Was West Ham Wise To Pass On Barton?

One of the strangest stories of the early season in the Premier League was the near-signing of Joey Barton to West Ham. The East London club appeared on the verge of a signing after its opening upset of Arsenal. Indeed, the former QPR and Man City midfielder was an appealing free agent option for the attack, and one that may well have boosted an already overachieving Irons side. But in the end, the move wasn’t made.

That’s not so unusual, as dozens of prominent signings and transfers reach the brink before collapsing each year. What made this a strange story, as many supporters are now aware, is why it didn’t happen. Evidently, West Ham decided against bringing Barton aboard simply because they were listening to their supporters, many of whom were quite loud about not wanting Barton brought to London. The East Londoners certainly aren’t the first fan base to believe Barton is more trouble than he’s worth, but for their passion to sway the club away from a potentially beneficial management decision says quite a bit.

Given Barton’s reputation as a fiery personality and a bit of a troublemaker, the West Ham supporters’ feelings are easy to understand. Sam Allardyce, Barton’s own former manager, recently made headlines by calling Barton a liability. Allardyce said he’d signed him at Newcastle to “liven things up,” but that the move ended up backfiring. Allardyce is speaking several years after the fact, which makes one wonder if personal emotions are impacting his comments. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to think about whether the West Ham brass might have felt similarly after a few months with Barton on board.

If that wasn’t convincing enough already, there’s the dirty little fact that Joey Barton ranks fifth on the all-time list for cumulative fines incurred by Premier League players. Yes, fifth all-time! That’s an incredible responsibility to take on as a manager and fan base, and makes it even more understandable that a club looking to compete with the top of its league would prefer not to get involved.

But was it the right chance to pass on Barton, from a football standpoint?

At this stage, the answer is an unequivocal yes. West Ham may not have a result this season that tops the opening win over Arsenal, but it’s kept up a pretty impressive level of play thus far. The Irons sit at sixth in the EPL standings with 14 points through eight matches—only four points behind the leader (Man City). While they’re still not the calibre club to compete for the domestic title, a top-four finish is beginning to look more realistic by the day. And they’re doing it largely with the attack. West Ham’s 17 goals to date are tied with Leicester City and second only to Man City, which certainly indicates that things are going just fine without Barton’s prowess. For his part, Barton has had a somewhat-uninspired early run with Burnley.

Given the discord Barton can cause and the impressive chemistry West Ham has demonstrated, passing on the midfielder wasn’t only the correct move for the Irons—it may have actually helped to define their season. This means the East London supporters may have themselves to thank for one of their best seasons in some time.