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Barton: Should he stay or should he go?

This week sees the return of international football meaning, for the first time in four years, Rangers have no scheduled game regardless of the number of players called up. It also means Mark Warburton has a problem quickly looming on the horizon...

Rangers v Hamilton: Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

...Joey Barton.

Monday should mark the end of the Liverpool-born midfielder’s club-imposed suspension and, unless he is subject to further sanctions by the club or has picked up an injury, will see him come back into the first-team picture for the first time since the 5-1 Old Firm thumping in September.

But how should Mark Warburton deal with the former Man City, Newcastle and QPR midfielder after deciding to clampdown on his behaviour? Should Barton be allowed to work and regain his first-team place or should Rangers cut their losses (there were, at one point, rumours that there was a return to London calling) and look for a way out who at times appears more interested in living in fame than being a top-level footballer?

Celtic v Rangers - Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

At 34-years-old Barton isn’t the kind of player clubs will be chomping at the bit to sign in January and will have limited career opportunities. A two-year deal mean that Rangers either go without a fee or the player goes without a “package” should they decide to part-ways. Barton’s move north of the border will have come with a hefty pay packet to entice the one-time England midfielder to decide against renewed terms at Burnley.

If Warburton, and Rangers, decide that Barton’s time at the club is up, it would also leave one or two questions over the scouting process involved in signing Barton. Throughout his time at the club Warburton has spoken of signing players who fit a certain profile, not just on but off the pitch, and that has been evident in many of the signings made but Barton’s signing, from the outside at least, hasn’t appeared to fit that profile. Other signings this summer haven’t quite fit that profile either and, while it’s still early in the season, Niko Kranjcar, Clint Hill and Philippe Senderos have all attracted criticism so far.

Should Barton go, it wouldn’t exactly leave Rangers short in central midfield. Andy Halliday would be one option and he hasn’t let the side down this season. A number of goals in recent games have helped and Mark Warburton’s admission he had made a mistake dropping Halliday for the trip to Celtic Park won’t have done him much harm either. Josh Windass is another who has performed well this season and the former Accrington man has immediately won over fans with a series of impressive displays and his energetic style fitting with Warburton’s ethos of retaining complete control of the football. Niggly injuries have limited his game time but if he can be kept fit he’ll be a vital player, Barton or no Barton. Windass’ former Accrington teammate Matt Crooks can also play in the defensive midfield role and, like Windass, once he gets over his injury problems will have a big part to play this season. Crooks’ 6’5” could be a huge asset in a midfield where Rangers have, sometimes, looked a bit lightweight. Unfortunately, Crooks has had to, other than a brief League Cup cameo, train in vain so far this season.

Then there’s the man who many thought would be, more-or-less, Barton’s apprentice this season and hone his skills before making his mark on the starting XI. Jordan Rossiter. Another who has had injury problems lately, Rossiter quickly impressed when given an opportunity in the first team and the young Scouser could be a real star in the making. Along with Josh Windass, Warburton and Frank McParland have, potentially, unearthed two gems.

It makes you wonder what the need for Barton is...

Despite his much-spoken about ‘poor start’ at Rangers, Barton hadn’t been the massive flop many claim. A man of the match performance in the league opener was as good as it got but Barton has shown previously he is more than capable of playing at a good enough level for the Premiership. Ability-wise Barton is the equal of anyone in the squad, bar Kranjcar, but hasn’t shown it yet. Maybe a spell away has forced him to look up some deep, philosophical quotes, re-focus and spend his time away working and waiting to return and prove everyone wrong.

Rangers v Hamilton: Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

Bringing the 34-year-old back into the fold will also add some experience of the top level to Rangers’ midfield. He’s played for some huge clubs previously and can help guys like Josh Windass and Matt Crooks who come to Glasgow having ‘only’ played in Leagues 1 and 2 of the Football League. He could also have an influence on younger players like Jamie Barjonas, Jordan Thompson and Max Ashmore in the under 20s.

The biggest reason for keeping Joey Barton on though? A, reported, £20,000 per week. Barton is one of, if not the, biggest earner at the club. After years of financial restrictions, budget deals and lower league football it would be nice to get more than a handful of games from our highest profile signing in years.

With only five days until his expected return there are only three ways this all works out. Will it be a case of lightning strikes not once but twice; will Barton come back, work hard and become an important member of the squad as we go for 55 or will he be off to pastures new?

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