that everything he has tried to become would now be portrayed as meaningless.

He was on the firmest ground with his Twitter attack on Shearer who had committed a far worse assault on Neil Lennon for which he was never punished.

Roy Keane had once gone for Shearer too, getting sent off and then lunging again, believing he might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.

Barton can take some comfort from that and from the knowledge that Tony Adams went from a prison cell to talking about poetry and playing the piano. Adams said once that "I don't actually like people. I'm a loner and if I had my way I'd just walk my dogs every day, never talk to anyone and then die".

Like Barton, life became more complex, more rewarding and more complicated, but he managed to change without the world willing him to change back, something which might have been helped by the absence of Twitter.

Barton can keep going too. He is foolish and he may even be mad, bad and dangerous to know, but his life is better than it was before. He behaved crazily last weekend but he wasn't the cynic on the Etihad pitch. With his ability to spot a bullshitter, I'm pretty sure he knows who it was.

dfanning@independent.ie

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