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- Rob Stewart/Goal.com Looks at the Relegation Rivals: "Drop in standards: Why the likes of Blackburn, QPR & Bolton all deserve to be relegated from the Premier League
Mark Hughes described his side's defeat at West Bromwich Albion as 'an opportunity missed,' after the R's suffered a 1-0 reverse at The Hawthorns.
Graham Dorrans' 22nd-minute scorcher won it for the Baggies, meaning QPR spurned a golden chance to pull further clear of the Barclays Premier League drop-zone.
Speaking exclusively to www.qpr.co.uk, Hughes said: "It's an opportunity missed.
"We didn't really put enough pressure on West Brom in the first half and were a little bit off the pace, to be perfectly honest.
"We allowed them a little bit too much time and space, which enabled them to get their heads up and pick out passes around our box.
"We were a little bit slow to get out to the lad that scored the goal, even though it was a great strike from him.
"Everybody understands the importance of not conceding first when you are the away side, which makes it extremely difficult to get back into the game."
Hughes continued: "West Brom were suddenly happy to soak up pressure and hit us on the break in the second half.
"I thought we were better in the second half. We had more possession in their half and created chances, but we didn't really make the best of them.
"There were a number of opportunities where we needed a little more guile and presence.
"We might then have been able to pick the right pass and convert a chance.
"We probably had better chances in the first half. Bobby (Zamora) was one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
"All-in-all, it's a frustrating day. We were great on Wednesday (against Swansea), but we didn't hit that level today unfortunately." QPR
Dave McIntyre/West London Sport -Frustrated Hughes admits QPR were not good enough against West Brom
Graham Dorrans hit the winner for Albion with a fine strike but was afforded plenty of time and space to try his luck.
It was all a far cry from Wednesday’s great win over Swansea and leaves Rangers relying on their home form to keep them in the top flight.
“In the first half we didn’t put enough pressure on West Brom – possibly as a consequence of our efforts in midweek,” said Hughes.
“We gave them too much time and space and were a little bit slow getting out to the lad when he scored the goal.
“Everyone understands the importance of not conceding when you’re the away side. You need to do the fundamentals and disappoint the crowd.
“But we probably gave them too much encouragement. They probably enjoyed themselves in the first half.
“What we produced wasn’t good enough. West Brom were able to win the game and we didn’t push them well enough.
“In the second half we were better and had more possession, but we didn’t make the most of the situations we created.”
Victories in their two remaining home matches, against Tottenham and Stoke, could well be enough to keep Rangers up.
But Hughes warned: “We can’t just wait and think our home form will be enough. We need to and talked about improving our away form and today was an opportunity to pick up points.
GUARDIAN's RICHARD RAE: West Bromwich's Graham Dorrans leaves Queens Park Rangers on ropes
Having admitted beforehand that Rangers regarded this game as an opportunity, Hughes was understandably disappointed with his players' inability to raise their game to the level they achieved in beating Swansea City in midweek.
"It was a marked contrast to the way we played on Wednesday and that's the frustration," the Welshman said. "We were off the pace, especially in the first half, and although we were better in the second, West Brom were quite happy to sit back and hit us on the break. We can't just wait and hope our home form will be enough. What we produced out there wasn't good enough and we will have to address that."
Rangers' two remaining home games are against Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City, and the latter may be the key fixture in their season. Especially if the Potters, long since safe, are as committed and determined to gain a result as Albion were here, much to Roy Hodgson's pleasure.
"We played some very good football in the first half, lost our way in the second when there looked to be an element of fatigue, but we showed grit and determination to keep them at bay," said the West Brom manager. "This was a game when the players could have been forgiven for not putting that last real lung‑bursting effort to make a block, but they did so and that speaks volumes."
Rangers could, and perhaps should, have taken the lead in the third minute, when Craig Dawson failed to clear and Bobby Zamora shrugged off Gareth McAuley but could not beat Ben Foster as the Albion goalkeeper came out to narrow the angle. Foster's smart reaction must have further impressed Hughes, who is reported to be as keen to sign Foster as Albion themselves when his loan to the Baggies from Birmingham expires.
