Harry Redknapp hails Joey Barton as QPR's inspiration
Harry Redknapp paid tribute to an unexpected source of leadership as Queen's Park Rangers stole promotion from Derby County at Wembley on Saturday – unexpected to him too.
"When I came here I thought... Joey Barton?" said Redknapp, shaking his head like a car dealer assessing a dodgy motor. "He'd been at Marseilles..."
Barton had loved it in France, where he had been on loan. Terms could not, however, be agreed for a permanent deal and Barton returned to QPR, despite having tweeted he would "never play in the Championship".
Redknapp clearly had reservations about the once-capped, twice-convicted Barton. But he was pleasantly surprised.
"He has been a real driving force behind the team. In the dressing room he is a real inspiring person. I'd never thought I'd say that.
"He is so into his football, such a student of the game, as much as any player I have ever met. He watches every video of every minute of every game, everything we do in training he wants to talk about it.
"He is management material, absolutely."
Not every QPR manager has been as complimentary about Barton's influence but he has long been known for having high expectations of training.
"He sets very high standards" said Redknapp. "He's the same in the dressing room. Before the [play-off] game at Wigan he is the one who got them all in a huddle, driving them on when we won that game. He was the same today, at half-time and before the game, he's a real leader."
On the pitch, however, Barton and his fellow veterans were out played by Derby's youthful trio of George Thorne, Jackie Hendricks and Will Hughes, even before Gary O'Neil's 58th-minute dismissal. Redknapp admitted his team were playing for penalties when QPR stunned Derby with a 90th-minute winner, Bobby Zamora punishing a rare error from County's captain, Richard Keogh.
It was a brutal end to Derby's season with Keogh inconsolable at the end. "We'll get the players together and reflect on what we have achieved," said their manager, Steve McClaren.
"We'll pick ourselves up. It'll take days... weeks... I can't say I'm looking forward to pre-season training. But we have to come back again. We have a lot to be proud of. The future looks bright."