Joey Barton's fraught relationship with Mike Ashley's Newcastle United regime ended in abrupt fashion yesterday when the midfielder was told that he could have a free transfer this summer despite having one year left on his contract.
The club's readiness to sacrifice a potential £5m fee for the player who was one of their best performers last season demonstrated the extent to which Barton's relationship with the board had deteriorated. Commenting later via Twitter, Barton said that he was "persona non grata" with the club's hierarchy.
It opens the intriguing prospect of who will take Barton, who remains an attractive option now that he is available on a free transfer. The 28-year-old is understood to have been discussed as a possible target for Manchester United, although it is unclear whether they have ever followed up their interest. What is not in doubt is that there will be plenty of interested clubs in the Premier League.
Barton, who has reinvented himself of late as a Morrissey disciple who regularly cites Friedrich Nietzsche and Naomi Wolf on his Twitter page, said yesterday that he would be making an announcement on his future at 4pm. In the event Newcastle beat him to it, releasing a statement saying that Barton had "been placed on the transfer list". The club added: "The player has been advised that he can leave the club on a free transfer."
Later Barton tweeted: "Somewhere in those high echelons of NUFC, they have decided I am persona non grata." He added: "I am on a free but the honour of wearing those B+W stripes surpasses that. One day the board might realise, what the shirt signifies. HONOUR and PRIDE. Thanks for your continued support."
The release of Barton is the latest in a series of disputes between Newcastle's senior players and the board over new contracts. The full-back Jose Enrique tweeted last week that the club "lied all the time". Yesterday Barton bemoaned the fact that the players were gagged by the board, which fined them for speaking out of turn, and that Enrique's comments were "the tip of the iceberg". That seems to have been the final straw for the club, who claim to have made offers to Barton to encourage him to stay. They have also moved out Wayne Routledge, another Twitter rebel, to Swansea City for £2m.