Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton was released from jail today.
Barton, 25, left Strangeways prison in Manchester at 11am after serving 74 days of a six-month sentence for beating up a teenager in Liverpool city centre last December.
He was jailed on 20 May after pleading guilty at Liverpool Crown Court to assault and affray.
Today the £40,000-a-week former Manchester City player enjoyed his first taste of freedom after weeks in the cells.
Barton, wearing jeans and a jumper and carrying a holdall, shook hands with a friend waiting for him outside the prison gates.
He made no comment to reporters before getting into a waiting silver Land Rover and being driven off.
The Professional Footballers' Association are hoping Barton is able to focus on his career and put off-field problems behind him.
PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor believes Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan could be the ideal character for Barton to be working with.
"Hopefully Kevin thinks he can work his oracle with Joey and get his life back on track, both as a human being and as a footballer," Taylor told BBC Five Live.
"Kevin is very much a people person. He has shown his emotions quite clearly in public. We're all human beings and we all have our failings.
"At the same time you've got to be responsible for your own actions. We've tried to help Joey with the Sporting Chance clinic and to be there to help him when he's needed it.
"But you need to see something in return.
"It's not been good, it wasn't a good year, but the lad does have ability and you keep hoping he can put it behind him and move on.
"Whether that will happen, I don't know."
Sporting Chance chief executive Peter Kay has worked closely with Barton, and Taylor believes the clinic established by former England and Arsenal defender Tony Adams can continue to play a crucial role in the Newcastle player's recovery.
Taylor said: "If they can't do it, I'm not sure who can."
Reporters asked the midfielder if he had any message for the Newcastle fans, but Barton, flanked by two burly minders, headed straight into the waiting car.
He had hoped to be freed earlier this month with an electronic tag forcing him to keep a curfew.
But he was deemed not to fit the right criteria for early release by probation officers, as he is a violent offender and committed his last offence while on bail.
Capped once by England, the player, from Huyton, Merseyside, served 68 days of the six-month jail term plus six days on remand after his initial arrest.
Under the Criminal Justice Act 1991 anyone given a jail sentence of less than 12 months is automatically released after serving half the sentence.
While freed today he is, however, currently serving a four-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, after a separate conviction for a "ferocious" training ground attack on former Manchester City colleague Ousmane Dabo, which left his victim unconscious and bleeding.
He was also ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid community work and pay £3,000 compensation to Dabo and court costs of £3,430.
He was on bail over the Dabo incident when he got involved in the fight outside a McDonald's restaurant in Liverpool city centre last December.
The court heard the player, out of the Newcastle team through injury, had been on a night out with friends and family in Liverpool.
After drinking 10 pints and five bottles of lager, they went into the McDonald's for food at about 5am on December 27.
But they became involved in a row with some youths and, outside the restaurant, the confrontation turned violent with Barton caught on CCTV knocking his victim to the ground.
He then straddled the man and punched him up to 20 times.
Moments later, the player attacked 16-year-old Jordan Spencer, punching him in the mistaken belief the youth had assaulted his cousin.
Barton is expected to meet up with the rest of the Newcastle squad before the season starts next month.
There were suggestions the Magpies would part company with Barton but Keegan yesterday vowed to stand by the player.Reuse content