I’m really hoping that in among what Charlie Brooker would refer to as the “suffocating quantity of blah” that is BT Sport they find a place for Neville Southall. The rotund former Everton keeper was on talkSPORT this week and his analysis was somewhat more bracing than we can expect from BT’s well-remunerated punditry team of Michael Owen, Owen Hargreaves and David James.
Asked to assess Joey Barton’s skill set he said of the former Manchester City and Newcastle midfielder: “well, he can run all day. But then so could Forrest Gump.”
As a comparison it was supremely apt. Gump was a man who floundered through life somehow finding himself present in all sorts of important and impressive surroundings without apparently having done anything tangible to get there. Except go for a run. Is there really any better way to describe Joey Barton? Does anyone remember quite what it was he did that made anyone ever think he was a footballer?
Barton is the very epitome of the modern Premier League player in this respect: he is a mediocre talent paid superstar wages. £70,000 a week is apparently the issue. For some reason, Queens Park Rangers are paying him that and – quite understandably – would rather they weren’t, particularly now they find themselves in the constrained circumstances of the Championship.
Unfortunately for Twitter’s most pro-active account holder, it appears there are not many others keen on taking him on board. Marseille wouldn’t mind, but not at that sort of cost. Everton – his preferred destination, the one he is courting with his seductive, come and get me “once a blue” tweets – are way too astutely run to consider paying that sort of wage to a 30-year-old of diminishing range.
Which is a shame, because the truth is Barton could offer several clubs a pretty good option. Hull, Cardiff, Crystal Palace - all could do with a player of his experience, his commitment, his drive. A player moreover with a significant point to prove.
Once he described himself as a better player than his near contemporary Steven Gerrard. He does not have much time left in his career to give evidence to that insistence. If he wants to go down in history as something more than a man who couldn’t spell Nietzsche, then he needs some sustained performances on his CV.
The trouble is none of those will touch him. Not because of his reputation for sudden and substantial violence (football is the most pragmatic business – issues of character are soon forgotten in the urge to make a new signing, as the courting of Luis Suarez would suggest). But because of those wages. They are simply unsustainable. Unpayable. Unbelievable.
And so Barton, unable to find anyone prepared to take them on, is trapped by his salary. His agent has been obliged this week to go on the radio in the rather desperate attempt to drum up interest. But of interest has there so far been none. Frankly, at the moment the other three members of One Direction are more likely to be signed up by Doncaster Rovers than Barton is to find a new club in the top division.
Not that we should necessarily feel sorry for him, but his vast pay packet has currently rendered him as good as unemployable, a victim of football’s bizarre financial disconnection from any hint of reality. Which is a shame because he adds to the gaiety of nations. He brings something to the mix. It would be good to have him playing somewhere and not just because every pantomime needs its villain.
In the past, players like him finding themselves the wrong side of 30 and no longer coveted by the best would slip down a division or two. Find themselves a nice little club with ambition that they could help push in an upwards trajectory. Grant Holt has just gone to Wigan to do just that. Robbie Savage did it at Derby. Edgar Davids, for heaven’s sake, went to Barnet. And there are not many who would suggest Barton is more elevated a talent than the Dutchman.
But then, none of them were on anything approaching £70,000 a week. What the case of the unsignable Joey Barton demonstrates is that in football the gap between rich and poor extends ever further: these days even the crumbs dropped from the top table are way too pricey to be picked up.