Joey Barton has described his move to Rangers as “manna from heaven” and declared his intention to be Scotland’s Player of the Year next season.
The former Manchester City and England midfielder signed a two-year contract with the Ibrox club after passing a medical yesterday afternoon.
Barton turned down an offer to remain with Burnley after playing a starring role in their Championship title win and promotion to the English Premier League this season.
The 33-year-old will become the highest paid player at Rangers, albeit still earning considerably less than he could have commanded at Burnley or elsewhere.
But Barton insists finance played no part in his decision to join Mark Warburton’s side for their return to the top flight of Scottish football.
“If you have played at the top level, like I have in England for most of my career and been abroad to play in France as I did at Marseille, you don’t want to play in the lower leagues,” he said. “I would have gone to the MLS or China, or somewhere more lucrative. If I wanted to down tools, there are easier places to go than Scotland. I am fully aware that this isn’t going to be an easy ride for me as a player and I don’t expect it to be.
“I expect it to be an enormous challenge on many different facets. There are going to be a lot of challenges that you don’t get south of the border. In that respect, I know I have got to be at the top of my game.
“Nothing from my perspective is about coming up here and coasting. You can’t come to a football club of this size at this juncture of your life and not be aware of what the demand is. Second place is nothing here. Second in the cup final is nothing, second in the league is nothing. Everything is about winning and there is an enormous pressure and responsibility attached to that. But, for a competitive animal like myself, this is manna from heaven for me.
“I’m ready for it. I can’t wait to go away next week and start my pre-season programme, ready to hit the ground running. I feel I was the best midfielder in the Championship last year with Burnley. I think my performances over 46 games proved that.
“There are some good players up here. But I’m not coming up here to be another player. I’m coming up here to be the best player in the country.”
Barton will inevitably come under closer scrutiny than most as a consequence of his controversy-laden past, both on and off the pitch, which included a prison sentence for assault eight years ago. But he has no fears about thriving in his new environment which will include the high profile return of Old Firm games to the Scottish Premiership calendar. “I think I have got all the skills needed to deal with this,” he added. “I’ve lived a quite intense period of my life. I understand it is going to be intense up here but I think I have finally found a level of maturity that is befitting of my standing within the game. My football is reaping the rewards of that.
“For me, it is not just about Rangers and Celtic. There are some other good sides up here and good players.
“They will see me coming to Scotland, and maybe other players who will come north of the border, as an incredible challenge. Because if I was up here and saw players coming into the league, I’d think it was a great challenge that could bring everyone on. Competition is incredibly healthy.
“You have to embrace that. It’s a tough industry, a comply-or-die industry. If you are not ready for the challenge, then you don’t deserve to pull on a jersey.
“I’ve never even been to an Old Firm game, weirdly enough. But you cannot get away from what the big
hotbeds in football are. It’s like if the opportunity came to play for AC Milan or Inter. They are not in the greatest periods of their history right now, but you would think ‘How can I turn that down?’
“Everyone is aware of the
Old Firm and everyone saw
the recent Scottish Cup semi-final.
“The world, in footballing terms, does stop for massive games, the way it does for
El Clasico in Spain. People stop for the Old Firm and it is great for Scottish football that it is back. But that isn’t the prime motivation in me coming here.”