Joey Barton claims Zain Westbrooke needs a fresh start and new challenge, admitting the Bristol Rovers midfielder’s salary and lack of tactical fit means he’s likely to leave the club before the end of the transfer window.
Westbrooke was a notable absentee from Rovers’ matchday squad as they lost their third straight game of the 2021/22 season with a 2-0 reverse at the Mem against Stevenage.
Barton confirmed the 24-year-old had a slight knock from the loss to Cheltenham Town in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday but was ultimately left out because he’s no longer part of the Gas’ first-team plans moving forward.
“Zain‘s somebody who I think needs a fresh challenge and a fresh start,” Barton said, when asked to explain why Westbrooke didn’t feature at all against Stevenage.
“He’s obviously picked up a little bit of a niggle from the game and we can’t ask him to go out and play when he might be surplus to requirements.”
Westbrooke was Rovers’ marquee summer arrival 12 months when he joined on a free transfer from Coventry in a move that was seen as a huge coup for the club with midfielder part of Coventry’s promotion-winning squad and supposedly coveted by Championship clubs.
However, despite moments of magic from Westbrooke he suffered as much as any Gas player amid the turmoil of last season as Rovers went through three different managers, all with different ideas on playing the game, plus Rovers’ lack of a reliable goalscorer affected his output.
He finished the season with two goals and six assists in 42 League One appearances, but was ranked sixth overall in the division for key passes per 90 minutes with 2.2; that is a pass directly leading to a shot. But without a regular source of goals that flow of shooting opportunities wasn’t capitalised on.
With the Gas then dropping into League Two, Westbrooke’s status as one of the club’s highest earners coupled with Barton’s wish to play a back three impacting on how many central creative players he can have in his XI who offer little defensive protection, has left him as an odd-man out.
At times Westbrooke looked physically out-matched in League One, which isn’t always an arena for midfield technicians, a situation that will be even more pronounced in League Two.
“I don’t know, never say never in our game. Who knows in football, it’s taught me over the years that things can happen,” Barton added, regarding whether Westbrooke’s last performance for the club will be the Carabao Cup defeat to Cheltenham.
“I think he’s had a lot of opportunities Zain, he’s a great kid but I don’t think it worked for him before I got here and I just think he’s chased his tail a little bit and sometimes you need a fresh start and Zain’s paid a good salary for where we’re at at this moment in time.”
Westbrooke still has two years remaining on his Rovers contract so the Gas will have aspirations of recouping a competitive fee for the Brentford academy product, even if his stock has been impacted by relegation.
With Brandon Hanlan, another major signing from the summer of 2020, also set to be sold amid interest from Lincoln, that could Barton significant resources with two weeks of the transfer window remaining.