Otherwise the home team dominated the first half‑hour, in terms of possession at least, and Graham Dorrans made the pressure count with a superb 25-yard drive that gave Paddy Kenny no chance. The Rangers goalkeeper cannot have been impressed with the failure to close Dorrans down, and neither was Hughes.
Rangers should have been level at the break. Zamora did well to get his head to a Joey Barton cross, only to see his effort bounce just the wrong side of the post, and although Foster blocked another Zamora shot soon afterwards the goalkeeper was wrong-footed when Jamie Mackie shot wide later.
Albion nearly doubled their lead 10 minutes after the break, when a fine move begun by Dorrans's sweeping pass culminated in the full‑back Billy Jones shooting against the post from a narrow angle. Rangers pressed forward in search of an equaliser but, as Hughes pointed out, they lacked the guile to break the Baggies down. Guardian
Graham Dorrans' first-half stunner earned West Bromwich Albion a 1-0 victory over QPR at The Hawthorns.
Rangers were backed by a 2,700-strong contingent from West London but were unable to build on Wednesday night's impressive win over Swansea City in W12.
Dorrans struck midway through the first half to hand the Baggies all three points, with his 30-yard blast flashing into the top left-hand corner, despite a touch from Paddy Kenny.
Rangers boss Hughes made one change to his side for the trip to the Midlands, with Shaun Derry returning to the side - that after sitting out of our win over Swansea through suspension - at the expense of Akos Buzsaky.
Kenny was in goal for the R's, in a 4-5-1 formation.
Nedum Onuoha, Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill and Taye Taiwo lined up in defence.
Joey Barton, Derry and Samba Diakite made up a three-man central midfield for QPR, with Mackie and Adel Taarabt occupying the wide positions.
Zamora led the line for the Hoops in attack.
West Brom were dealt a blow prior to kick-off when stopper Jonas Olsson - originally named in the Baggies' starting XI - was injured in the pre-match warm-up. Craig Dawson took his place.
A man down, hosts Albion were almost a goal behind too after just three minutes when Hill's header forward put Zamora in the clear, only for Foster to thwart the former Fulham ace with a smart block.
The Baggies fashioned their first chance on eight minutes. Derry was dispossessed by Marc-Antoine Fortune before freeing Peter Odemwingie in the box, whose snap shot whistled just inches wide of the right-hand post.
It was the home side who were on top in terms of possession inside the opening stanza, even though Odemwingie's wayward effort from distance was all they had to show for a spell of early pressure.
But a Baggies breakthrough would eventually arrive on 22 minutes - and what an effort it proved to be.
Odemwingie fed Dorrans 30 yards from goal before the cultured Scot unleashed a bullet effort, seeing his shot flying into the top left-hand corner- albeit after a touch from Kenny.
Creator of West Brom's opener, Odemwingie almost got himself on the score-sheet 14 minutes before the break, racing clear down the right before drilling a low shot just wide.
Rangers produced their best effort of the first half yet two minutes later.
Taarabt's defence-splitting pass found Mackie on the right, who drove towards the target before his ball into the box ended in Diakite clattering an effort into the side-netting.
If that was close, the R's went even nearer in the 39th minute.
Derry's intervention saw the ball trickle to Barton on the right-hand edge of the box, before his dinked centre was crashed wide of goal by the head of Zamora.
This was much better from Hughes's men, who went close again just a minute later when Taiwo's spectacular long pass put Zamora through on goal.
But Ben Foster was equal to the forward's subsequent effort, pulling a fine save to preserve West Brom's lead.
Mackie, meanwhile, almost levelled on the stroke of half-time, showing tremendous strength to hold off his marker before dragging an effort just inches beyond the post.
Buoyed by their end to the opening period, Rangers made a positive start to the second half.
The visitors were, however, fortunate to be just a goal down when Albion struck the post on 55 minutes.
