DAVID PREECE: Joey Barton shows how far Rangers have fallen '“ he needs to bring more than self-indulgent controversy
Everyone relax, Joey Barton's here to save Scottish football.
That’s a relief isn’t it? Just imagine the barren wasteland scene of a nuclear winter we could witness next season if he hadn’t shown up as Robin to Brendan Rodgers’ Batman to breathe life back into the the SPL.
How lucky the Scottish fans are that Joey turned down the chance to compete in what’s shaping up to be one of the most intriguing Premier League seasons in its history and took the opportunity to fly in on his red, white and blue cape.
I’m being facetious now of course, but it has been a big week for Scottish football and if they thought they were starved of attention since Rangers were demoted in 2012, then they can rest easy that the famine is over. Let the feasting begin.
There is an element of truth in Barton being exactly what Scottish football needs right now. It needs focus, it needs to be dragged back into the headlines down south, and most of all it needs recognisable figureheads to promote it too.
Not that I’m saying Scottish football has been dying. There’s a case to be said it has actually flourished with the spread of silverware around sides outside Glasgow becoming more varied, creating greater interest in clubs such as Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Their profiles have risen along with their successes, establishing themselves as top flight clubs.
There’s no question, the Old Firm are shadows of their former selves and that has been a major factor in the increased competitiveness. Celtic have regressed due to the lack of serious financial competition and the rebuilding process undergone by Rangers on and off the field has left them far weaker than any of their sides I ever encountered but the other clubs, notably Aberdeen, Hearts and St Johnstone have strengthened their positions in these past four years and we could be set for a bumper year up north next season, not only in the top flight but in the First Division too with Dundee United, Hibs, St Mirren and Falkirk all pushing for promotion,
In these past four years, clubs have shown that football could and will survive beyond Glasgow if the chance ever arrives for them to be accepted into English leagues but there’s no getting away from the fact that the SPL is a richer place for having the Old Firm teams together in the same league and Barton will be part of that richness next season. The only worry about that is it may be for the wrong reasons.
Let me ask you a couple of questions I already know the answer to. Are you you more likely to watch an Old Firm game now that Joey is playing? And if so, why? It’s because you want to see him implode. You want to see him ignite the tinderbox and watch it erupt in the middle of the pitch. If you’ve missed the needle and aggravation, then you won’t be disappointed. It’s only what you’d expect.
Yet the greatest truth that we find in Barton’s arrival, in him reviving interest in game from outside their own land, is in his notion he’s coming to Scotland to be the best player in the league. It’s this which reveals more than anything else, not the condition of Scottish football as a whole, but the state the Old Firm clubs currently find themselves in.
Joey is a good footballer, certainly better than he is ever given credit for, but one whose words and actions without the ball overshadow what happens when he has it at his feet. Sadly, unlike previous generations, the standard of player in the Old Firm now is incomparable to what’s gone before, especially at Rangers.
It would be fair to compare Goram with Klos, Laudrup with De Boer, or Gascoigne with Baxter too, but with a certain flute-playing exception, these are players who lit up Celtic Park and Ibrox with their flair and their brilliance. These are players who brought, for want of a better word when talking about Rangers, a certain majesty to a game of football and that’s what Scottish football needs more that just attention for the sake of its worth.
What I hope for, more than anything, is that Joey brings Rangers more than just a brand of self-indulgent controversy, the kind he showed in getting himself sent off in the game when Aguero won the title for Mancini’s Manchester City.
Scottish football deserves more than to become a stage for pantomime villains.
After being asked about his Celtic connections, he said we won’t question where his allegiances lie when he plays against them. Well if that’s the case, he’ll keep himself on the pitch and let the football be the headlines that night.
Something tells me that won’t happen.