Rangers midfielder Joey Barton has claimed he almost signed for Liverpool in 2004. The controversial 34-year-old has revealed he verbally agreed a deal with former Reds manager Gerard Houllier – before the Frenchman was replaced by Rafael Benitez, who instead opted to sign Xabi Alonso.
In his new book No Nonsense, Barton said Houllier wanted him to partner Steven Gerrard in the centre of Liverpool's midfield after holding extensive talks at the club's Melwood training base.
"Had things panned out differently, I could have made the obsessive debate about the mutual suitability of the Gerrard-Lampard axis redundant," Barton wrote of his proposed move to Liverpool. "From what I gathered, Steven Gerrard agitated to get Liverpool to sign me in 2004, because he felt we had the potential to forge a partnership.
"I met with Gerard Houllier at Melwood, and agreed everything verbally. A deal was close to being concluded but then he was sacked that summer. It was never revived."
Barton revealed he subsequently developed a rivalry with Alonso and admitted to deliberately fouling the Spaniard while playing for Newcastle United against Liverpool in May 2009. "Xabi and I had history," Barton explained. "He blamed me for knocking him out in what he thought was a deliberate clash of heads in one of our earliest contests, and I blamed him for stealing my move to Liverpool.
"All that remained to be agreed with City was the fee, when Rafa Benitez took over from Gerard Houllier. I was in Dubai when I was informed that he had instead decided to sign a kid from Real Sociedad who had just broken into the Spanish national team. That turned out to be £10.7m well spent. Xabi is one hell of a player, whose passes have a great range and accuracy."
Barton admitted he fouled Alonso with "malicious intent" during their clash at Anfield. However, he also claimed that the then-Liverpool midfielder made the tackle appear worse than it actually was.
"Whenever we played, I sought to get the game on my terms, which were relentlessly physical," Barton confessed. "[In a 2009 game] thirteen minutes remained. Liverpool were two up, cruising and playing keep ball. The Kop conducted an incessant, infuriating chant of 'Ole, ole, ole!'
"Xabi retained the ball near the corner flag fractionally longer than was prudent. That gave me the opportunity to fly in, and disguise my malicious intent as best as I could. Alonso milked the moment with a barrel roll. I expected a yellow and was shown a red."