Watching football fans watching the football
Our man in the North East Kris Heneage thinks the Magpies may already have the man to replace the midfielder-come-philosopher
The King is dead, long live the King’- could be the best idiom to sum up the current mood at Newcastle United.
Since January, the core that is credited with the club's revival has slowly been dissected and then sold off. First it was club captain Kevin Nolan, then Spanish fullback Jose Enrique. Most recently midfielder-come-philosopher Joey Barton departed, meaning it’s all change this season at St James'.
Sitting in the stands at the DW Stadium, Barton had a perfect view of his new Queens Park Rangers teammates and the task that lay ahead. His departure from Newcastle was somewhat protracted if not inevitable. Despite stating his commitment to the cause, his indecision at the move gave connotations he had hoped for more, both from Newcastle and rival Premier League clubs.
After all, last season he was a vital cog in the Newcastle side. Having put his off-field problems behind him, his performances in the early part of August last year had many, including Barton suggesting an international call up.
However in November his dark side reared its ugly head. A jab to the stomach of Morten Gamst Pedersen saw a three game ban and castigation from the media come his way. Any hopes of representing his country were definitively dashed, perhaps with good reason. December saw Chris Hughton relieved of his duties, making it a winter of discontent for Barton.
When he appeared to be at his lowest ebb he rose up to show his quality. Liverpool at home in the wake of Alan Pardew’s appointment had all the hallmarks of an away win and further misery for Newcastle. Instead it stirred the passions in Barton and, with the player for once channeling them in the correct way, Newcastle emerged victorious by three goals to one, with Barton gaining a goal an assist and much of the praise.
Come August however, his time with the club was coming to an end. A warning from those in charge regarding his outspokenness on club affairs was disregarded. Financial penalties were enforced but they did little to stop his ranting, instead only appearing to enhance his desire to share. A player keen on orchestrating the media, he told over 400,000 Twitter ‘followers’ that a 4pm announcement was to be made regarding his future, only for Newcastle to trump him minutes prior with the news that he was free to leave the club.
As speculation mounted over who would offer him a contract first, his agent Willie McKay began fueling the flames of conjecture. Claims of contact from the mysterious sounding ‘continent’, as well as a host of clubs from home, left many wondering if Barton may even tread the rare path of Englishman abroad.
However it quickly became apparent that those deals were unlikely to come to fruition. Thus when QPR made a late move for him it appeared to be not so much an option, but the option.
Unable to play against Wigan, Barton’s first display in a hooped shirt would come against his former employers. Irrespective of what happened in the game, all eyes were on Barton, something you’d imagine he secretly loved. Given the captaincy and most likely reciting Rudyard Kipling's 'If' in the tunnel, he took to the field.
Sadly the game ended goalless, QPR had most if not all the real chances of note, but poor finishing from the likes of Jay Bothroyd and Danny Gabbidon meant Barton would begin his QPR career with a solitary point.
With Leon Best’s shirt hanging from his shorts he applauded the fans he had built up such a recent rapport with. While he may now seem the fallen hero or mop haired martyr, it must be remembered that for three of his four years at Newcastle, Barton really offered little more than court troubles and newspaper scandal. The convoluted story regarding his contract negotiations also make it difficult to truly decipher where the blame lies.
Newcastle as a club though have little time to sit and sulk over the loss of their scouse philosopher. His first goal for QPR Saturday was juxtaposed minutes later with Newcastle conceding away at Aston Villa. They would eventually draw level through Leon Best, of more importance to the fans however is the emergence of a potential new conductor in Black and White.
With his designer stubble and paintbush like technique, it’s hard not to develop a man-crush on Yohan Cabaye. His dipping shot crashed against the bar in the build up to Best’s equalizer and was one of a number of chances that tested former Magpies custodian Shay Given.
Of course, there were high hopes for Cabaye long before the departure of Barton. A recent double winner in France he was perceived as the centre piece of Alan Pardew’s central midfielder alongside the imposing Cheike Tiote. His manager has described him as the type of player who can help the Magpies control games, something that seemed evident at Villa Park. While not all of his performances have been as impressive, his first Tyne & Wear derby proved Cabaye has no qualms about providing the tough tackling that made Barton a useful asset.
With so much of the season to go, numerous things could change. While many will cite that Barton’s departure as a loss (irrespective of Cabaye’s emergence), fans of Newcastle should at least be thankful they have a man in Cabaye who looks ready to be a focal point. Lacking the vocal leadership of Barton perhaps, his more refined approach seems a fair makeweight when you consider how much he tested the Villa goal on Saturday, something Barton struggled to do with consistent regularity.
Cabaye even joined the realms of Twitter, albeit briefly. With no postings about Jean Jaques Rosseau or other political thinkers, he lacks Barton’s philosophical edge, not that fans will care if he manages to notch double figures over the course of the next 12 months.
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