While getting nutmegged by Ali Crawford on his Scottish Premiership debut, he’ll likely have been reminiscing about those two Championship trophies won. Or when Scott Brown was giving him a chasing in his last Rangers outing, Barton was maybe distracted about his own European pedigree - 609 minutes of UEFA Cup/Europa League action.
His Scotland sojourn was, at best, irrelevant. But to most it was simply pathetic. It is a word Barton is familiar with having branded Scottish football just that, “pathetic”.
The player, banned from football until the end of May, was scathing of the game in Scotland during an appearance on Alan Brazil’s Sports Breakfast show on talkSPORT. His comments were jumped on by a protective Scottish football fraternity and he was firmly reminded of his time in Scotland.
It is understandable considering the player gave it the ‘big one’ on signing for Rangers, offering little of note, and lasting a mere eight games before being bombed out of Ibrox.
The meat of his argument and the tone in which it was delivered was disrespectful and disparaging. He said he won every game he played, excluding the tonking by Celtic, which was wrong. He painted the league as some sort of backwater, hammer-throwing standard played by orcs on the slopes of Mordor.
Whether the player himself actually believes fully what he said is up for debate. As Kris Boyd mentioned on Sportsound, this is a player who has his own podcast where he is eloquent, thoughtful and humble, averse to reaching for such strong but simplistic views.
There is a sense that he takes on an omniscient and haughty persona on talkSPORT and his comments are no more than attention-seeking stunts as he attempts to keep himself relevant while he waits to get back into football. And what better way to do so than controversial hot-takes.
However, there is a wider issue at play here. One which is more pertinent, more relevant and more important than a veteran midfielder known more for his indiscipline than his footballing ability.
The dynamic and fractured relationship between English and Scottish football.
Our football has increasingly become handicapped by its location. Going back to the 1970s and 1980s England’s best teams often had a Scottish core, and with it Scotland had respect. Even if these players failed when they came together on the international stage.
By the 1990s and early noughties, clubs tried to keep pace, spending outwith their means. As the product of English football entered a different stratosphere in terms of entertainment TV and the finances which come with it, winter arrived north of the border and brought about a bleak situation financially.
As Scottish football looked for its place in world football, searched for its identity, the Premier League, without trying, gained thousands of fans in Scotland who were fed-up or disillusioned with their local game, or simply attracted by the ostentation of Super Sundays and self-promotion.
As Scottish clubs become more proactive in engaging with their fan base, their local community, the next generation of fans, they know they are no longer just competing against Celtic and Rangers. There’s other sports, other activities. But also the Premier League behemoth, as well as the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid.
It is a regrettable situation not helped by Scotland’s proximity to the ‘greatest league in the world’. There are few things more infuriating in football than a fan in Scotland with only an English team. There is the disheartening factor of seeing kids decked out in the latest Manchester United, Chelsea or Barcelona kit as they knock the ball around the playing fields of Scotland.
Barton’s comments are fed back into the discourse around the game in Scotland. We debate the merits of them and question the standard of Scottish football. Herein lies the problem. We care too much what people who care very little think of Scottish football.
Why do we have this urge to want those who work in English football to like our game? It’s like the wee brother constantly searching for respect from the big brother. We should simply be concentrating on ‘us’.
Forget about comparing the standard of the Scottish Premiership with the English Premier League. Pointless and irrelevant. They are two different entities. Scottish football’s identity is in its authenticity. It’s raw, its passionate, there is a deeper connection between player and fan. More than anything it’s entertaining and it’s fun.
You are not tuning into the most sophisticated football. But one thing it can’t be accused of is being sterile. The national team continue to look for their own identity when it is right in front of them. Being played week in, week out. Aggressive, hard-working, intense, direct, back and forth.
No matter who is playing or where it is being played it is largely engaging. A greater feeling can be derived from Scottish football. Other than Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur which teams entice you? If Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United were playing in the back garden this writer would close the curtains and phone the police.
There have been far more “pathetic” games of football in the Premier League than the Scottish Premiership.
It is about time we finally embrace Scottish football for its wonder and call out the attempts to brainwash us with bulls**t about certain teams, certain leagues.
If Barton had stayed around long enough he may have fell in love with the game’s peculiarities, it’s ability to entertain, confound and amuse.