JOEY Barton admits he was ‘privileged’ to wear the captain’s armband for QPR’s return to the Premier League on Saturday, but insists there are a host of leaders on the pitch – and Clint Hill is still his skipper.
With club captain Hill on the bench, Barton led the R’s out against Hull City, and he told www.qpr.co.uk: “It was a privilege for me, but had it been Rio (Ferdinand), Stevie Caulker or Hilly, I would have just played my normal game anyway and tried to encourage the lads in the way I always do. I don’t really need the armband to lead.
“Hilly is the club captain, and he’s still my captain. Obviously the gaffer didn’t select him on Saturday, so I had the honour of leading the side out.
“But I feel we’re all captains out there and it’s vital that we have a lot of leaders. We can’t rely on one or two individuals, we all have to step up as a team.
“There’s a lot of leaders in the group – Rob Green’s got a wealth of experience, Steven Caulker was captain at Cardiff last season, Rio is a leader. There’s a number of players who could put the armband on.
“In the past I have been guilty – certainly the last time I was captain here – of trying to do everything for everyone. Playing a sort of vice-captaincy role to Hilly last season was a great learning experience for me.”
Despite an impressive performance against Steve Bruce’s side, Rangers lost out to a second-half James Chester goal, and Barton added: “We spoke in the dressing room afterwards and we said if we continue to play like that and create that many chances, we will win more games than we lose.
“We’ve got to get smarter. We’ve got to learn that this is the level of this league. Perhaps in the Championship last season we would have got away with that, they maybe wouldn’t have capitalised on the minimal chances that they had.
“On a number of occasions at Loftus Road we did get away with it last season, winning games very late. But this is a different level – this is the ‘not-messing-around’ league.”
Charlie Austin made his Premier League bow but was unable to get off the mark, missing a late penalty for the R’s. Barton is a close friend of the striker, and he said: “I’m gutted for Charlie because he’s a great lad and he deserved to get off the mark. But it’s only a matter of time because he’s a natural born goalscorer.
“He was devastated in the dressing room afterwards because he felt he let the lads down but he scored a more important penalty for us against Wigan in the play-offs, which took us to Wembley.
“We have got massive confidence in Charlie to score goals, and no doubt he’ll prove it over the course of the season.”
Barton’s own Premier League appearance at the weekend was also a key milestone for the midfielder, whose last outing in the English top-flight is remembered for all the wrong reasons after he was sent off in our final game of the 2011/12 campaign at Manchester City.
At that time, few people – Barton included – expected the 31 year-old to feature for QPR again. But after a year with Marseille he returned to play a key role in our promotion last term, and his outing at the weekend completes a remarkable U-turn.
“It’s easy for me to say I have changed as a person and changed as a player, but it’s down to me to prove it over the course of the season,” he added. “I’m confident that my actions will show that. I am just really enjoying being back in the Premier League.”