Odemwingie's back-heel found Billy Jones in the penalty area, whose resultant effort cannoned back off the frame of the goal.
Looking for an equaliser, Hughes introduced Shaun Wright-Phillips in place of Derry on 57 minutes to give QPR more options at the top end of the pitch.
Three minutes later, Barton saw an effort from a Taarabt corner sail past the upright.
And the R's skipper was again involved on 62 minutes, capitalising on a miscued clearance from Taiwo's cross before shooting wide.
Rangers should have levelled in the 75th minute.
Zamora started and finished the move, cushioning a long ball down for Taarabt before the Moroccan's low centre was dragged wide via the back of Mackie.
West Bromwich Albion: Foster, Ridgewell, Brunt, Thomas (Scharner 81), Dorrans (Andrews 71), Mulumbu, McAuley, Odemwingie, Dawson, Jones, Fortune (Long 59).
Subs: Daniels, Shorey, Hurst, Cox.
Goals: Dorrans (22)
Bookings: Mulumbu (51), Ridgewell (61), Dorrans (70)
QPR: Kenny, Diakite, Hill, Derry (Wright-Phillips 57), Taarabt (Helguson 75), Mackie, Barton, Taiwo (Traore 77), Ferdinand, Onuoha, Zamora.
Subs: Cerny, Gabbidon, Buzsaky, Young.
Bookings: Diakite (56)
Referee: Mr J Moss
Attendance: 25,521 QPR
OBSERVER/ALEX KING - Joey Barton reveals website plans after his farewell to Twitter
The player's Twitter feed has attracted 1,381,336 followers since he joined the social media website last August – not to mention the attention of commentators far beyond the world of sport.
In 4,598 tweets, Barton, who plays for Queens Park Rangers, covered subjects from football to politics, philosophy, art and social justice. Then, just as abruptly as he had arrived, he quit the scene, announcing that he was taking "a little Twitter sabbatical before I say something I'll end up regretting".
A final sign-off – "Have a good few weeks people" – suggested that it was au revoir rather than goodbye, but all has been silence since.
However, this newspaper can reveal that, since his break, Barton has not been idle. Interviewed in Observer Magazine, he explains that he has been busy developing a website – provisionally entitled joeybarton.com. Describing the site as "almost a self-publication", Barton plans to blog, host video content and act as a "hub" in which people can engage with one another on a wide range of topics.
One of the biggest challenges he has faced on Twitter, he says, is that he has become a figurehead, with the result that users can "just go on and abuse you, not actually interact. And there's a lot of people out there who want to interact, but because of the sheer numbers of people it's sometimes difficult to see them."
His website, which he insists is "not a commercial enterprise" and will not feature ads, will marshall those visitors and help them to "find a space where they can start something".
Significantly, he's also keen to take control of the space in which he operates. "Obviously in 140 characters it is sometimes difficult to get your point across without being misconstrued," Barton explains, "because you've got to either shorten it, or you've got to put it in slang … it's not always the best way to get your idea across."
In the interview, he reveals how frequently he has felt misrepresented by the press during a career marked by controversies on and off the pitch.
An unashamedly volatile player, Barton gained notoriety in 2004 when he stubbed out a cigar in the eye of Manchester City colleague Jamie Tandy at the club's Christmas party. In 2007, he was involved in a violent confrontation with another City player, Ousmane Dabo, which saw him receive a four-month suspended sentence for actual bodily harm. In 2008, he spent 74 days in prison after being convicted of assault and affray following a fight in Liverpool. It was, he reveals, the low point from which he began to turn his life around.
At 29, Barton may be beginning to think about a life after football. He says that he has no idea whether his website will be successful, but insists that it will come from the heart: "I've no other way of doing things."
TALKING POINTSThe world according to @Joey7Barton
@Nietzsche quotes RT by @Joey7Barton
Belief in form, but disbelief in content – that's what makes an aphorism charming.
The Smiths "Still Ill" just gets better with every listen. Morrissey = God..........
