Just when Sam Allardyce and Newcastle United needed it least, Joey Barton was arrested in the early hours of yesterday morning in Liverpool city centre. Barton, along with a 19-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman, was taken into custody by Merseyside police at 5.30am following an alleged assault. The 25-year-old midfielder was detained for questioning and, by early evening last night, had not been released from the local police station to which he had been taken.
The arrest, not Barton's first encounter with the police, came hours after Newcastle's latest underwhelming performance, a 1-0 defeat at Wigan Athletic. How Barton came to be in Liverpool, his home town, is one of the questions yet to be answered his teammates travelled back to Tyneside after the Wigan game but it is thought he had permission from Allardyce for family reasons.
"The club is aware of an incident but until it has further information on what actually happened it would be inappropriate to comment," said a Newcastle spokesman last night.
If charged and found guilty, an assault would have serious implications for Barton's career, not just at St James' Park but in professional football. Barton is already facing one court case for his alleged involvement in a training ground incident with his then Manchester City colleague Ousmane Dabo at the end of last season. There may also be a knock-on effect for Allardyce. The Dabo allegation was just one of the reasons that the Newcastle manager had said Barton's troubled past was a concern when he paid City 5.8m for him last summer.
"There's nothing wrong with Joey's football, but the off-field situation is something we have to work on and it has to be better," Allardyce said then. "I had to convince the board that myself and Joey would be able to deal with that and not let that side of it come out yet again."
A fear for Allardyce is that this will be used as another stick to beat an increasingly beleaguered manager. Other clubs were known to baulk at Barton because of his inconsistent character but Allardyce, as he said, convinced his new superiors that it would be worth the gamble.
So far that has failed. Barton was injured in pre-season and since then has failed to show the creativity expected of a player capped once by England. His comments about the "vicious" St James' crowd were seen by many on Tyneside to be accurate but an equal number thought Barton was not the person to be making such comments.
Evidence of his relative unpopularity could be heard when he was substituted against Derby last Sunday: boos directed at Barton as he trotted off.
An ankle complaint meant that Barton was on the bench for the Wigan game and his behaviour following it is now the subject of police interest as Newcastle prepare to go to Chelsea tomorrow. Whether Barton will be in the squad for that match remains to be seen, but an irony Allardyce will appreciate is that he wanted the players to be placed in a hotel after Wigan in order to concentrate on Chelsea. An intervention by players helped change that plan.
A defeat at Stamford Bridge would hardly improve Allardyce's position but it would not necessarily damage him further. He may not have received a bulletin directly from the Newcastle chairman, Chris Mort, but the news from the top floor at St James after Wigan is that Allardyce's position is safe, at least for now.
However, should Newcastle's form continue to deteriorate against Chelsea and then City next Wednesday, then Sunday week's FA Cup third-round tie at Stoke City will be pivotal to Allardyce's future. Lose that game, and it is difficult to see how Mort and the Newcastle owner, Mike Ashley, could stand by Allardyce.
Loss is now a dominant theme at St James and not just because of the demoralising defeat at Wigan or the shapeless 2-2 home draw against the bottom club, Derby County.
Allardyce has unquestionably lost a majority of Newcastle fans, while his public questioning of his players' attitude after Wigan was matched by his private dressing-room address in the moments after the game. It is understood that Allardyce had asked his players whether he still retained their support. The general response is not known definitively, but recent displays do not suggest that the team is in total agreement with the manager's tactics or his selection.
"Some of our players have not lived up to their reputation," Allardyce said on Boxing Day. "The front players have not held the ball up and the creative players have not created. Today the appetite to beat the opposition was not there."
Asked if he felt happy to have his future in the players' hands, Allardyce gave a laughing "Not really." If a manager is prepared to be this strong publicly then his private views must be scathing. The situation carries an echo of Graeme Souness's final days at the club. Souness, too, lost an important match 1-0 at Wigan, in the League Cup on 30 November 2005, and staggered on until the end of January.
Emotionally, however, Souness had been scuttled at Wigan and the same feeling applies to Allardyce. Around 5,500 fans singing: "We're shit and were sick of it," at the JJB Stadium are hard to ignore, particularly as Ashley was in among them.
The anecdotal evidence from supporters was that although no one confronted Ashley about Allardyce and the club's woeful performance, a steady flow of them asked politely for a change at the top.Reuse content