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FA must be cruel to be kind

Following Joey Barton's release from prison, after being sentenced to six months for his part in an assault in Liverpool city centre, the Newcastle United player told the world that he was a changed man and wanted to become role model for youngsters.

But only two full games into his rehabilitation, after serving a six-match ban handed out by the FA for an unconnected assault on Ousmane Dabo whilst at Manchester City, the hot-headed Magpies midfielder is back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. During Monday night's 2-0 victory over Aston Villa at St James' Park Barton raised his hand to Gabriel Agbonlahor's face and recklessly gave him a clip.

Even though the blow was hardly enough to make Agbonlahor flinch, by the letter of the law Barton should have been shown the red card. Better players have been sent off for less.

And while referee Steve Bennet seemed content to have a word with Barton during the match there are calls for further action to be taken against the 26-year-old. Barton is already on probation over the Dabo incident and the FA could impose the six-game suspended ban hanging over him.

Viewed in isolation the incident was a minor infraction but given that Barton is under scrutiny the infringement shows that, despite supposedly being on his best behaviour, he either can't control himself, or, that he simply doesn't care about the implication of his actions. Either conclusion is cause for concern.

Barton has told us all how sorry he is for various aggressive incidents so much over the years that he has no need to release another statement. Every time the midfielder claims he has learned his lesson and will not make the same mistake; but he continues to do so.

Clipping a fellow player on the nose may not be the worst violation in the world and if it were a different player there would be little controversy. However, that is not the case. This is a player with a history of violence, who knows that every action will be scrutinized, who is still on trial as far as most football fans are concerned and who still acted recklessly.

Can Barton simply not control himself? Is that why he stubbed out a lit cigar in youth player Jamie Tandy's eye during the Manchester City Christmas party? Is that why he had to be restrained by team-mate Richard Dunne after being provoked by a 15-year-old boy during a pre-season tournament in Thailand?

It may be harsh, but the FA should take action against Barton and send out the clear message that they will not tolerate any petulance from a player who is surely on his last chance.

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