On freedom of speech:
What is the point of living, if you cannot express your opinion. Not having an opinion is not living, it's surviving.
This is directed only at all those perfect people............#FUCKOFF OBSERVER
OBSERVER - Joey Barton: a man of two halves
Joey Barton, known for his violence both on and off the pitch, met suspicion when he began to tweet about everything from the FA to Nietzsche. So what's he really like?
You could write yourself straight into Pseuds' Corner trying to describe Joey Barton. At the very least, you could give yourself a serious ache in the brain. Because although the barest of summaries – say, "Barton is a battling midfielder with a troubled past and a mammoth Twitter following" – doesn't come near to capturing the complexity of either his character or of our reaction to him, probing further leads you into decidedly muddied waters: into a personal and professional history studded with exhaustively documented controversies, from minor spats to serious violence, and a present in which @Joey7Barton's rapidly evolving persona attracts more column inches than his performances on the pitch. It leads you down tributaries in which our obsession with contemporary football seems riddled with class confusion, latent aggression and barely concealed schadenfreude. And it leads you back to a man intent on telling you that whatever you thought you knew about him is probably wrong.
Even his name. "Joey", he tells me when we meet for the first time, is just a "stage-name", something that got scribbled on a team-sheet early on in his career. Friends and family call him Joe, and he also seems fond of Joseph, which goes nicely with the retro-Brilliantine look currently enjoying a minor vogue among Premier League footballers – you can imagine Barton and Scott Parker, for example, kissing their sweethearts goodbye before jumping into their Spitfires and Hurricanes, though the quiffed hairdo might owe just as much to Barton's love of Morrissey.
In any case, Joe/Joseph/Joey is exceptionally pleasant in the flesh: funny, engaged, unstoppably chatty, entirely free from any of the puffed-up nonsense you might assume comes with millionaire-sportsman territory. Physically, he has a sort of wiry poise, often standing on the balls of his feet, but there is also something diffident, almost shyly polite, about him. When two young women, hardly able to speak for coy giggles, approach our table for autographs and a photo, my reflex is to wonder whether some nutty rule about image rights will get in the way; Joey just puts down his fish-finger sandwich, smiles sweetly and asks: "Is it Jemma with a J?" All the subjects that I'd envisaged requiring a certain delicacy to bring up – his stint in jail, his alcoholism, his notorious altercations with team-mates, his rows with successive clubs – rise to the surface with ease, usually brought there by him.
But we begin with Twitter. He first appeared on the social-media site last August and, until his self-imposed "Twitter sabbatical" last month, tapped out 4,598 tweets. He has used his break, which followed a fairly rocky period on the pitch, to work on his new website, which he will launch in the next few weeks. During those eight months on Twitter, Barton amassed a cool 1,366,505 followers (he himself only follows 105 people). The numbers don't tell the whole story, which is that he has constructed (aided, of course, by journalists and commentators quick to spot a good story) a highly distinctive identity.
He's waged wars – most noticeably with the powers-that-be at his former club, Newcastle United, which he left on a free transfer to Queens Park Rangers last summer. In November, he challenged the club's managing director, Derek Llambias, to take a lie detector test to establish who was telling the truth about his departure and issued a further warning to Llambias and, one presumes, club owner Mike Ashley: "If he's worried now, him and his fat mate should be sh*tting it, if I decide to write a book. There'll be no holding back on those 2 muppets." (NB, Llambias and Ashley: Barton is indeed writing his autobiography, with Times columnist Matthew Syed.) Also in his sights are the game's governing body ("Just received my weekly warning letter from the FA headquarters"); and the likes of Alan Sugar, former QPR manager Neil Warnock and the entire cast of TOWIE. The hashtag #helmets often follows tetchy and occasionally vindictive swipes at his detractors.
