Joey Barton will return to Tyneside this morning for boardroom talks at St James' Park about his future at Newcastle United. Released from Strangeways Prison in Manchester yesterday having served 74 days of his six-month sentence for an assault in Liverpool city centre last December, Barton walked straight into a wall of noisy debate around the country about his suitability to continue as a professional footballer.
Barton will be accompanied today by his representative, Willie McKay, which suggests that for all the discussions surrounding the morality of Barton remaining a Newcastle player, ultimately the 25-year-old's future at St James' will have an economic consideration — Newcastle's bottom line being that Barton can stay if he takes a cut in pay. Barton joined Newcastle from Manchester City for £5.8m last July, when Sam Allardyce had been installed as Newcastle manager, and is reported to be on a salary of £3m per annum. Barton signed for five years, so Newcastle have £12m in wages to ponder.
Halving that would still see Barton earn £6m, but when the idea was floated in June, McKay's response was: "Joey won't be taking a pay cut." For all manager Kevin Keegan's understanding words on Sunday about Barton serving his time and the universal right to a second chance, if McKay and his client take a hard-line stance against a salary cut then Newcastle could ignore Keegan's empathy and sack Barton. The club has the legal right to cancel Barton's contract due to gross misconduct, but what is not certain is whether they could then retain his registration. If not, Barton could walk into another club tomorrow and resume his career.
A loan move to Bolton was proposed at the end of last season when it became apparent that Barton would receive a custodial sentence, but Bolton's appetite for that may have waned. Neither Newcastle nor McKay would comment officially yesterday, though those close to Barton said that he has not consumed alcohol since January.
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley spoke recently about the scale of finances at an underachieving Premier League club – "That's a very expensive seat I sit in," he said – and he will not consent to Barton's full pay happily. However, having effectively sided with the player, Keegan may have provided an added complication because if today's meeting does not end amicably and with Barton at Newcastle, Keegan will be seen to have been undermined.
"People have opinions, and you must respect those," Keegan said, "but mine is to give him another chance and back him. There are a lot of things he needs to put right, but I think he can do it. It's well documented he's had his problems, but I knew of them when I took over. He's served his sentence, he's been punished for what he did wrong. The world is littered with people that have been given a second chance and taken it with both hands.
"I told him as long as from now on he did things right and started to rebuild the confidence of people around him, I would stick by him. The Joey Barton that we had in the last couple of months of the season was a much-changed character."
Others will require further convincing. Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, sounded hopeful rather than assured that Keegan can turn around a troubled character whose assault in Liverpool was described in court as "violent and cowardly". There is also Barton's assault on former City colleague Ousmane Dabo, to which Barton pleaded guilty and which carried a four-month sentence suspended for two years.
"To some extent I'm glad that he [Keegan] still has some faith in him [Barton]," Taylor said. "Joey's been running out of last chances. From that point of view it may have been the time when Newcastle would have said: 'We can't stand for this', and move him on, but hopefully Kevin thinks he can work his oracle and Joey will get his life back on track as a human being and footballer." The reaction of Newcastle supporters will inevitably be mixed, though Barton's poor form and behaviour since signing and description of them as "vicious" have not made him a popular figure on Tyneside.
Newcastle are due to set off for Spain tomorrow for a four-team mini-tournament at Real Mallorca, but Barton is an unlikely traveller as he will have to have his fitness assessed. More promisingly for the club, Deportivo La Coruña's Argentine defender Fabricio Coloccini has been omitted for the club's pre-season tour of Venezuela. In La Coruña it is said Newcastle have offered €12m (£9.5m) for Coloccini – and that he wishes to move – but that Deportivo's president is holding out for €15m (£11.8m).
What the fans say about Barton
Barton should be banned from playing football altogether
"He should be banned. There's just so many things to consider with this, the eyes of the world are on him including those of young kids. It doesn't set a good example. I believe he should be banned for a season by the FA to show that they won't tolerate thugs in their sport, and he should have to work with young people to show how influential people in his position can be and live up to their responsibilities." - cage91 on www.newcastleunited-mad.co.uk
Leave what happened outside the stadium outside the game
"He deserves some boos for what he has done and cheers for his performances towards the end of last season. And let's hope fans leave what happened outside of football outside the stadium." toon-fan-pete on 606.
No more season tickets until he leaves the club
"I won't be watching him. I have contacted the ticket office and stopped the cheque for my two season tickets. I have been a season-ticket holder for 20 years and been going to St James' Park since 1969 ... I work chuffing hard for my money and there is no way I'm going to give it to the Toon for them to hand it over to [Barton] ... I remember a couple of recent players who wore the No 7 with pride ... he's disgraced that shirt. When he's gone ... I'll go back." - Dave H on www.newcastle-online.com .Reuse content