Joey Barton has made his fair share of enemies over the years. From fans to team-mates, referees to the managers who have tried – and usually failed – to bring him into line, the irascible footballer has upset many during his controversial career. But his latest outburst, while likely to go down badly in the dressing-room, could earn him some new admirers after he candidly admitted that a lot of his fellow Premiership professionals were "knobs".
Barton's inability to control his temper has seen him involved in violent scuffles both on and off the pitch, the most serious of which resulted in a six-month jail sentence. Yesterday, however, he hit out at the modern game and its lavishly rewarded stars, whom he described as dangerously out of touch with reality.
"Most footballers are knobs," he told an edition of BBC Radio 4's Today programme that was guest-edited by his mentor, Tony Adams. "I meet a lot of them and they are so detached from real life it's untrue. You can dress it up whichever way you want, but driving around in flash cars and changing them like they're your socks, wearing stupid diamond watches and spending your money like it's going out of fashion. In the midst of a recession in this country when people are barely struggling to put food on the table for the kids – it's not the way to do it," he said.
The £5.8m Newcastle United midfielder, who earns £20,000 a week, said he has given up drinking alcohol and has undergone behavioural therapy to control his temper at the charity Sporting Chance following a series of bust-ups, which included stubbing out a cigar in the eye of a young teammate.
He described the environment in which top footballers mixed as a "Peter Pan world" – one in which he too had been cocooned since joining a Premiership youth team at the age of eight. Like many others, he said he would never have grown up unless his problems had emerged in the media, forcing him to confront his demons.
Lifting the lid on the cosseted lives led by some of his fellow players, he said: "There is always an agent who will sort out your contract or your mortgage, or they will sort your house out or your car insurance or the club will have people ... you will never have to do anything for yourself if you don't want to."
The 27-year-old, who grew up on an estate in the working-class Huyton area of Liverpool, said that drinking and fighting were considered part of normal life for "young bucks" such as himself. As for his highly publicised acts of violence, he admitted: "That's the stuff people know about – there's stuff I got away with." But he said footballers were no different to other sportsmen and in some cases better. "I think rugby is worse than football," he said. "If you are the best footballer, golfer or cricketer in the world, you are still a human being. You might be good at that, but you are crap at life."
Barton said he nearly lost everything when he was jailed for a late-night attack in 2008. "My last night out probably cost me £500,000 plus my reputation. I must have been as close as you can get to self-destruct," he said. "I had two choices, basically. Either you carry on doing what you're doing and your career's gone, or you address it."
Barton insisted that he had not gone into the game for the money or the glamour, and that if he had not made it in the top flight he would still be playing Sunday league or five-a-side with his mates. "I didn't want to be famous. I love football, I want to play football. It was never for me about the cars, the women, the money – whatever people perceive to come with it," he said.
Joey Barton: His life and times
2002 Begins first-team career with Manchester City.
2004 Sparks 10-man brawl during a friendly match after a dangerous tackle. Stubs a cigar into the eye of team-mate Jamie Tandy during Christmas party.
2005 Sent home from Thailand tour after assaulting a 15-year-old fan. Fined £120,000 by his club. Breaks a pedestrian's leg while driving his car through Liverpool city centre at 2am. Half-brother Michael Barton convicted of brutal murder of Anthony Walker.
2006 Exposes his backside to Everton fans during match. Criticises England footballers over World Cup biographies.
2007 Makes England debut. Assaults team-mate Ousmane Dabo, for which he receives a four-month suspended sentence. Later joins Newcastle Utd for £5.8m. Media calls for him to be banned after he makes another dangerous tackle.
2008 Cleared of vandalising a taxi but sentenced to six months in prison for assault on a 16-year-old in McDonald's in Liverpool, of which he serves 77 days.
2009 Sent off against Liverpool and clashes angrily with manager Alan Shearer. Injured.