HE WAS unable to avoid making a controversial return to the first team at Sunderland last weekend but Joey Barton will still make his first start for Newcastle in more than five months against West Bromwich Albion tonight.
Barton was predictably targeted by opposition fans during the 2-1 derby defeat on Saturday and while the troubled midfielder was more of a victim on that occasion, as he was pelted with coins and bottles as he warmed up, he inflamed the situation when he kissed his Newcastle badge in response.
That latest episode, though, has done nothing to dampen the support Barton has received in the dressing room with Cameroon international Geremi arguing the man he has known at Newcastle is a completely different person to the reputation he heard before they were team-mates.
“Before I knew him I had another idea of what Joey Barton was like,” said Geremi, whose diplomatic skills have already earned him the nickname Nelson Mandela in the United dressing room.
“As soon as I got to know him I found a different person. I can’t be the first person to say maybe he’s changed because I didn’t know him before, but as soon as I got to know him and as soon as he joined Newcastle I saw a different person. Before that I had a
different opinion. Until I actually met him I had a different view of him because I didn’t actually know the man.
“From the first year I have played with him he’s a different man. He’s a very good lad. I think he’s trying to show people that he’s not the type of person that everyone thinks he is.”
With Nicky Butt expected to be sidelined with a knee injury this evening, Joe Kinnear was once again happy to emphasise that, from a purely footballing point of view, Barton was a big asset to the club.
And Kinnear, who is no stranger to controlling colourful characters having had a dressing room full of them at Wimbledon, will not be drawn into discussing anything else regarding a player who knows he has one chance left to prove he can control his behaviour.
He said: “He’s good player, but I ain’t going to get drawn into all that other stuff he’s receiving. I’m not really interested in going down that route.
“He’s got great fitness levels, two good feet, and he’s a good finisher and has to be one of best passers of the ball at the club.
“He adds something different to us. He is very forward-thinking and I like to see that in midfield players. I like them to join in in the last third of the pitch. He likes to play quick football in and around the penalty area.”
Barton was widely condemned by Newcastle fans when he was convicted of two assault charges in the summer, but he was given a warm reception by those who travelled to the Stadium of Light.
Kinnear added: “I hope there is no protests from fans who don’t want him here. Just remember Kevin Keegan took the line he did and was very supportive and gave him 100% backing.
“I’ve been here a few weeks and he’s been a model of consistency. I haven’t seen anything untoward from him other than him being a very professional footballer.
“I said what you are going through, if it is any help, I have been through a hundred times myself with opposition fans because of the stick that went with the club and the Crazy Gang and the stigma that went with Vinnie Jones, John Fashanu and the like.
“We lived with it and decided to create a siege mentality and we were very successful at it. It brought out the best in players. The more stick we got the more we stuck it to them.”
He continued: “My message to the fans would be just get behind him. Think what they will be like if he scores after five minutes considering the position we are in. Supporters want to see players who are totally committed and he is.
“As long as they see that they are prepared to forgive and forget. What I say to Joey is the only way he can win over these people is to show what he can do on the pitch – just get on with it and let them make their own assessment.”