The manager who talked himself out of Pompey fans’ affections

Former Pompey boss Richie Barker Picture: Joe Pepler
Former Pompey boss Richie Barker Picture: Joe Pepler

Richie Barker – immensely self-confident, brimming with powerful opinions and robust footballing beliefs.

Yet he acknowledged one crucial flaw in his make-up which would ultimately contribute to his Pompey downfall.

‘I’m an honest person, probably too honest,’ he admitted in his maiden interview to The News.

He cut a shattered figure that day in December, after embarking on an exhausting round of press interviews at his Fratton Park unveiling.

It was a polite yet certainly not over-effusive conversation, generating a lukewarm first impression of Guy Whittingham’s replacement to this journalist.

Time would prove that wasn’t the real Richie Barker – but his self-appraisal was uncannily accurate.

In an era when transparency and openness is encouraged at Fratton Park, the 38-year-old found himself criticised for being too candid during dealings with the press.

That was not the overriding reason for mutually departing Pompey on Thursday, though. Far from it.

However, he never quite won over the fans from the beginning, particularly with his words.

The image of a straight-talking, say-it-as-it-is Yorkshireman is a clichéd and lazy stereotype.

Sorry, but Barker really did snugly fit that tired embrace.

He criticised performances, he blasted the qualities of the players, he initially indicated the fitness was not up to scratch.

In Barker’s final interview at Spotland on Tuesday night, he even called into question the team’s mental ability to deal with his managerial instructions.

Many considered such attacks too harsh and too regular – nothing more than a defence mechanism designed to deflect from his own shortcomings as Pompey boss.

A classic diversionary tactic, it has been said, from a boss who couldn’t or wouldn’t admit his own errors.

Barker, though, was being honest.

As he would later introduce as part of his defence, not once did he pick out an individual player to tongue lash. Although, often it was possible to clearly read between the lines.

In media situations, the former Crawley boss would answer every question put to him at length and in depth, certainly never shirking whatever was fired in his direction.

After the defeat at Rochdale he patiently responded to the many enquiries regarding his future and the issue of pressure.

Except both words and demeanour betrayed somebody not only beaten on the night but beaten in the job. The manager himself had lost faith.

There was to be no way back and on Thursday – after 109 days – he exited Fratton Park, leaving behind barely a wet eye in the house.

Some regarded Barker as an aloof character, arrogant even, and criminally lacking the feel for the special football club he was spearheading.

It was a public perception which gathered pace with every defeat, every wretchedly-dull display and every failure to score a goal.

In truth, Barker was personable, down-to-earth and certainly extremely approachable, often willing to stay behind after the traditional pre-match press conference on a Thursday for a chat.

Recently he told us that during a module on handling the media as part of his Uefa Pro-licence badge, he was commended. Although he was warned on being too truthful.

‘Why should I lie about things,’ he exclaimed. ‘That’s not me, I want to be honest with people.’

To think there were nagging doubts over his attitude towards the media, having brandished a ban to a Crawley Town reporter in his previous job.

Regardless, communication with the fans was a massive problem – and in complete contrast to the public affection held for, say, Avram Grant.

The Israeli remains adored by many of the Fratton faithful for his six-month spell at the club, before leaving for West Ham.

Yet a number of those rousing speeches which would later adorn so many banners and memories were influenced by a handily-placed PR man who once edited the News of the World.

Yet Barker’s propensity for criticising his players as a group would alienate him with many supporters – and unquestionably members of his large squad.

It would be an away defeat at Bristol Rovers which would see him first bare his teeth, savaging the inherited set-up following a particularly gutless performance.

Yassin Moutaouakil has never made a Pompey squad since, while before today Johnny Ertl has only started once more.

When the Blues boss repeated the trick at Scunthorpe following a 5-1 hammering, the criticism attracted disapproval from fans themselves.

Looking back, when Whittingham publicly blasted the players at York and AFC Wimbledon following similarly abject displays, there was hardly a sniff of a protest.

Then again, Corporal Punishment is a Pompey legend, accepted and loved by the fans and one of their very own.

Barker simply wasn’t. Just like Tony Pulis all those years earlier – and we know what became of him.

Of course, managerial success is not judged on personality and the former Sheffield Wednesday striker failed miserably on the pitch.

He warned it wouldn’t be pretty as his team attempted to grind out results – for once a statement nobody could possibly disagree with.

It was a common agony watching the Blues in action – a team unable to muster even two attempts on goal during several fixtures.

His 20 matches yielded four wins, eight defeats, 11 goals and nine clean sheets. Six times his team failed to net at Fratton Park.

In an entertainment industry, settling down in front of the test card would have been more rewarding.

Crucially, while Barker solved the defensive issues which dogged Whittingham’s reign, he failed miserably to build on such an excellent foundation.

For every team change and formation tinkering, the answer could never be stumbled upon.

There were other issues such as the feud with the volatile David Connolly, Thery Racon’s omission and, finally, a bust-up with a fan at Rochdale.

Yet, after defeat to York, he had lost the fans and there was no coming back from that thankless position.

A dead-man walking with no hope of winning back the hearts and minds of the Fratton faithful.

Privately, Barker realised it himself – importantly so did Pompey’s seven-man board on Thursday morning.

So now he has gone, his legacy is condemnation as one of the most derided and disliked managers in the club’s rich history.

A hugely misunderstood character who believed in honesty – and the harsh truth is he had to go.