Barton backed by boss
ALAN PARDEW has jumped to the defence of Newcastle United's outspoken midfielder Joey Barton by suggesting his stand-in skipper's controversial views are a mark of a player reaching peak performance levels. Barton will wear the captain's armband at Aston Villa tomorrow in the absence of the suspended Kevin Nolan just days after his explosive interview in the French media. As well as tearing in to some of England's most highly-rated internationals, the 28-year-old also outlined that he had put his contract talks on hold because he "does not know" whether or not to believe the Newcastle hierarchy's assurances about the extent of the club's ambitions. Barton, who has tended to be frank and honest during interviews in the past, is believed to have been disappointed with how his latest outburst came across. But while admitting the former Manchester City man should tread more carefully with his comments, Pardew insists Barton's views and mentality help to make him such a crucial member of his team. "You can't dictate people's opinions," said Pardew. "Joey thinks Tiger Woods' short game is all over the place at the moment and he will openly say that in front of the group. He's saying that Tiger's not going to win the Masters, his short game is all crap. That is what makes Joey what he is. "Part of such individualism is that they are a character. They have these tweaks to their personality, they express exactly what they think. Joey does that at the training ground and in team meetings. He will say 'I don't agree with that' so that is good info for me. I will listen to that and I will weigh up whether he is right or wrong. "Now I don't agree with all of his opinions, on or off the training ground, but he does have a genuine opinion, like Eric Cantona, George Best, Paul Ince these type of people, who have strong opinions. They make them the players they are and were." Barton's future remains very much up in the air, even though he insists he would prefer to stay at Newcastle and commit to a new long-term contract if the conditions are right. There will be just 12 months remaining of his contract in the summer, so a failure to sign new terms could mean that Pardew and owner Mike Ashley could be forced to listen to any significant offers for the player. There is interest from West Ham and Tottenham, but Pardew has no qualms about naming him captain at Villa Park tomorrow, when Newcastle can climb ten points clear of relegation trouble. "Since I have been at this football club, what he has done on the pitch, I have not had any incidents when his behaviour has been brought into question," said Pardew, knowing Barton has worked hard to put his career back on track after receiving two criminal convictions in 2008. "In fact, his behaviour has been exemplary under extreme provocation. Spurs, Blackburn, Stoke, when things weren't going well, and he still didn't react after severe provocation from Ricardo Fuller. "He is conducting his life off the pitch in the right way, he is in training on time doing his work, he is going home. I am not seeing incidents which are a problem for me, no stories in the papers of him being drunk and disorderly. "I don't dismiss anyone as a person or character because someone told me their reputation is that of a horrible person or a nasty player and I think that is how life should work." From a national perspective it had been suggested Barton's comments - particularly those which described Gareth Barry as a "tortoise" - could have a negative impact on his England hopes. But Pardew said: "I can remember after the World Cup campaign there was a lot of criticism in the camp, with each other. There were opinions and none of us can say that the last World Cup campaign was great. "There are criticisms people have to wear. And we all have our own opinions about the England team because we love our country to win football matches. So Joey's opinion is his opinion, mine is mine. That is what it is. If that harms someone then what is the point" Barton was missing when Newcastle last travelled to Aston Villa on May 24, 2009. That day a Damien Duff own goal helped to relegate the Magpies and Barton was expected to be one of those to have left that summer. Instead he stayed around and contributed in the promotion charge back to the Premier League and it is ironic that Newcastle could push the Villans closer towards the bottom three tomorrow. "Villa's top four players are all England internationals and top, top players," said Pardew. "It is better to have a team with real quality rather than a team which hasn't got that quality because ultimately they will get you out of it. "We are a tough nut to crack at the moment though and we want to be difficult to beat on Sunday. "The challenge for the players is to look at the table and think if we win we could get up to seventh and focus on that and that alone. I don't have to think about what happened two years ago. "It will be the same for Gerard Houllier, he won't need to worry on motivation either." Pardew will bring back Jose Enrique at left-back at Villa Park, but there is a doubt over the fitness of Sol Campbell. The game has arrived too soon for Hatem Ben Arfa and Dan Gosling, who are back in training.
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