Barton’s Back – Why Bristol Rovers Have Made a Great Decision

Joey Barton is a controversial figure, that almost goes without saying.

Starting way back when he stubbed a cigar out in a teammates eye, he has been dogged by controversy and infamy wherever he goes. The truth is as a player, he could probably have appeared regularly for England, especially after winning a cap against Spain. He was his own worst enemy there though, making comments about the 2006 World Cup squad. As the years passed by, Joey Barton became less known for his ability, and more known for his antics.

When he was given the job of turning around a struggling Fleetwood side, it seemed to be a recipe for disaster and to a certain degree, it was. The fact he left the club after a bust-up with the chairman does not reflect well on his ability to be handled by senior figures, but anyone who feels they can control him is having a laugh anyway. The incident with Daniel Stendel, which saw him prevented from leaving Oakwell by police, is another red flag for any prospective employer. Surely, that should have been enough for the Gas to steer clear?

Maybe not. What you cannot ignore about Barton is his ability to get a team performing. At the time he was appointed at the Highbury Stadium, the Cod Army were eight points clear of the bottom four, but had been battling to avoid the drop all season. One year into the job, he had his side finishing 11th, just two wins outside the play-off spots. Two years in, Barton had put them into the top six, and they were beaten by the eventual play-off winners, Wycombe.

That is a steady progression, something that would not be possible under a complete basket-case of a manager. All too often we have seen big-name players flop as managers, but I don’t see that in Barton. Also, employing from the merry-go-round has seen clubs pulling the trigger very, very quickly on managers too. Look at Tisdale for instance – he might not have been given time in the post, but his record at MK Dons didn’t leave him as an inspiring choice. Whilst he is a decent manager, League One is not a level he has ever proven himself at. Barton has, and he isn’t one of the ‘same old’ names that keep cropping up.

Barton might be an angry man, but he is a disciplinarian too and he will ensure the Rovers squad is organised, strong and committed. There will be no dissent, nor any dressing room cliques that disrupt the progress. Unlike his time at Fleetwood, he won’t be rolling in money to spend, but often managers like him who have to work on a budget do so more effectively than when given cash to spend. Look at Steve Evans at Gillingham – he struggled when he had money at Peterborough, but few can deny he has done a good job of keeping Gillingham clear of the bottom six or seven on far less. Personally, I see a lot of a young Evans in Barton – the pantomime villain everybody loves to hate, but who uses that persona to mask the strong work he does behind the scenes.

The star players of old who dropped down to manage in the lower leagues, the likes of Steve Nicol, Jan Molby and Chris Sutton, all relied on who they were to get them by. Today’s player-turned-manager is different because they spent a career under good, progressive coaches and understand that success isn’t about who you buy-in, but how you work with those you have. Look at Russell Martin at MK Dons, or Michael Appleton at Lincoln – both of those sides were in League Two a couple of years ago, both have transitioned to new managers who played at a good level and both are kicking on because of solid coaching. I think Barton can be added to that list, another who might represent one thing to the outside watching world, but whose methods, application and knowledge are actually much more efficient than he is given credit for.

This week, Bristol City were linked with Martin and Appleton and their fans turned up their noses. That demonstrates that a name conjures up an image that doesn’t match reality because either of those two would be a great fit for a Championship side. If he can tame his wild side, I firmly believe Joey Barton is another who could take a side traditionally seen as a third or fourth-tier team to the cusp of the Championship.

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