It’s fair to say that Joey Barton divides opinion amongst football fans. He is the ultimate Marmite footballer. Love him or hate him, almost every fan of the game has some form of judgement on him. Barton is no stranger to making the headlines, so it should perhaps come as no surprise to see him amongst them again this week. And, yet again, it is negative coverage that shrouds the man from Merseyside.
Barton has flirted with controversy on numerous occasions over his professional playing career, and his latest escapade seems to have curtailed a once promising career. Or at least that’s how he puts it. But does this episode highlight a problem in the close-knit relationship between betting companies, football clubs, and the FA?
The FA announced this week that Barton would be forced to serve an 18-month suspension following a breach of the organisation’s betting rules. English football’s governing body may have described Barton’s ban as “the shortest possible” sanction they could impose, but could, or rather should, the FA have done more?
The former QPR man is a self-confessed gambling addict, having placed in excess of £205,000 worth of bets over the past 10 years or so.
It is perhaps unsurprising to see Barton hit with such a punishment. Whilst spending a brief and difficult spell at Rangers, Barton’s gambling habits came under the spotlight from the SFA. Had the midfielder not already been serving a three-week ban from the Rangers training ground, following a bust-up with both Andy Halliday and manager Mark Warburton, Barton could have found himself in a similar predicament a lot earlier than he has.
A man praised for his honesty, by none other than former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, the former Manchester City starlet should perhaps be applauded for finally admitting to his haunting demons. Needless to say, this does not excuse the 34-year-old, but does suggest that the FA need to reassess the way in which they deal with such issues, for there will be many players mirroring Barton out there somewhere.
Some, including the man himself, have labelled the ban as excessive, arguing that the Englishman was in no way fixing or affecting the outcome of matches, despite betting on his own side to lose.
One individual who has spoken out in defence of Barton is ex-Everton and England midfielder, Leon Osman. Osman claimed that betting companies ‘are more to blame than anyone else’. He argued that Betfair had readily and knowingly been accepting bets from Barton for over 10 years, and had done nothing to prevent the situation from escalating out of control in the way in which it now has. Without sufficient support, help, or guidance, and such easy access to gambling, did Barton really stand a chance?
Osman is not alone. Burnley manager Sean Dyche called the ban “harsh”, recalling the infamous Eric Cantona kung-fu kick, which received just a nine-month ban, as a defence.
However, Barton’s previous record and outspoken manner cannot have done him any favours. One would think memories of his insulting ‘lady-boy’ remark towards Thiago Silva, training ground punch-up and subsequent arrest involving Ousmane Dabo, maddened assault of Sergio Aguero in 2012, and a string of other offences may well have been in the back of the FA’s mind when presiding over the case. Would the punishment have been less steep with a figure less divisive? Only the FA can answer that.
Barton is set to contest the length of the ban, but at 34 the Burnley midfielder is highly unlikely to have his contract renewed if his appeal is thrown out.
The Liverpudlian has fallen a long way from his perch since being named in the 2016 Championship Team of the Year, and revelations of him ignoring a letter sent by the FA warning him of gambling, back in 2012, will be sure to have removed any sympathy some might have had for him.
Back in February, 53 footballers were suspected of breaching FA rules on gambling, the most high profile of these being former Sutton goalkeeper Wayne Shaw, who eventually was forced to resign over the incident. Some would argue that the FA has allowed gambling firms to prey on vulnerable footballers for far too long, due to their closely entwined relationships with the beautiful game.
Cases like Barton help highlight this. Would it not be better to educate and support footballers suffering similar issues, rather than banning and expelling them from their livelihoods?
Jack Colback, Kyle Lafferty and Martin Demichelis all pleaded guilty to betting offences, yet all escaped with fines rather than bans which will exacerbate supporters of Barton even further. FA gambling laws may have tightened in recent years, but support within the game for addicts like Barton has apparently not.
Now at a crossroads in not only his footballing career but in his personal life as well, Joey Barton will be contemplating his next steps carefully. Shelling out for £30,000 fine to the FA will be the least of his worries as he again looks to piece back together a tarnished public perception. Admitting his wrongdoing may not absolve Barton of his wrongdoings, but it is at least a step in the right direction to some form of recovery for the one-time England midfielder.
Some will argue the Turf Moor favourite got what he deserved, whilst others will say that football and betting are far too closely interlinked to blame Barton entirely for the events that have transpired. Regardless of this, another chapter looks to have closed on the Burnley man’s career with a typically bitter taste. We can only wait and see how he deals with the situation, and how the FA handle cases like this in the future.