He's also involved himself with campaigns he feels strongly about, including a concerted call for signatories for the e-petition to force the government to release documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster, and he nearly fell foul of the attorney general when he tweeted extensively about the John Terry race row. And he's become known for a variation of what we might call Cantona's Seagulls: that moment when a sportsman – and particularly a footballer – dares to say something more elaborate than: "I thought the lads showed a lot of heart out there today." Setting the tone early on – "Sitting eating sushi in the city, incredibly chilled out reading Nietzsche #stereotypicalfootballer" – the 29-year-old Barton demonstrated an interest in philosophy, politics, literature and art so at odds with our previous conceptions of him that it was even suggested someone else was tweeting on his behalf.
Footballer Joey Barton on life, philosophy and art. Link to this video
In fact, he nearly gave the whole thing a miss. After months of just watching, he tells me, he thought: "No, not for me, I think I'm just too honest. It'd be like giving an arsonist a box of matches, me being on there. This could be really dangerous for me." What changed his mind, he explains, was wanting to be seen as someone other than "a monosyllabic Neanderthal who fights in city centres, drunk".
"For a long, long time I'd been portrayed as a certain type of person by the media and, of course, with certain elements of my character, they totally give them the ammunition. But I also felt that they were coercing me into being something that I wasn't, and maybe if I did 15 good things, they'd wait for the negative to say, 'Oh hang on, look he actually does fit the stereotype, he is the token bad boy of English football…' And I just got pissed off with it, really. I started thinking about how you'd be remembered and what I wanted to stand for, or what people would actually say when I wasn't in the room."
One thing you could say about Joey, in or out of the room, is that he's a pretty combative guy. One of his favourite words is "smite", as in someone (often a sportswriter) "having a smite" at him. Twitter, he argues, allows him to "smite" back. He remembers telling one journalist to, "Say what you want, your industry's dying and history's written by the victors", and "Your shitty newspaper columns, no one will remember them". "And they hated it," he tells me. "They would do," I reply.
The "elements" of his character that have provided the "ammunition" go beyond the traditional boozed-up footballer snapped out on the razzle with a glamour model the night before a big game. Over the past decade or so, as Barton progressed from Manchester City to Newcastle United to QPR, with a single England cap in 2007, a series of violent confrontations has blighted his career, earning him a reputation as a player with an uncontrollable temper (as he puts it, "the anti-Christ"). In 2004, he stubbed a cigar out in the eye of City colleague Jamie Tandy at the club's Christmas party; the following year, he was found guilty of gross misconduct after a disturbance in Bangkok with a teenage Everton fan. Then there was a training-ground altercation in 2007 with team-mate Ousmane Dabo, for which Barton received a four-month suspended sentence for actual bodily harm. And most seriously of all, he was found guilty of assault and affray following a fight outside a branch of McDonald's in Liverpool, a conviction that led to him spending 74 days in prison in 2008.
What was shocking about each of these events was not that a testosterone-fuelled, highly athletic young man with a short fuse got into a fight, but the severity of his reaction and the fact that he seemed to learn little from each incident. Talking to him about it now is a strange experience. On the one hand, he's keen to set some kind of record straight, explaining in detail the context that he feels went unreported, particularly the extent to which he was reacting to provocation. But just at the moment you feel he's missing the point – the newspapers, after all, didn't put him in prison – he begins to talk about what happened with an almost unnerving openness and gravity.
He describes growing up in Huyton, Merseyside, an environment in which aggression was the norm. "Where I'm from," he says, "if you said something to someone in the pub, they'd smash a glass over your head, or stab you or shoot you or you'd get beaten up." (This is not just swagger: Barton's brother Michael, after all, is currently serving a minimum of 17 years in prison for his part in the racially motivated murder of Anthony Walker in 2005. Barton, who had not lived with his brother since he was 14, when their parents split up, refused his brother money in the aftermath of the crime and publicly urged Michael to give himself up to the police.)
