Queens Park Rangers needed a special signing at this moment in the club's history. Not just a bit-part player, not just another fill-in to add depth to the squad. They needed a physical and emotional leader to draw the attention of opponents. They needed an instigator. Into that void steps Joseph Anthony Barton.
Neil Warnock often talked up the Bosmans he brought in this summer, under the Eccelstone Austerity Program, as men "with something to prove." Can anyone say that Barton doesn't fit this category as well? The man who once described himself as the "best midfielder in England" has had a difficult summer at St James' park, sparring with his club and ultimately being let go on a free transfer. Is there anyone else you'd rather have playing for you when he's out to prove that cutting him loose was a colossal mistake?
The Tony Fernandes era at QPR is off to a impressive start, and the hits keep on coming.
Fans anticipated big things from the new owner, and they have not been disappointed. Within a week of taking control, he's lowered ticket prices, revamped the board membership and given manager Neil Warnock the backing to go out and shop for Premier League level talent. Just one month ago, it appeared that the club was heading toward disaster and a swift return to the Championship, with no money to invest in the squad and a restless fan base watching as the ownership neglected the club. Now, with the transfer window closing and the marathon season underway, the project of building a Premier League club is underway at breakneck pace.
Queens Park Rangers are moving quickly to build a side that can compete in the Premier League, and signing Barton goes a long way toward that goal. He is a talented central-midfielder, equal parts creator and defender. He profiles as a more agile Shaun Derry, and the combination of Derry in front of the defence and Barton further forward looks like a good dynamic in the middle of the pitch. Not only does his skill bring its own rewards, but his presence will force opponents to focus on him, both as a playmaker and as a nuisance, a role he played well at Newcastle. The biggest beneficiary initially should be Adel Taarabt, who should find himself some freedom as defences are forced to account for Barton in the middle. Don't call him a saviour - but he'll bring attitude, industry and heart to a club that's going to be fighting for its life all season.
Above all else, this move signals the ambition of the club to hold onto its place in the Premier League. While the critics seem to agree that ambition is a low ceiling, QPR fans are energised by this signing, recognising Barton for the blue collar work ethic he brought to NUFC during his four years there. He's the kind of player fans grow attached too - outspoken and unabashedly partisan about his team, with the ability to back it up on the pitch. There will likely be some interesting moments in a dressing room with strong personalities like his and Warnock's, and the occasional Barton dust-up on the pitch is probably inevitable. But from the QPR perspective, this signing improves the club, adds a bit of swagger to the line-up, and means that the leadership is intent on winning survival in the league.
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