It’s at points like this in a summer when the predictions begin; when the ‘experts’ start to ‘Umm…’ and ‘Ahh…’ over the likely winners and losers amidst the forthcoming Premier League season.
I’m not about to follow that path, if only for the fact that it increasingly strikes me that from positions 20 up to about 9 you can potentially perm any three from 11 and make a half-decent case for either their survival or their return to The Championship.
And I am also very wary of covering old ground in the sense that, for me, success and failure in The Premiership these days can be as much determined by instability off the pitch as vague stability on it.
Which is why you strongly suspect that QPR fans deserve so much better than what their board are currently delivering and why, if we had to pick one ‘basket case’ for the season, that might have to be Newcastle whose preparations for the new season hit further choppy waters overnight with the decision to slap Joey Barton on a free transfer.
To get him out of the Toon on the first available Bentley.
As has been mentioned, I’ve been ‘hoildaying’ on the back of the Tyne a lot of late. I’m back again next Wednesday with a further chance to test the mood of the Geordie Faithful.
And I suspect it’ll have nose-dived again – which could yet all prove to Norwich’s advantage. Because you always need one basket case to take up one of those three, ‘drop spots’. One club to implode just when you need them to.
Portsmouth and West Ham United are the two most recent examples where their disappearance owes as much to the actions of their owners as anything that happened on the pitch. And the more you read about Mike Ashley, the more you begin to sense that he could be doing one or two clubs a big favour by stirring ever more poison and distrust into St James’ Park.
I’m no huge fan of Joey Barton. But there are a lot of punters on Tyneside who are; they had him as their ‘Player of the Season’. They failed to win a single game when he wasn’t in the heart of that midfield.
As a gleeful Sunderland supporter pointed out, take Barton, skipper Kevin Nolan and striker Andy Carroll out of the Class of 2010-2011 and replace with Demba Ba, Sylvain Marveaux, Yohan Cabaye and Mehdi Abeid and see how far you get one Friday night at The Stadium of Light…
To say that Barton has ‘an edge’ to his game is, clearly, something of an understatement. But players can grow up. People can change. And, I suspect, someone will take a punt on him. Be it back home on Merseyside or in North London.
Football, as an industry, can have a very short memory when it suits.
There is another point or two to ‘The Barton Saga’ that is equally relevant to the Norwich Story as it prepares to unfold over the course of the next nine months.
One is the on-going power of social media to connect individual footballers to their paying public – done well, it is a powerful weapon of war if it then leaves a club’s owner and his board looking wholly at odds with the rest of the world.
Barton’s parting shots might have been delivered in less than 140 characters, but it was no less forceful for that – it would have The Gallowgate out of their seats.
“Somewhere in those high echelons of NUFC, they have decided, I am persona non grata. 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………..toonarmy”
That went out to 187,000 ‘followers’ of @joey7barton. Given that his agent is Willie Mackay – one, probably, not wholly-versed in Twitter lore – it would be fascinating to know who is, actually, running Barton’s Twitter account.
If it is the player himself, then this morning’s ‘tweet’ might demand a re-appraisal of the man’s place in the football world.
‘In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act. George Orwell…’
As ‘tweeted’ by Joey Barton.
The point? He is stirring deep forces within that Toon Army over which both Ashley and Alan Pardew have little control; he is by-passing the usual rules of engagement between star players and the supporters – and saying exactly what he thinks. About the exit of Carroll; the loss of his best pal Nolan to West Ham; of the perceived lack of ambition at board level.
I predict a riot, shall we say.
Come back to Norwich and one of the greatest strengths to the Class of 2011-12 is that there is no Joey Barton in their midst. It is a team without such a star.
Look around and who under Lambert’s charge would enjoy the kind of ‘pulling power’ to drop such a Twitter ‘bomb’ under his best-laid plans?
If a Wes Hoolahan or a Grant Holt went off on one – and there is absolutely no sign of either straying ‘off message’ – what would the reaction be? No worries, we’ve got a Morison? I always thought Surman might be able to play that role…
Roll the clock back to the summer that Chris Sutton left and the way that then impacted on the whole regime of Robert Chase; Sutty’s exit wasn’t the sole reason that the Canaries would continue to head south the following season, but it reinforced and accelerated the complete breakdown in trust between board and fans – with inevitable consequences.
Barton vs Ashley is of a similar ilk; only Chris kept his gob shut that summer and didn’t ‘tweet’ his mouth off en route to Blackburn.
But on current form and fortune, you wonder whether there’s one relegation place all-but sorted already.