Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell has denied Joey Barton’s claims that the Parkhead club tried to hijack his move to Rangers.
Lawwell’s rebuttal came just hours after it emerged the controversial midfielder was facing a ban after allegedly breaking Scottish football’s strict betting rules.
The 34-year-old has already been handed a three-week ban by Rangers following last week’s training ground bust-up but the twists to what has become a compelling story show no sign of relenting.
The latest extraordinary turn saw Lawwell release a statement shooting down Barton’s claim that he could have ended up on the other side of the Old Firm divide.
An extract from Barton’s upcoming autobiography, ‘No Nonsense’ - parts of which have been published in the Daily Mail - said that days before the player signed for Rangers he “took a call from an agent, who had been contacted by Peter Lawwell”, adding: “The message he conveyed was straight and to the point, ‘Is there anything we can do together? Can we have a conversation?’”.
But in a statement released to the Press Association, Lawwell said Barton had been duped.
Lawwell said: “I think Joey’s been had by a bit of a matchmaker here.
“I remember it well, we had just announced Brendan [Rodgers] as our new manager and I was with our company secretary in London at the time.
“An agent called me saying that Joey was going to sign for Rangers but he would really prefer to come to Celtic and were we interested in signing him, but it wasn’t something we wanted to pursue.
“These things happen to players sometimes in football, but needless to say we wish Joey well at his new club.”
Celtic’s response will only dent Barton’s pride - but more damaging to the player is the rap sheet of alleged offences that is quickly building up against him.
His Ibrox is in doubt over after last week’s angry spat with Rangers boss Mark Warburton and team-mate Andy Halliday following their humiliating 5-1 Old Firm defeat, followed by an unauthorised radio interview on TalkSPORT, saw him essentially barred from both Ibrox and the club’s Auchenhowie training base until 10 October.
Now the Scottish Football Association is set to probe his alleged bet on Celtic to lose to Barcelona.
Hampden chiefs and the Gambling Commission are looking into claims that the former England international gambled on Celtic to suffer a heavy defeat to Barcelona last Tuesday night. Brendan Rodgers’ side lost 7-0 in their Champions League Group C opener in the Nou Camp.
The SFA has a zero-tolerance policy in relation to betting on football games and if found guilty Barton could face a ban.
Barton is unlikely to face a major punishment if the alleged gambling was restricted to one incident.
But a potential SFA charge will leave Barton even more vulnerable after his club suspension cast major doubt on whether he would play for Rangers again.
He has managed just eight appearances for the Ibrox club since signing a two-year deal in the summer, worth a reported £20,000-plus a week.
Despite insisting he would prove himself to be the best player in the Ladbrokes Premiership, though, the former Manchester City, Newcastle and QPR midfielder’s performances have been a major let down for the Ibrox support.
His fall-out with Warburton and Halliday came as the Gers squad were encouraged to share their thoughts on their derby disaster at Celtic Park last week but Barton took things too far during a heated exchange, later admitting some of the words he had used had “overstepped the mark”.
He was due to meet Warburton on Monday to smooth out their differences but it appears his decision last Friday to give a live interview to TalkSPORT presenter Jim White, in which he described Warburton’s initial week-long ban as “strange”, has been the final straw for the Rangers hierarchy.
And Barton himself admits that with hindsight, he would not have made Glasgow his destination when deciding to leave Burnley at the end of last season.
In newspaper interviews given to England-based journalists to promote his book last week - before news of the controversy broke - but published in Tuesday’s editions, he said: “Reflecting on it, would I have made the same decision? Probably not.
“But I know that in time it will turn out to be the right decision. As tough as it is, adversity brings out the best in you.”