At 17, Barton was earning £300 a week – roughly the same as his dad. But football doesn't work like most of the rest of the world, with small fillips of achievement and good fortune and incremental rises in income. Before long, his pay was six grand a week, more than everyone in his family combined: "I'd go to nightclubs and queue up with my mates when I was on £300 a week, then all of a sudden everyone was giving me everything, I could walk to the front of nightclub queues, everyone knew who I was." Barton rarely draws breath during conversation, but he pauses as he considers what that felt like. "Hard to remain sane. Hard to remain balanced."
He began drinking, despite the fact that he didn't really like it. "I was a 22-year-old lad, I had 40,000 fans going to the game, and if I didn't play well, I was under this enormous pressure. And the only way I could deal with it, the only form of escapism, the only way I could get in touch with my inner self, who I remembered from before I was famous…
"Everyone was looking at me and judging me I felt. I'd walk into a room and everyone would know who I was and I'd never know who they were, and this paranoia set in. And the only way I could escape that was by getting pissed. I hated drinking. Even to this day, I don't like the taste of drink, I never have done, but I loved feeling drunk… the pressure would go, and then the likelihood was I'd wake up next morning and I'd done something stupid, told someone to F*** off, done something really ridiculous, in a drunken state, and made the pressures worse, because then I had to answer for whatever thing I'd said something out of turn to someone… and the vicious circle just started from there."
The cycle was add-ressed when he went to jail, a traumatic experience that he describes as "the making of me", aided by spells on anger-management courses and in counselling and at AA meetings. A lot of what he says is clearly inflected with the language of personal development and redemption. He talks repeatedly about his addictive personality, about the importance of learning balance, about how "the complete F***-ups" in his life have enabled him to become who he is now. What's important these days, he says, is being happy with himself and being a good father; his son, Cassius, was born in December last year and, he says, he'd rather put his kids through school than buy a 50-grand watch. I suggest that he could probably do both. "Yeah, but what's the point? It only tells the time. You only need one watch. You only need one car. When does that stop, once you get into that?" He's never really been one of the bling footballers, has he? "No. I'm not a twat. To put it bluntly."
Barton's life off the pitch has been very much quieter over the past few years, but on the field of play and in the dressing-room, he still cuts a controversial figure. Before we meet, I have to have a stern talk with myself about not mentioning the game last August in which all Arsenal fans will contend that Barton got new signing Gervinho sent off on his debut; he's had similarly abrasive encounters since with fellow midfielders, Karl Henry from Wolves and Norwich's Bradley Johnson, the latter earning him a three-match ban. My questions about this kind of stuff are possibly the only time he tenses up: "I'm in a contact sport," he says tersely.
It's a response that will chime with football fans who fear the game turning into an over-regulated series of exhibition matches – what more do you want from your midfielders, after all, than a bit of blood and guts? But in Barton's case, one wonders how much his intemperateness has been detrimental to his football and to his progression in the game. In 2007, he spent 12 minutes on the pitch as a substitute as England played Spain under Steve McClaren. Subsequently, Fabio Capello indicated that he felt Barton was a "dangerous" player who couldn't be relied on not to get sent off. The call-up never came.
His clashes with those in authority show no sign of abating, although thus far he has been entirely circumspect about QPR's new manager Mark Hughes, a steely character who one imagines takes a dim view of players stepping out of line to air their opinions. Hughes's predecessor, Neil Warnock, wasn't so lucky: when he was sacked in January, Barton – his captain – at first appeared to offer his Twitter condolences ("Gutted to hear about the manager losing his job") only to liken him, a couple of weeks later, to hapless fictional England manager Mike Bassett.
His attitudes to his elders and betters (I can hear him snort at that "betters") at times seems fuelled by crude bravado. And it sits oddly alongside the rather more thoughtful way that he approaches other aspects of his life. He's almost as likely to be tweeting about galleries he's visited ("fell in love with John Singer Sargent"), the joys of changing nappies and his latest viewing and reading material (recent hits: Chomsky and Naomi Wolf). He talks about how Twitter has "really engaged my social conscience… no one's speaking about people, so I'm going to have to do it. I'm going to have to comment, because if I don't do it, no one else is going to do it." Not exactly true, but what I think he means is that he's able to connect with a whole phalanx of people who mightn't otherwise be thinking about NHS reform or the economy or what's on Question Time.
