Rangers' Joey Barton insists dark past is behind him

He may come with baggage but it certainly doesn't weigh him down.

Joey Barton believes he can have the best years of his career at Rangers. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS Group.

When Joey Barton breezed into his first meeting with the Scottish press pack at Murray Park with his four-year-old son, Cassius, already wearing a miniature Rangers strip with his name on the back, he knew what was coming.

To say Barton has a controversial past is as much of an understatement as it is a cliché. The on and off-the-field misdemeanours of one of football’s most complex and compelling characters, which include spending time in jail for assault in 2008, are well documented and inevitably colour people’s view of him.

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In the goldfish bowl of Scottish football, those perceptions will harden in the minds of many as the 33-year-old sets out to help Rangers’ quest for the Premiership title next season.

But while Barton is determined that the biggest impression he makes in Scotland will be on account of his undoubted ability as a footballer, he accepts there is no escape from the darker periods of his past.

“I understand it,” he said. “I’ve got a rap sheet. I can’t get away from it. I can’t say ‘Oh, I’ve reinvented myself’. That’s not me.

“The reality of it is that I behaved inappropriately at times in the past as a player. You mature and get older.

“No matter what you do, people will always want to drag you back to that. I can’t waste energy on that. If I did, I would be sitting arguing with those people until I was blue in the face. I just don’t see the point.

“Some people will never, ever see the roses for the thorns. I’m not comparing myself to a rose, but you know that kind of saying.

“So I just ‘be’, I just do what I do. People who know me, have met me and have worked with me know who I am and what I’m about.

“I can’t please everybody and I don’t try to. I believe in who I am as a person and what I’m about as a footballer. In the last few years, I’ve tried to let my football do the talking.

“For a long period in my career, everything else was a sideshow that deflected from what a good player I was – and still think I am. I think I’m improving, which is great for this football club and great for me.

“When you have confronted the demons at a young age, in the spotlight of the English Premier League as I have, you’ve been to jail and all the things that go with it – if you don’t know yourself coming through that process, you’re in the wrong place.

“I wouldn’t be here now. The fact is I’ve come through it, battle-hardened, scarred – but ultimately stronger mentally and emotionally.

“Let’s be truthful about it, football is the easiest part of your life if you are happy everywhere else. It certainly is for me.

“I have a process in place where I know what I have to do to perform at my ultimate capacity at the highest level. I know it works.

“There will be naysayers, because when you are someone who has a reputation like I have, that goes with the territory.

“I make good copy at times with some of the stupid things I say which people take literally. I’m aware of what it is.

“I’ve been on Question Time, I’ve given political opinions, I’ve been outspoken. Then you come away from that thinking ‘I just want to concentrate on football’.

“I just wanted to show 
everyone I could do it, because all they thought I was before then was a neanderthal who went out into the city centre, got drunk and had fights.

“I did fit that stereotype for a while. Then you come out of it and show the other spectrum of your personality and character.

“Where am I today? Somewhere in the middle. I’ve got a young family and enjoy spending time with them.

“Ultimately, I’m a man dedicated to his profession. What better place to come than Glasgow to showcase what I believe are going to be the best years of my career.”

With many tipsters already outlining likely odds on Barton to be sent off in his first Old Firm fixture, he was keen to stress the improvement in his disciplinary record which was key to his influential role in Burnley’s promotion to the Premier League this season.

“I never got suspended last year, which everyone glosses over,” he said.

“I was in the PFA team of the year, the Football League team of the year, I was Burnley’s Player of the Year, won the league, went 23 games undefeated – but I never got suspended and that was the 
biggest achievement of them all!”

Barton took time to ponder Rangers’ offer after his visit to Ibrox and the club’s training ground last week, but he revealed his mind was made up almost instantly with assistant manager David Weir playing a persuasive role.

“Davie took me around Ibrox, which I’d played in for Newcastle in a pre-season friendly a few years ago, and straight away you are taken by it,” added Barton.

“It’s an institution of 
British football and I was being shown around by 
Davie who is the last name on the wall which details the club’s Hall of Fame. I just thought the opportunity to come here, when I feel my best days are still in front of me 
and I’m still playing great football, was a fantastic opportunity and one that if I didn’t take, I would probably live to regret.

“I’d probably be scratching my belly when I was 50 thinking ‘I should have gone there and had a go at that’.

“I’m a strong believer in things happening in life, good and bad, for a reason. Some of the bad things that have happened to me have ended up being the best things to happen to me.

“This just falls into place on so many levels and I’m so excited to be here.”