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Joey Barton Loving Life In France But True Tests Lie Ahead

Life for Joey Barton is always eventful and not even a lengthy ban kept him out of the headlines earlier this season, despite delaying his start to life in France with Marseille. The midfielder was hit with the news that his 12-match ban was actually a 13-game suspension, as the English Football Association had not registered his loan move from Queens Park Rangers until after Marseille’s 3-1 win at Rennes on 2nd September. That prompted one of Barton’s frequent rants, with the Liverpudlian deriding the English FA.

Before he took to the pitch in a Ligue 1 game, Barton did enjoy playing time in the Europa League, being thrown in by coach Elie Baup, and even scored a remarkable goal direct from a corner kick against Borussia Monchengladbach.

Barton could then have been sent off just 22 minutes into his domestic debut as he flew into Lille’s Florent Balmont, although in the event he received just a yellow card. The midfielder next played a key part in the move which saw Balmont sent off for bringing down Mathieu Valbuena when clean through on goal.

The Englishman’s second game, at home against Lyon, featured an anonymous Barton, largely helpless as Remi Garde’s team swept aside Marseille 4-1 to move top of the league.

It was third time lucky against Brest, with Barton making the headlines for the right reasons at last. Marseille had never won in Brittany and Brest were unbeaten at home, yet Barton carved open the hosts in the first period to set up Souleymane Diawara to open the scoring. He had gone close to getting on the scoresheet himself twice before he played in Andre Ayew for the crucial second goal which restored Marseille’s lead after Brest had equalised.

The former Manchester City and Newcastle man has settled in quickly to life on France’s south coast, striking up a good partnership on the pitch with Mathieu Valbuena in midfield, and he received the highest marks of any player in the French press for his display against Brest, so impressive was his performance. Diawara for one was thankful to the on-loan QPR man for his ‘passe decisif’.

“Everyone talks about his antics, but they forget that before all else he is an excellent player. He showed that during his time in England”, the defender said.

Barton also demonstrated in his homeland that controversy is never too far away and some of his public comments have attracted ridicule. That is something which has not stopped since his move to France. The 30-year-old will not help matters off the pitch if he continues to make comments such as being “too intelligent to be a footballer”, nor through his attacks on the English press or his new, Franco-friendly accent. On his own website he describes himself as the Philosopher King, which presumably would have Plato turning over in his grave.

Yet out of the glare of the English press, Barton is loving life across the channel. This is a genuine opportunity for a fresh start in a new culture and a chance to put his misdemeanours behind him. There is every sign that Barton is determined to do just that. He has been working hard to learn the language and has already spoken of his desire to stay with Marseille for the rest of his career. He has said that “preliminary discussions” have taken place about an extension to the loan or a permanent deal at the season’s end and Barton also sees parallels between the south coast city and his hometown of Liverpool.

“The main point in common is the passion of the people of Marseille and Liverpool towards football. They want to see people who give 100%. It’s quite easy for me, because it’s my nature to play like that and give my all. If it is my choice, I would stay here for the rest of my career. I love this place, I have a great relationship with the people, the staff, the manager, players, supporters. I feel like I am at home.”

Before an extension to his French romance is agreed, Barton must win over the doubters. His move has been questioned by many. Midfielder Ousmane Dabo popped up to remind everyone of Barton’s violent side during their time together at Manchester City. Another Englishman to have plied his trade at Marseille, Chris Waddle, questioned the wisdom of the move, as did club legend Jean-Pierre Papin, who believes referees will make life difficult for the 30-year-old.

The big tests are to come, when the stakes are highest and emotions flowing. It will be fascinating to see Barton when Marseille take on Paris Saint-Germain, particularly if the two teams are both still in the thick of the Ligue 1 title race.

If he keeps his cool Barton can play a key role in Marseille’s title push. It is easily forgotten that when on song, Barton’s range of passing and technical skill make him a valuable asset to any team. Marseille’s main problem in the opening months of the season has been putting the ball in the net. Andre-Pierre Gignac got them off to a flying start as he remembered how to score, but injury has kept him out recently whilst Loic Remy is also struggling for fitness .Barton cannot be expected to fill their goalscoring shoes, but he can provide some more flair from deep and help prompt moves for the likes of Valbuena and the Ayew brothers to finish off.

For all his rants and philosophising off the pitch, words count for little. Barton must get through the season without a red card for a start. And if he can help Marseille pick up a trophy on the way, that would be the best way to prove the doubters wrong.

Published: Friday, 7th Dec 2012