Why QPR manager must take action over Barton’s Tweeting

Hughes has a decision to make after controversial captain’s latest online outburst

Once again on Saturday Mark Hughes was asked whether he was concerned by Joey Barton’s recent activities on Twitter, and once again the QPR manager insisted that he was not.

He should be, because Barton’s embarrassing and ill-judged cyber-feud with his former manager Neil Warnock threatens to have extensive ramifications.

As well as providing an unwelcome distraction from matters on the pitch, it threatens to alienate the Rangers captain from the club’s fan-base.

Twitter is becoming an ever-more intense headache for Premier League managers, with players increasingly turning to the social networking site to exhort on fellow players, officials or fans.

Such has been the impact of Twitter this season that several managers have resorted to disciplinary action against players who use the site.

Nottingham Forest boss Steve Cotterill banned his players from accessing it altogether. Those who do will face a hefty �1,000 fine for every word they write.

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Similarly, last July, fellow Championship side Leeds United banned their players from using Twitter after striker Davide Somma announced that he was injured before the club were even informed.

Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney, Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, and even QPR’s own Danny Gabbidon, while at West Ham, have all landed themselves in hot water for their ill-judged 140-character remarks.

It is hardly surprising that players turn to Twitter, rather than speak to journalists, to share their grievances or vent their frustrations, safe in the knowledge that their words will not be misconstrued.

But the problem facing all managers, and increasingly Hughes at QPR, is to decide at what stage the consequences of a player’s use of Twitter directly affects the image of the club.

That is where Barton comes in, a player who while at Newcastle used Twitter to berate the club’s transfer policy. His employers reacted in ruthless fashion by making the midfielder available on a free transfer, which, of course, ended with him making the journey south to Loftus Road.

Unperturbed, Barton began his Rangers career in similar fashion. After the 3-0 win at Molineux in September, Barton took to Twitter to label Wolves midfielder Karl Henry ‘embarrassing’, after the two players had clashed on the Molineux pitch.

Twitter has long since become Barton’s favourite medium for putting the world to rights, but his unsavoury spat with Warnock last week represents the moment at which Hughes must take action.

Barton’s comments, comparing Warnock to the fictional football manager Mike Bassett, were in response to Warnock’s suggestion that someone from inside the club played a role in his sacking as Rangers manager.

One could suggest that Barton was entirely entitled to respond to what he perceived a personal attack by Warnock. He defended himself just as he would on television, radio, or in a newspaper.

But that would be to ignore the impact of his comments, which were met by stinging criticism from a large section of fans. The smattering of boos that greeted Barton’s name when Saturday’s teams were read out, suggest that his words have actively damaged his relationship with some sections of supporters. The prospect of the fans at odds with the club captain is one which Hughes cannot afford to entertain.

The freedom of speech which Twitter affords players is undoubtedly useful in breaking down the barriers between clubs and supporters. Indeed, few ‘Tweet’ more than QPR owner Tony Fernandes, who believes in transparency of a club’s action and welcomes the ideas and opinions of supporters.

However, used irresponsibly it can also damage that bond. Where, in a press conference or in post-match interviews the club employ press officers to oversee proceedings, clearly there can be no such policing of Twitter. It is a can of worms the Football Association will not go anywhere near.

Banning Barton from using Twitter is not the answer. But a reminder to him of the responsibilities which come with the role of captain is certainly in order.

Hughes insists that he will not speak to Barton regarding his use of Twitter until they impact on matters on the field. “If ever I felt it was going to compromise us we’d have a conversation,” he said.

However, as the reaction from the stands to Barton on Saturday suggested, that moment appears to have arrived, and Hughes must take action before the gap between player and fans widens.

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