JOEY Barton took a step closer to returning to Newcastle United’s first team last night insisting he is a better player than when he signed for the club three years ago.
The midfielder missed a penalty on his return for the reserves at Hartlepool but it was a solid 75-minute run-out for the man United paid £5.8million for in 2007.
Barton has declared himself available for Saturday’s trip to Bristol City if selected – the first step on a comeback that he hopes will re-establish him as one of the country’s premier midfielders.
A focused Barton is conscious that he must prove his claims on the pitch but he has lost none of his belief during a six-month spell on the sidelines with a broken foot.
And the former England international says his motivation for returning is to repay supporters who have surprised him by sticking with him during a largely turbulent three-year spell.
“Since I’ve been at Newcastle I’ve had three broken feet and a torn medial ligament in two and a bit years – plus a well-documented spell in the clink and numerous other problems,” he said. “But I’m someone who will bounce back. If there’s another penalty I’ll put myself forward for it. That is what gets me going.
“Hopefully I can just get a sustained run. I’m confident in my own ability – it’s not going to be easy for me but I believe in myself greatly. At one stage I was in the top echelon of midfielders in this country.
“There’s certainly none of my ability lost – I actually feel I’m a better player now. But I’ve got to stay fit to prove it. It’s all well and good talking about it but I’ve got to prove it and that starts, hopefully if I’m selected, on Saturday.”
Speaking after the 2-0 reserve defeat at Victoria Park, Barton was enthusiastic about his third return in Newcastle colours. Saying he has learned from the mistakes made during a tough three years, he knows it will tough to muscle his way into a midfield engine patrolled with efficiency by Kevin Nolan, Alan Smith and Danny Guthrie this season.
“Of course it’s going to be tough getting into the team,” he said.
“But as you know, I’m a big believer in my own ability – when fit. What I want to do is get fit, get a sustained run in the team and show the Newcastle fans why the club have invested a lot of money in
me. I know it’s said at times about how much they paid for me and it’s rumoured about how much I am paid a week. But I just want to play football – I love football.
“The Newcastle fans I have met in the street have been fantastic with me and I just want to be a part of a team that can bring some smiles back to the Geordie nation.
“I came here because I believed it was possible. We’ve had a lot of downs and we’re getting some ups now under the current regime and I just want to be part of it.
“If it means I play five minutes between now and the end of the season – if that’s what the manager wants, that’s what I’ll do. I just want to help this football club get back to where I want to be.”
Hughton certainly believes Barton can be an asset to the club, and insisted yesterday that he has a part to play in United’s long-term future.
“Do I see him playing for us next season? Yes,” he said. “Joey is a player who is contracted to this club, I think he’s got another couple of years left.
“I’ve no doubt that if Joey had been fit this season, he would certainly have played a bigger part than what he has done. I see nothing different to that in the future.”