It's International weekend, so thoughts turn to the wider picture, and who's pretty much front and centre? Joey Barton. His autobiography was released this week to coincide with him being suspended from his latest club - Rangers and being investigated by the Scottish FA for breaking betting rules. In trouble? It's the default setting for Joey after a career spanning fourteen years of incident.
Joey tries to be many things - footballer, club captain, writer, philosopher, current affairs commentator, TV personality, father, family man and member of the Twitter glitterati, and what he would have you believe is that he's a reformed soul. But is he? I tried to keep an open mind and see if, given the evidence, he really is a changed man.
So, lets look at the history, and it's pretty bleak - the fouls, the assaults, the fights, the arrests, he was/is a piece of work. He attributes it to his upbringing, and certainly some of the clips in his book are pretty disturbing, so it's not surprising he grew into someone for whom violence was close to the first choice of retaliation to any perceived threat.
But after his imprisonment for assault, he started to make efforts to control his behaviour and with the encouragement of his mentor - Peter Kay, not the ‘Mum wants a Bungalow' one, the co-founder of the Sporting Chance clinic, he was told to ‘believe in his intelligence and develop it in a way of shaking off his low self-esteem'. Not hitting people would help too.
Perhaps his behaviour improved off the pitch, but on the field he was just as inflammatory. His career at Man City was effectively ended by his arrest and imprisonment. He then moved to Newcastle, a stay which was punctuated by more unsavoury incidents until they could stand him no longer and he left on a free transfer to QPR where Neil Warnock gave him a four year contract and made him team captain.
He lasted one season. In January 2012 he was given a straight red for head-butting Norwich midfielder Bradley Johnson and then on the last day of the season, another, after elbowing Carlos Tevez in the face, kicking Sergio Aguero and attempting to head-butt Vincent Kompany. Next season he was loaned out to Marseille.
And it was in France that he was relatively well behaved - one two match ban for calling a PSG player ‘an overweight ladyboy' and telling Ibrahimovic he had a big nose. Pretty good, given all that had gone before. He returned to QPR at the end of the season but after a couple of more red cards the club let him go.
He then signed for Sean Dyche at Burnley, where, under Dyche's guidance he had an untroubled season, won club Player of the Year, was named in the Championship PFA Team of the Year and won a Championship medal.
Was this the start of the new Joey Barton - the reformed character? Since his release from prison away from the game, he'd been actively showing a different side to his personality. He'd appeared in a BBC Three documentary speaking out against homophobia in football (he has a gay uncle), he'd become only the second footballer to appear on the BBC's ‘Question Time' in what the Independent called a ‘strong performance'. He'd been interviewed by Claire Balding and by Paxman on Newsnight to comment on the England appointment of Roy Hodgson.
He'd written for The Independent on religion, been appointed patron of a charity for people with addiction problems on the recommendation of Tony Adams, had begun writing a regular column for the Big Issue and become the father of two children.
There's no doubt that this, together with his social media presence was changing his public persona, but is he a genuinely changed man? In the summer of 2016 he was, by his standards, in a good place. Burnley, promoted as champions to the Premier League, offered him a new two year contract, worth £35,000 per week. He was their Player of the Season, he admitted his ‘like and respect' for Sean Dyche and he'd had the least trouble on the pitch probably since before his Manchester City days. He turned them down.
He turned them down for Rangers and a two year contract to play in Scotland for £20,000 per week. "I felt it had run its course," he says of his time at Burnley. "I needed another challenge, another experience....'. He said that he wanted to be ‘the best player in Scotland' and would help Rangers to the Scottish title.
After five games Rangers faced Celtic in their first Old Firm league match in four years and were thrashed 5-1. In an ensuing training session, Barton argued with defender Andy Halliday over the manner of the defeat and then with manager Mark Warburton. As a result he was told to stay away from the Club for six days so he could ‘re-evaluate his behavior'.
Barton apologized via Twitter, but the next day, phoned the TalkSport radio phone-in and in a complete about-face, said that he had ‘nothing to apologise for' and that ‘you can only be a good player if those around you are good'. Barton was then suspended for a further three weeks and it's unlikely that he'll be asked to return to the club.
So - why did he choose to go to Rangers, giving up a more lucrative contract to play in the English Premier League? One can only suspect that it was the big fish - small pond syndrome. He'd had his fingers burnt in the Premier League with QPR - was he wary of more of the same with Burnley? He certainly had high ambitions when joining Rangers, and it appears he had overestimated the ability of the players, feeling let down by those around him, and letting them know in no uncertain terms after the Celtic game.
Why did he then go back on his apology? Was he just being true to himself or was he trying to find a way out of a contract that wasn't what he'd anticipated - and from which he would pocket £2 million if Rangers couldn't find just cause to sack him? He'd argued with the manager, he'd condemned his fellow players, he'd found himself in a position that unsettled him and he doesn't react well when confronted with those situations.
Whatever happens, it looks like Joey Barton will be a free agent shortly, and there will be plenty of Clubs looking for his signature. Not to worry anyone, but David Moyes of Everton enquired about his availability when he was coming to the end of Manchester City career.
So, is he a changed man? Only partly. He's developed the non-confrontational side of his personality so that it now reflects his intelligence and maturity and certainly away from football and alcohol, he can control his environment to the extent where he feels comfortable. He regularly uses the excuse that he's uneducated as a defence mechanism but before signing for Everton as a schoolboy, he'd left school with ten GCSE's, so he's no fool.
However, when he's threatened or frustrated his first reaction is to lash out verbally or physically, and that hasn't shown any signs of abating. I'm no expert but it's probably a demon that he will have to live with and control as best he can. He says of himself that he 'will never shy away from conflict'. That being the case then he will never be a totally reformed soul.
His career in football isn't over, but when it is, I don't think we'll have seen the last of Joey Barton. He loves self-publicity and a career in the media in some shape or form isn't unlikely. I can't see him as a manager, but definitely a pundit - he's proud of his knowledge of the game and who wouldn't pay good money to see him on the other side of the table to Roy Keane? I would also pay good money to see him on ‘I'm a Celebrity' although I wouldn't want to be anywhere near him when it's going on.