Joey Barton, arguably English soccer's most controversial character, may have earned himself a reprieve from being kicked out by his club Newcastle United in the most extraordinary fashion.
Barton was effectively kicked off the English Premier League side two weeks ago after tweeting a stream of criticisms directed at the club's hierarchy, told that he was no longer wanted and could leave for free.
However, following his part in a melee which saw Arsenal's new striker Gervinho sent off on the opening day of the new campaign, Barton incredibly looks like he'll be sticking around at St. James Park.
In the 76th minute of Saturday's 0-0 draw, Barton reacted furiously when Gervinho fell to the ground in the area in an attempt to earn a potentially deciding penalty. Barton snatched the Ivory Coast striker by the throat and dragged him off the ground, which prompted Gervinho to respond with an open-handed slap to the face. Barton then fell to the ground theatrically and a fracas involving all 22 players followed.
Referee Peter Walton refused to sanction Barton with more than a yellow card, but Gervinho was issued a red and banished him from the field, to the disgust of under-pressure Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.
"Why does Joey Barton go over there and grab him up," Wenger said. "It is a yellow to the two [of them] or a red to the two."
Yet instead of making Newcastle even more determined to see the back of him, the remarkable incident looks to have actually helped his chances of remaining with the club, even after another explosive Twitter session in which he insulted club legend Alan Shearer.
Barton's actions were widely condemned but he wasted no time in defending himself, firing off a volley of tweets to fans, media pundit Robbie Savage, injured Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere and even CNN television host Piers Morgan.
[Photos: See more of midfielder Joey Barton]
Shearer bore the brunt though, as Barton criticized his performance on the highlights show "Match of the Day" and made fun of his balding head with the tweet: "Bad shirt, shoes and views again from Shearer. Sort it out slaphead."
It was the latest twist in the soap opera-style novel of Barton's checkered career. The 28-year-old Brit was only playing because of injuries which have depleted the Newcastle squad and prior to kickoff it was still expected he would move on, with Tottenham, Aston Villa and even Russian club Zenit St Petersburg considering signing him.
Instead, he is now somewhat back in favor thanks to a series of factors which have swayed the thinking of head coach Alan Pardew and the club's owner Michael Ashley.
First of all is Barton's popularity among fans, who respect his fiery commitment and personality despite his roguish reputation. Also, Pardew has realized that he needs a midfield enforcer and a tough competitor, especially after the squad was weakened by the sale of Jose Enrique to Liverpool.
Furthermore, Ashley is a shrewd businessman who, although keen to make a point against Barton for his recent insubordinate actions, did not want to wave goodbye to an asset of value unless absolutely necessary.
"Joey Barton is a character," Pardew said. "He gave me assurances on Friday that he was fully committed to Newcastle and he showed that today because his performance was one of the best performances out there. As you can see from his Twitter site he has got a personality and a bit of character. I am not saying he is always perfect but he expresses that on the pitch."
"He could not have done more today in the dressing room and on the pitch. I think that he will be here beyond the end of August. You can never say anything 100 percent in football but I think he will be."
The end of August signals the closure of the transfer window, meaning Pardew envisages Barton will be sticking around until at least next year.
While Saturday's events were explosive, they were by no means unexpected for Barton. After all, he has previously courted controversy with regularity, with incidents such as stubbing a lit cigar into a teammate's eye, baring his backside at spectators, being involved in an altercation with a 15-year-old rival fan on a pre-season tour in Bangkok, and being arrested after a late-night incident at a Liverpool fast-food restaurant.
In a soccer sense, this weekend will only increase Barton's reputation as a bad boy. But for now, he is still Newcastle's bad boy.
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