With the French transfer window not due to close until midnight on 4th September, there will be plenty of rumours circulating in the next week, but none may be as unexpected as the announcement that Joey Barton, looking for a fresh start, is expected to join Marseille.
Having been ‘on’, with Barton himself announcing through his twitter account that his ‘heart was at the Velodrome’, the deal was then ‘off’ as he was forced back into training with the reserves at QPR, part of his on-going punishment for misdemeanours at the end of last season. Then early yesterday Barton tweeted a photo of himself travelling to Marseille to visit the club and the deal was back ‘on’. He is expected to complete the second part of his medical and formalise the contract negotiations today.
The suggestion of Barton joining Marseille appears to have split the opinion of les phoceéns as well as fans of French football, with a number of blog posts and articles already being published on the matter. Well here is my own take.
As many of you might know, I support Marseille, however, my first team is actually Newcastle United. I live in Newcastle and am a long time season ticket holder too. So I have actually had the pleasure, and pain, of supporting a team that Joey Barton has played for. I’ve seen the good, the bad, the ugly and the damn right fantastic side to Barton.
Barton’s time at Newcastle, like his time at other clubs, was mixed. After a solid first season he missed most of Newcastle’s infamous relegation season, returning at the end only to get sent-off at Anfield. This led to an apparent bust up with then manager Alan Shearer and it looked like Barton would be on his way out of toon. However, as the club appeared to be spectacularly imploding, Barton stayed. After a 6-1 defeat in a friendly at the hands of Leyton Orient, the NUFC players held a crisis-meeting. Barton and Kevin Nolan were apparently the main orchestrators in this, whereby the players discussed who wanted to stay and who wanted to go, who had ‘the balls’ to stick around with a club in the Championship and fight to get a team with no manager and seemingly no long-term stability back into the Premiership. Barton stayed, and along with the others who did, they managed to drag Newcastle back up.
Barton enjoyed his most successful season with Newcastle in the 2010-2011 season, when NUFC were back in the Premiership. On the pitch he struck up a wonderful partnership with Andy Carroll, providing 9 assists and 5 goals for the team. Barton was also seen as one of the key players in the emphatic 4-4 draw with Arsenal. Barton drew in the Arsenal players with a robust challenge, Diaby got sent off in the melee, Barton scored 2 penalties and also took the free-kick that led to Cheik Tiote’s incredible equaliser. The 2nd 45 minutes in this game were perhaps Barton’s finest in a Newcastle shirt.
In those 45 minutes he didn’t cry off and hide, like other players had before Newcastle’s Championship season. Barton came out ready for a fight and ready to give it his all. Barton showed his intelligence, as just when the Newcastle players needed a lift, Barton put in a heavy tackle on Diaby, this resulted in the crowd going wild and everyone got behind their player and team and the atmosphere was ignited, forgetting that their team was 4-0 down. This type of thing is often seen in ice-hockey, where a player will deliberately put in a heavy challenge, perhaps starting a fight, as a means of giving the players and fans a lift. During the fracas though, Barton didn’t start swinging punches or go head-to-head with players, he calmly watched as those around him lost their heads, and were duly punished. After this Barton coolly dispatched 2 penalties, before providing an excellent set-piece free-kick that led to Tiote’s equaliser.
These 45 minutes live long in my memory, not just because I was there, not just because one of my best mates left at half-time and missed one of the greatest come backs ever. But because the game had everything: skill, flair, passion, drama, guts and is a prominent reminder of why I love football. Joey Barton is entirely and perhaps solely accountable for this. I have no doubt that if Barton was not on the pitch that day, that result would never have happened. The Newcastle team lacked anyone else that could step-up and fight in quite the same way that Joey Barton can and did. Those 45 minutes were not the only good 45 minutes that Barton had for NUFC, far from it, but they encapsulate perfectly what he can offer to Marseille.
If Joey Barton can bring this mentality, skill, quality and passion to the south of France, he will succeed and the fans will love him for it. If Barton can maintain the psychology he held throughout the 2010-2011 season he has the potential to be a hero for OM. The Marseille midfield needs someone with this obvious fight and spirit. Marseille’s set-pieces have been nothing short of bland and uninspiring, and are regularly poorly delivered, Barton can change that. He would also be able to allow the defensive unit to practice against set-pieces in training, something they never appear to have done with the amount of chances they give away each game!
My hopes are that the move will happen. As I’ve said, I’ve had the privilege to see the positives that a (mentally and physically) fit Joey Barton can bring to a whole club, not just a squad. In France Barton might enjoy fairer treatment on and off the pitch too. Through my potentially biased eyes, Barton was subject to giving away so many fouls and cards, simply because he was Joey Barton. Other players would put in worse tackles and not be reprimanded, other teams would also target Barton, putting in poor challenges and fouls in an inexplicably obvious attempt to make Barton ‘lose it’ and this would go unpunished. In France, my hope is he can escape this, and escape the media circus of the British press who are all too keen to drag up every misdemeanour at every opportunity.
A fresh start in the north of England helped Barton turn his career around temporarily. Perhaps a fresh start in the south of France could help him do it permanently.
I do hope so. Joey, welcome to Marseille.
(@MarseilleUK & Andrew_Js3)