He has put his philosophy degree on hold but Joey Barton is already displaying a keen understanding of the psychology of Scottish football.
The outspoken and relentlessly opinionated midfielder’s recruitment by Rangers has provided fresh intrigue to what was already shaping up as one of the most keenly anticipated and fascinating seasons in Scotland for many years.
The arrival of Brendan Rodgers as Celtic’s new manager is a firm declaration of the reigning champions’ intent to maintain their dominance of the domestic game and extend their current run of five consecutive title wins.
For Rangers, back in the top flight after a four-year absence, securing the services of a player with Barton’s ability and profile underlines their determination to depose their Old Firm rivals.
The 33-year-old has wasted little time in indulging in the kind of mind games which are sure to pepper the 2016-17 campaign, insisting that the burden of expectation lies most heavily on Rodgers and his squad.
“The reality is that the pressure is on Celtic, they have to win the league,” said Barton. “They have had it all their own way for a long period and now they have got to move it up a gear because they have been able to have it all their own way with a bit of ease.
“Aberdeen took them to the wire for a long period this season and credit to them for that. But, for Rangers, we have got to go in and take it game by game. You don’t win a championship by turning up and saying ‘we are going to win the championship’. It is fought and it is ground out over the course of a year.
“I look forward to the challenge, look forward to that gauntlet being thrown down. I have come off the back of an incredibly successful season at Burnley with a great group of people.
“You take everything you have learned there and you try to apply it to this organisation. I am coming into a side that has won the Scottish Championship, that has been to two cup finals, winning one and losing one, so I am not walking into somewhere that doesn’t know how to win football matches.
“I am coming here to be what I am, contribute how I can and, hopefully, that is good enough to improve this organisation.
“I am not worried about Celtic’s five in a row and things like that. The main thing is that there is a season ahead and someone has got to win the league, and we have got to work incredibly hard to make sure that is us. That is the expectation of this football club. Rangers are on 54 league titles, what a sweet way to do it would be to take your 55th league title next season. It is the greatest and most successful league title winning side in world football.
“But you have got another great club just across the road and they have got ambitions of their own. That is what makes football great. You can’t have one without the other and people north of the border have realised that in recent years.
“Even the most staunch Celtic supporter will admit that the rivalry is what brings out your best. Your adversary brings out the best in you so it is an incredible challenge. They have got some great players there, they have got a manager who has come from a big club in England.”
Barton appears genuinely enthused about his move to Scotland, one which may afford him the opportunity to pick up the reins of that philosophy degree once more. “I had to stop it when I left London last year,” he said. “Oddly enough, the professor running the course studied at Stirling University so he’s delighted I’ve gone to Scotland. He didn’t go to any Burnley matches!
“Logistically, it was difficult. I was able to do it in London because of the proximity of the university to QPR’s training ground.
“I’ve had to shelve it. I’ve got credits there and I’ll probably go back to it at some point. But life is so strange. You bounce from one thing to another.If you told me 12 months ago that I’d have achieved what I did at Burnley, but still left and come to Rangers I’d have said you were mad.
“I’ve stopped second guessing life, mainly because I’m terrible at predicting the future as you can see on social media. I said I’d never play in the Championship then played in the Championship with Burnley.
“I’ve had some tough periods in life, as I dare say we all have, but you come through the other side and learn what’s important.
“I just want to full enjoy these moments. At some point, the ability to go out and perform at a high level for a huge football club isn’t going to be there.
“You have to enjoy the pressure, coming to training and trying to get your performance to a high level. Because it goes in the blink of an eye. I still remember my debut like it was yesterday and before you know it you are 300 or 400 games down the line.
“It’s only mad periods of huge games that you remember. Everything else becomes a blur. For me, one of the key things now is to really enjoy football.
“Someone has to win, someone has to lose. It might not always go your way but you have to enjoy it. I’ve had that mindset for a couple of years and I think my football has benefited from it.”
Barton has been given squad number eight at Rangers and it did not escape his notice that one of his predecessors in that shirt was another English midfielder capable of courting controversy, Paul Gascoigne.
“When you play for a club of this magnitude, you look at the great names that have been in shirts before and I am aware that Gazza had No 8, as did many good players before him,” he added.
“You are the custodian of that shirt for whatever time you are at the football club. you want to take it and move it to a higher level for the next man, whoever that is. I want to leave the shirt in a better place than I found it. If I do that, my time at Rangers will be an incredibly successful time for me personally.
“But I just couldn’t sit here and put myself in the same breath as Gascoigne, because he is in a different stratosphere as a player to me.
“If I can have a minute percentage of the impact he had on this football club, I would snap your hand off for that now.
“He was phenomenal at his peak. He is remembered as favourably north of the border as he is south and I don’t think there are many players who have the ability to captivate both nations.”