Joey Barton has often been a controversial and high profile figure within the football industry. In addition to his performances on the field, incidents that have brought him less welcome media attention have ranged from convictions for assault, stemming from altercations both on the training ground and off the field, to adopting a French accent (whilst answering questions in English) during one post-match interview.
And Barton has once again been in the headlines following the recent events at his (now former) employer, Rangers FC, which were sparked by Rangers’ heavy defeat in the Old Firm derby on 10 September.
During the subsequent inquest into the defeat, Barton was reported to have been involved in (yet another) training ground “bust up” with a team mate on 13 September and was instructed to stay away from the training ground by Rangers for the remainder of that week.
Barton subsequently expressed his regret that the incident occurred, offered an apology and made it clear that he was willing to return to training once his initial suspension had expired. Instead, he was suspended for a further 3 weeks whilst Rangers conducted a disciplinary process into the training ground incident, a suspension that was subsequently extended by a further week.
It is not unusual for a suspension to be put in place during a disciplinary process. Many employment contracts both in and out of the sporting world will contain a clause allowing an employer to impose such a suspension. Requiring the individual in question to remain away from the office/training ground can provide the employer with the space to investigate the issues behind the disciplinary fully and, particularly where the situation has arisen from heated circumstances, that space can also help cool things down. Given the heated nature of Barton’s disagreement with his team mate, this no doubt formed part of Rangers’ thinking for imposing the suspension.
A suspension can be challenged by an employee, particularly with arguments regarding breach of contract. However, ensuring that the employment contract contains a provision to suspend and the individual continues to be paid during suspension will help reduce the risk of any challenge succeeding.
Events subsequently took a further turn for the worse for Barton after he was charged by the Scottish Football Association (“SFA”) for placing bets on 44 football matches. With a potential punishment for those indiscretions being (at a minimum) a 3 match suspension, Barton’s future at Rangers started to look increasingly bleak.
Following the conclusion of the disciplinary process, and with a ruling from the SFA on the betting charges still pending, Barton eventually returned to full-time training on 2 November 2016. However, Barton was banished to train with the Under-20’s side rather than with the first team.
One explanation for Barton’s return to Rangers’ Auchenhowie training ground may have been the club prudently ensuring that it continued to provide Barton with training facilities. The longer that Barton was banished from using Rangers’ training facilities, the more chance he could try to resign and subsequently claim that he was constructively dismissed. While a suspension can be appropriate in the circumstances of a disciplinary, it should be no longer than necessary and, at that point, Barton had been in the cold for more than 6 weeks.
In any event, Rangers have now confirmed that the parties have agreed terms to mutually terminate the 2 year contract that Barton signed during those halcyon days in May, bringing an abrupt end to his brief stint in the blue half of Glasgow, having appeared in only 8 games.
Even this wasn’t entirely straightforward though, as before the negotiations between his representatives and his employers had reached a conclusion, it was reported that Barton had been “signed off” from attending training with stress.
Sports Shorts has previously considered the mental health of professional sports people and the unique pressures they face whilst away from, or competing in, their respective areas of expertise. Despite past indiscretions and his reputation (whether wanted or not) as a football “hard man”, Barton has previously discussed, at some length, his efforts to combat his low self-esteem, noting that “someone with my character is a borderline kamikaze pilot“. And, following his controversial exit from Scottish football, one commentator has suggested that Barton “wilted” under the pressure of life at Ibrox.
Again, it is not necessarily surprising to see the subject of stress arise in such a disciplinary scenario. Outside the world of sport, being subject to a disciplinary procedure is understandably not a comfortable position for most people. There are plenty who will be signed off due to stress, whether they have been suspended or not. It is easy to imagine the same pressures being multiplied many times over in the public cauldron of professional football.
In the end though, a mutual agreement has been struck soon after Barton was signed off, which allows both him and the club to move on. With the rumour mill already in full swing predicting where he will go next, it may not be too long before we see Barton back on the pitch.