It is not often that you read an article by a football player that makes you sit up and say now this is something that is new, maybe I need to change my long settled opinion. But this morning, having read Joey Barton in the Times, I must confess I did a double take.
Like most of the world I have until this moment taken the view that Joey Barton is one of those bad boys of football almost beyond redemption. I did meet him once at the paddock in Ascot where he came over as very knowledgeable about racing but beyond that my knowledge about him is what I have learnt from the media.
His Times article suggests that we need to look again at Barton and ask if we have got this player, now with QPR, wrong? And if so what does this say about the media coverage of sport and football in particular?
Barton makes the point that the way he has been perceived in the press is very different to the real Joey Barton. He is a much more complicated person than the football villain the media has painted him as. For a start he seems a well-read footballer. His article begins with talk about an Oliver Cromwell film, discussing the problems of communications back in the 17th century when the medium used was horses not twitter. He then moves onto Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. Not what I would have thought normal football player territory.
He then goes on to analyse why he is an enigma to the media. “I was a guy,” he writes, “who gave interviews that were totally contrary to expectation. I was able to string a sentence together and debate issues that went beyond Nuts magazine-and yes, also capable of mindless acts of violence. They projected someone who was not the real me: it was the me that the press wanted to project. It seemed easier to interview me with the story prewritten. The only quotes that made it into the print were those chosen to stir controversy.”
It was this, says Barton, that made him tweet so he could, as he puts it, control his own destiny. And with over a million followers he has moved into the class of world celebrities, although still some way behind the great Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan. But Barton’s reach is still greater than many newspapers.
However, while I have some sympathy with his view that many in the media may have approached him with a pre-determined mind set, can he really say that in a media where you are restricted to 140 characters you can realistically present a complicated argument let alone portray the sort of complex person Barton says he is? 140 characters to make a rounded case, come off it Joey. Look at what happened to Diane Abbott when she spoke on racism and made a fool of herself.
Twitter is as much for instant reaction as Barton accuses the media of being. Yes, now he can make his own instant reaction and be in charge of the words but that does not mean that the complicated world he seeks to convey can be done through Twitter. I would love to be proved wrong but I doubt it.
To change the way we cover football we need a sea of change in cultural attitudes which I do not see happening, not at least any time soon.
Follow Mihir on Twitter @mihirbose
Mihir Bose’s The Spirit of the Game How Sport Made the modern World is published by Constable and Robinson, £18.99