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Joey Barton is the unlikeliest of father figures… the Rangers midfielder is now a mentor at the top of the game

Joey Barton’s brazen back catalogue of badness and madness should be required reading for a young footballer hoping to maximise his talent. There are cautionary tales on how not to behave. On the pitch, the training ground and away from the game.

Barton earned only one England cap, playing a paltry 18 minutes for his country against Spain for Steve McClaren. He admits he’ll regret that sorry effort from someone so skilled when his playing career ends. The reasons for him to be lamenting this failure when the boots are hung up are manifold.

The crop of young stars at Rangers can now explore this story first-hand. They can listen to their new team-mate any time from the first day of pre-season on June 18 for the next two years. They probably won’t have a choice in the matter if they show signs of falling short of fulfilling their capacity to succeed. In a move that would have been considered batty before his outstanding and disciplined season drove Burnley to the English Championship title, Barton is mindful he’s a mentor now.

Joey Barton holds his Rangers shirt aloft after sealing his move to the Scottish club last week

Joey Barton holds his Rangers shirt aloft after sealing his move to the Scottish club last week

Mark Warburton whittled the average age of the Ibrox squad from nearly 29 to under 23 last summer. This close season, 22-year-olds Josh Windass and Matt Crooks from Accrington and Liverpool-born teenager Jordan Rossiter arrive. Barrie McKay has a Scotland debut looming. Surely not, like Barton, a first and last cap on the same evening.

Barton, as he explained at his unveiling last Tuesday, is at peace with himself now. But he took a damaging length of time to ‘find a process’ in his life. If anyone can spot the earliest of warnings that he and his inner circle catastrophically failed to heed, it will be Barton.

He insists he won’t get sanctimonious with young players but the thought of wasted talents is not a subject you will find the 33-year-old shrugging his shoulders about.

He explained: ‘I’ve been fortunate to give my family, my kids, a great opportunity in life. It’s shown me great places in the world and given me great opportunities. For me to just take, take, take and never put anything back into the game would be incredibly selfish.

‘It’s a duty of myself and senior players to help the kids deal with, or not fall down, the pitfalls we fell into. It’s about taking the shirt and, when you move on, leaving it in a great place. I would have wanted to have some good ones around me a lot more to say: “Look, get here, this is the way this is done”.

‘That’s on a daily basis in the training ground in how you conduct yourself, what your attitude is towards everything. You’re not in a place to just “be”. I won’t be getting self-righteous with kids. Some are going to make mistakes, some will learn quicker than others. We’re all different. That’s life.

‘But sometimes when you’re in the media spotlight, as footballers tend to be nowadays, those mistakes can be amplified. In my case, if they hadn’t been pulled up and I’d been working on a building site, I could have got a lot longer prison sentence. I was on a kind of self-destructive phase. The fact I did get “outed” and had to serve a bit of time, it was an incredible learning curve for me.’

As Barton says, he was lucky to get away with a lot and be welcomed back into football. Anger management and alcohol problems. A litany of disciplinary problems on the pitch and lengthy suspensions from playing. Prison sentences.

Barton signed a two-year deal at the Scottish Premiership club after leaving Championship winners Burnley

Barton signed a two-year deal at the Scottish Premiership club after leaving Championship winners Burnley

He served 74 days in jail in 2008 for what the judge described as ‘a violent and cowardly’ assault in Liverpool city centre. A four- month suspended sentence was handed down for punching team-mate Ousmane Dabo unconscious in training at Manchester City.

He recalled: ‘People talk about when the cell door closes and that being the epiphany moment. It wasn’t. I remember sitting in the dressing room at Newcastle and I was on bail but, basically, knowing that at the end of the season I was going away.

‘I was actually playing decent football regardless of all the mental stuff going on. The lads were sitting talking, two weeks out from the end of the season, about Dubai, Spain, America. And I was thinking: I’m going to f****** Strangeways.

‘The reality of that dawns upon you. F****** hell. That’s when you talk about epiphanies. How did it come to this? What are you doing? I wasn’t enjoying life. I wasn’t enjoying football. I thought: This has got to change.