It would be easy to be cynical about his motives. Twitter, he tells me, made him look at himself from "a sort of brand perspective", and many have jumped on his attempts to reinvent himself, 140 characters at a time ("misguided arrogance," said the Daily Mail recently, "often just Vinnie Jones with Wi-Fi"). Even so, there's a subtext to much of the commentary that, if I were him, might make me quite angry. Because essentially, when he's now referred to as art-lover Joey Barton, or Nietzsche-quoting Joey Barton, or social-media philosopher Joey Barton, there's a sense that he's a) putting it on, b) taking the piss or c) getting a bit above himself. Which is really just another way of saying the bourgeoisie isn't quite sure what to do if someone working class goes to an art gallery.
And which is why, when he and I meet for a second time, we decide to go to the National Portrait Gallery and have a look at the Lucian Freud exhibition. "Intriguing character this fellow," he tweets, ahead of our outing – which, incidentally, we get to on the tube and follow with lunch that costs a grand total of £17.80. I mention it because I imagine most journalists dispatched for a day out on the town with a Premier League footballer would quake at the thought of their impending expenses claim.
If he's putting on his enthusiasm for art, he's making a pretty good go of it. On the way in, he tells me quite a lot about Freud I didn't know ("I'd have thought you'd have done your research, Alex") and once there, he's clearly immensely engaged, standing very close to pictures for a very long time. He's already told me that one of the things he thinks he can achieve on Twitter is to counteract the limitations placed on "kids from working-class backgrounds who've been told not to like art"; walking around a gallery with him for hours, I think he's probably got a better chance of doing that than Sky Arts or BBC4.
Mind you, you can never tell with Joey Barton. Shortly after our outing, I go abroad and have to do without internet access and Sky Sports News while I'm travelling. When I come back, I check in on @Joey7Barton to see what he's been up to. I'm vaguely aware that he's not been having the best time on the pitch; but then again, who does, when their team's hovering around the relegation zone as the season goes into its nervy run-in? But he's not there. On 24 March, a series of tweets voicing his feelings at being dropped from QPR's team – "Very, very disappointed", "Not selected" – culminates in the announcement of "a little Twitter sabbatical before I say something I'll end up regretting".
The following week, when Barton is back captaining the team and QPR beat Arsenal at Loftus Road, I think he might re-emerge, but no dice. Strangely enough, I miss him. Shortly afterwards, we meet up for a final time and he tells me about his new internet project. Twitter, he confides, has had its positive and negative aspects, but what he wants now is a space that he controls, "almost a self-publication". His plans sound ambitious – writing his own material, video content and, most importantly, the opportunity to bring people together: "For me, it's about being a hub, or being involved in helping people to kickstart conversations that maybe will help make a change for the better". He'll be back on Twitter, but more, one suspects, to draw attention to the website. "Sometimes," he reflects, "you can stay in a space too long."
In fact, Barton resists attempts to keep him in confined spaces – or boxes – for very long at all. So much about him – the repeated narrative of misdemeanour and rehabilitation, the outsider status he seems to crave and shun at the same time, the two-fingered salute to authority – makes you want to extrapolate, to reach some general conclusion about these multi-millionaire loose cannons that we've created, with their brilliance and their rages and their vendettas and their persecution complexes. And about the love that we bestow on them when they do what we want and the furious revenge we want to exact when they disappoint us. But I don't think you can. Barton is at once more intelligent and more unpredictable than many of his peers – and his demons have, over the years, pursued him more vigorously. And, the obvious: footballers are not as homogenous as we would like them to be. It comes down to this: Joey Barton is not Frank Lampard. Or Luis Suarez. Or Ryan Giggs. Or even Mario Balotelli. He's Joey Barton and, as he tells me with an earnestness that borders on the endearing, "I'm quite happy to say I'm F***ed up. I'm peculiar and a weirdo. That's me." OBSERVER