JOEY Barton’s long-term future at Newcastle United remains unclear, but the midfielder was shown some leniency by an FA Disciplinary panel yesterday.
Barton was given a 12-match ban for assaulting his former Manchester City team-mate Ousmane Dabo following a training ground row last May, but six of those games are a suspended sentence until the end of the 2009-10 season.
The 26-year-old was also fined £25,000 but, while the sentence is a stiff one, it is not as harsh as many expected after the Professional Footballers’ Association, the Sporting Chances Clinic and former Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan all appealed for leniency at the hearing.
Keegan had initially insisted he would accompany Barton to London to give evidence on his behalf, but he sent a fax instead as he went into hiding following his decision to quit as United manager on Thursday night.
Whether it is enough to save Barton’s United career in the long term is unknown. It is believed Newcastle’s owner Mike Ashley was keen to sell the midfielder during the transfer window and repeatedly clashed with Keegan, who was adamant he was going to stand by the player despite his offences.
The four-man panel, which included former England manager Graham Taylor, took just under two hours to reach their verdict, which will rule Barton out of action until October 25 at least.
He had previously admitted the charge of violent conduct in August, but requested a personal hearing in an attempt to plead leniency.
He is unlikely to appeal against the decision. The 26-year-old was sentenced to four months in prison following another assault charge as a result of an incident in Liverpool last Christmas.
A statement on the FA’s website read: “Much has been written about Mr Barton over recent months. The Regulatory Commission had the benefit of taking all appropriate information into consideration. The commission members considered principally the serious attack by Mr Barton that clearly cannot be accepted.
“The members also had to take into consideration the sanctions imposed by the courts and the pro-active support Mr Barton has received from Newcastle United FC and other professional bodies.
“The commission members wanted to punish the offence appropriately but give Mr Barton an opportunity to ensure his professional conduct does not falter again and ensure he is fully aware of the consequences should he make another serious error of judgement.”
Barton only served 74 days of his six-month sentence for assaulting two people in Liverpool last December, but he also has a suspended four-month prison sentence hanging over him after he pleaded guilty to the Dabo assault back in July. As part of his punishment for the attack on Dabo, Barton was also ordered to pay £3,000 compensation and carry out 200 hours of community service.
Meanwhile, Barton’s agent Willie McKay has criticised photographers for allegedly harassing his client as he used a bus lane to undertake cars on his way to a meeting with a probation officer this week. The story in yesterday’s Daily Mirror claims Barton drove along four bus lanes and past 14 “No Car” signs as he rushed to avoid heavy traffic.
“Why are they following him? It is a disgrace.
“What would you do if people followed you in a car?” said McKay. “What is the guy meant to do? He doesn’t know who is in the car, does he?”