Had the match at the Etihad Stadium had a less dramatic finish, just suppose Manchester City had scored from the free kick which Carlos Tevez took immediately after the sending off of Joey Barton, to lead 2-1 and then scored another three goals as they realised that Bolton were not going to overtake QPR. What would the headlines have been then? It would have all been about how Joey Barton had cost Manchester United the title. As it was, the classico ending, ensured that the Barton story was a postscript, a byeline.
What horrified me when I checked twitter after the game was the fact that Barton had tweeted that he'd tried to "take a City player with him". This means his assault on Sergio Aguero was a pre-meditated assault. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the initial assault on Tevez, the assault on Aguero was pure thuggery. Barton should not be punished by the FA, he should be hauled before the beak and prosecuted. He has already done time for his behaviour. He hasn't learned. There is a precident, Duncan Ferguson also served time for an on field assault. Barton has no excuse. He texted that he did not lose his head and the assualt was pre-meditated. Can this man be allowed onto a football field again?
Perhaps the player to come out of the incident with most credit is Manchester City's right back, Micah Richards, who was a sunstitute. Richards is a friend of Bartons. They were together in the youth team. Whilst Barton clearly has a massive chip on his shoulder, Richard exemplifies a decent young player. He has not moaned about being a substitute. He just gets on with it and gives full value when he does get on. His reaction at the sight of Barton losing it was compassionate and instinctive. He ran on and sheparded Barton from the field of play. He was clearly telling him not to do anything else stupid, as he risked ending his career. Interestingly, Richards seemed to be the only person able to control Barton.
I was struck by the decency of Richards in this act. I suspect that he is the only person who actually cared about what Barton was doing, for the sake of Barton. The QPR team and management looked shell shocked and disgusted. I was not in the slightest impressed with Mark Hughes response. It is clear that Barton has issues. The "I didn't see it" line of argument is a cowardly cop out. I believe that Joey Barton needs professional help. He seems to think his behaviour is normal and acceptable. It isn't and if he'd acted like that anywhere else other than on a football field, he'd have been arrested. Assaulting three people in front of a TV audience of billions, is simply an act beyond comprehension.
Joey Barton was the captain of QPR. Contrast his behaviour with Vincent Kompany, the City Captain. Both were players that the team looked up to. When Kompany was interviewed after the match, he spoke with amazing eloquence for a man high on emotion speaking after such a game. He was asked if it was the best day of his life, he said it was up there with the day he got married and the birth of his daughter. I suspect that somewhere in that statement is the true difference between Barton and Kompany.
As a Manchester City fan, occasionally I'm asked which Manchester United player I admire most. the glib answer is that I hate them all, but that is not quite the whole story. If I had to pick one, it would without a doubt be Paul Scholes. He just gets on with his job. He doesn't seek the limelight, but he is usually their best player, even at age 38. Like Kompany, he values his homelife. He lets his football skills do the talking.
At the end of this truly amazing season, we have seen everything. The Fabrice Muamba heart attack at White Hart Lane, for me was one of the most uplifting moments. The reaction of both sets of fans filled me with pride. Lets hope we can all learn that football should be a celebration of life and human spirit. As the City fans reflect on their first League Championship for 44 years, United ponder their first trophyless season for 7 years and Joey Barton ponders his actions on Sunday, lets hope that we all conclude that we still have a lot to learn.