‘Either you’ve got to give it up and walk away or you’ve got to do some serious work and have a look at this.

‘You just find a process. Some people find it at 18. Some people never find it. I’m just lucky that I found it when I found it in terms of being able to salvage some great years and some really happy memories over the last few years.

‘Going to France and being successful in a foreign country, which not many British players do. Having a legacy there in terms of a great relationship and they appreciated my style of football. Coming back and helping QPR getting back to the Premier League, which probably saved the club from financial Armageddon.

‘Being part of an incredible journey with Burnley which, for a town club of their size, was phenomenal. Now it’s about coming here and, hopefully, bolting on a legacy.’

The experienced midfielder will look to help out some of the youngsters at Rangers next season

The experienced midfielder will look to help out some of the youngsters at Rangers next season

Warburton doubtless did not only have his collection of youthful midfielders in mind for benefiting from working directly alongside Barton. His hastily and shrewdly assembled unit from last summer were instant hits and several newcomers to the Scottish game enjoyed a career season in the second tier.

However, much more is now required if they are to fit the bill of what is expected of a Rangers player in the Ladbrokes Premiership.

James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn excelled in year one. Can they do better? They will need to, going up a grade. There will be no hiding place with Barton driving them along to achieve a higher standard of performance and duty to their employer and team-mate.

‘When you meet a top player at any level in any country, they share common goals and a work ethic that’s usually beyond anyone else in the group,’ stressed Barton.

‘That’s a real, real passion for his craft and his profession. The best I’ve ever worked with were the hardest working and most dedicated.

‘I haven’t met a real top player who’s kind of been a “Jack The Lad” interested in nightclubs or all the other nonsense that goes round it. Maybe that’s a common misconception of what it takes to be a top player these days.

‘I don’t really take my time with people like that. I’ve found that there are three kinds of players. There’s the perfect player who doesn’t exist. There’s a player that sometimes you need to nudge him and sometimes he’ll nudge you, there’s a great respect and a two-way street. Sometimes he’s out of line and you’ve got to pull him back in. Other times he’ll do the same for you. He’ll take constructive criticism as well as praise. He’s a player I want to work with every day of the week.

‘Then there’s the third. Who doesn’t listen to you, thinks he knows better and you just don’t even communicate with him. There’s no point wasting time or energy on him. You can be any one of those three players. If you choose to be the second one, we’ll have a great working relationship. If you want to be one or three then you won’t be for me.’

Barton holds up his new No 8 shirt with Rangers assistant manager David Weir during his unveiling

Barton holds up his new No 8 shirt with Rangers assistant manager David Weir during his unveiling

Barton fully expects his game to be raised a notch in a Warburton team. While a QPR player, he occasionally dropped by Brentford to watch them exceed expectations and soar towards the Championship play-offs before the Englishman was let go — free to launch a Rangers revolution that Barton joins in phase two.

‘I hope this will bring out the best of me, bring another level to my game,’ he said. ‘I know how hard it’s going to be. It’s not a case of turning up and people will fall at my feet. I’m not coming here thinking: Protect me in a three-man midfield.

‘If you look at the stats in the Championship, I’m arguably the fittest player in that position. I cover more distance than anyone. I was the fulcrum for what we did at Burnley in terms of being first receiver etc.

‘There’s a physical output that comes with me. I know what my numbers are. They are Premier League numbers. So, coming to Scotland, I know I have to get close to those numbers if Rangers are going to win the title.

‘I think I’m getting better. It sounds weird to say that at 33 because common logic tells you you’re not. Everyone else is going, yeah, at 30 you peak and it’s almost after 30 that you’re falling off a cliff. Davie Weir came here at 36 and played some of his best football. What your mental clock says and what your biological clock says can be a lot different. I didn’t want the season to end at Burnley.

‘I had two or three days off and was like the nerd who really likes school, saying I want to get back to it. I’ve such momentum from the last two years I just want to keep going. I just feel in a phenomenal place and can’t wait to get back into pre-season.’

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