…Or how to continue dismantling the greatest team spirit a club has ever known by following our easy step-by-step process…
It’s been six weeks since I first discussed the dismantling of our promotion team, after the sale of our captain, Kevin Nolan. Since then, we have sold Jose Enrique (who for me is the third best left back in the league, but clearly didn’t want to stay) and given away Joey Barton.
To a team we could be fighting with to stay in the league come May. For free (I mentioned that, didn’t I?)
So, as an esteemed football-blogger-type-fella, I have received numerous (no) emails asking me for my opinions. I’m like the blogging world’s Supermac (in my head), being wheeled out to give my opinion on NUFC as soon as the club makes another ridiculous decision.
Of those credited with taking on a leadership role, alongside Hughton, after the team got relegated, only Smith and Harper remain at the club. Smith rarely plays, and when he does he gets booked, and Harper is no longer even the second choice goalkeeper. Butt retired (well, I heard he was playing in China, but to all intents and purposes he retired) and Barton has now joined Nolan in London.
It’s clear the club is trying to pass a message on. Those who were responsible, and were leaders, are no longer required. Those who supported Hughton, and voice their opinions are not wanted.
Smith would be gone if someone wanted to pay his wages, and you have to assume Harper will be as well, if Soderberg is being picked for bench duty ahead of him.
It was inevitable that Barton, as the most outspoken of the group, was on troubled ground, a cause he didn’t help by criticising the club’s transfer policy on Twitter.
Looking back at his time in the Toon, it is clear that his four years at the club can easily be divided into two categories.
His first two years were a waste of our sixty-thousand per week. Injured, suspended or in jail, Newcastle saw no real return on their money and were ultimately, and deservedly, relegated. Particular low points were obviously his 77 days in prison for a vicious assault (during which he refused to negotiate a new contract which would see him earn less money as a way to thank the club who stood by him) and his stupid red card against Liverpool as we fought for our Premiership lives (the fans, not the team. Don’t get me wrong, some of the team stood up and fought for the badge and their pride, but a lot did not).
However, from the second half of our promotion season and throughout the last season, the Reverend Joseph Barton was a changed man. Focused, fit, in-form and (mostly) well-behaved, he was the player we had been led to believe we were signing in 2007. Along with Nolan, and perhaps to an even greater extent than his fellow Scouser, Barton drove our midfield (and team) forward, despite playing out on the right wing, which is not his favoured position. Never was this more obvious than against Liverpool last season, the game in which he famously clashed with Fernando Torres.
He certainly had a point with his criticisms of the club’s ownership, and it was refreshing as a fan to hear a player echo our concerns. However, at the same time, if any of us took to Twitter to criticise our company’s recruitment policy as vehemently as Barton did, we would expect to be sacked. No doubt he was frustrated, but there was also the fact that the new owners were not going to offer him the contract he (and his agent) thought he deserved. It is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to assume that part of the motivation behind his comments was to force the club’s hand, allowing him to get the contract he wants from another club.
Like the Andy Carroll sale, this ‘transfer’ divides the fans. We know that the club’s word, on the few occasions the club makes an official statement, cannot be trusted. That was proven in court with the Keegan case. However, if both players had really wanted to stay, they could have dug their heels in.
In the end, despite his protestations that he wanted to stay, which may have been the case, or at least before the club sold Carroll, Nolan and Enrique, Barton still comes out of this a winner. He has the contract he wants, albeit at a smaller club. And most of the Toon fans won’t begrudge him that.
The owner wins as he has got the club’s most vocal inhouse critic of the wage bill, while at the same showing the other players what happens if you speak out against his rule.
Barton wins, and so does Mike Ashley. So who loses from this?
The same people who continue to suffer under this current regime.
While opinion has always been divided on the player, no one would disagree that he was one of our most important players over the last two years. And he has now gone.
And if one thing is clear from this owner’s transfer policy, he won’t be replaced.