Joey Barton cannot keep out of the headlines. Booked 22 minutes into his league debut for Olympique de Marseille; conducting a press conference in English with a comic French accent; sharing his views with his near-1.8 million Twitter followers – the midfielder is a difficult man to ignore.
Spend some time with the Englishman and you soon get a grasp of his determination to make a success of his season-long loan from Queens Park Rangers FC. Just like another lover of British guitar music, Joe Cole – who spent last season on loan at LOSC Lille from Liverpool FC – Barton is keen to engage with the local culture, although Marseillais rap is a bridge too far, and is already a popular figure at his club, with a smile and a word for those working behind the scenes and a burgeoning friendship with forward André-Pierre Gignac.
On the field, his full integration has taken time. The 12-match domestic ban in England carried over from his red card at Manchester City FC on the final day of last season restricted him to UEFA Europa League football until his long-awaited first Ligue 1 appearance at home to LOSC at the Stade Vélodrome last Sunday.
Speaking to UEFA.com after the 1-0 home loss to Fenerbahçe SK last week that ended Marseille's Europa League hopes, youngsters Rafidine Abdullah and Kassim Abdallah repeatedly used the same word to describe what could be expected of 30-year-old Barton: "La gnaque" loosely translates as an overpowering will to win. That combative style was in evidence as Barton collected his first yellow card in the French game for a slightly wild challenge on LOSC midfielder Florent Balmont.
Channelling the spirit of British comedy series 'Allo 'Allo, Barton essayed a cod French accent to comment: "I made one tackle and all everybody talks about is this tackle. Nobody speaks about the 50-yard pass that kills Balmont and causes a red card for him. Nobody talks about the shot that [Mickaël] Landreau would have been happy to see – he didn't see the ball, never mind have a chance to save it. For me it's important that people speak about my qualities as a footballer. For me, I'm a little bit bored from the English media. Hopefully the French media has more about it than the English media rather than concentrating on stupid little incidents like this."
As he says, his qualities as a footballer are manifold. Indeed, a rasping right-footed effort flew narrowly wide of the LOSC goal, just as a sweet left-footed strike had against Fenerbahçe three days previously. By his own admission, Barton will require up to six games to get up to 100% but a 25-metre sprint to dispossess the Turkish club's midfielder Cristian, who would otherwise have been through on goal, was testament to the hard work the 30-year-old has put in on the training ground and that "gnaque".
With a small squad, Marseille can ill-afford to lose Barton to a further suspension if they are to mount a credible challenge for the Ligue 1 title they last claimed in 2010. Following the 1-0 win over LOSC, for which Marseille tweaked their tactics from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 to incorporate Barton, coach Elie Baup said: "He was good. It is a shame about the card he collected.
"We have to be careful that he doesn't become a target. You could tell, after the card, that he was intelligent enough not to over-commit to challenges. He mustn't become someone who is watched more closely than the others."
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