Marseille are tempered by Europa exit and so is their on-loan midfielder, writes Ian Hawkey.
Joey Barton can set things straight at Marseille
Marseille are in need of an emergency responder. Bundled out of the Europa League, amid menace in the grandstands of the Stade Velodrome, and with a cull of only five points from the past six Ligue 1 outings that has plunged them from top of the table, Marseille look to a championnat debutant against Lille tomorrow to be their improbable white knight.
He is Joey Barton, the 30-year-old Englishman who has served the 12-match suspension he carried to the Mediterranean from the English Premier League, where in his last match for Queens Park Rangers, who have loaned Barton to Marseille, an outburst against Manchester City players, as well as match officials, resulted in a long ban as part of his baggage.
Marseille supporters have seen enough of Barton in European fixtures, though, to believe he might be the galvaniser they need to rise out of their slump. The player himself has spoken of wanting to play for the club until he retires.
Barton's absence from league football in France, and indeed his exile from England, has hardly passed unnoticed. He is not a shy man, nor diffident in expounding opinions.
Social media have heard from him lately on the diminishing value of England caps - of which he has one - and the excesses of the Premier League, where he was charged three times in a 10-year, three-club career with violent conduct. Suffice to say today's visit of Lille to the Velodrome has the "Proclaimer of Provence" as its centre of attention.
France has been impressed by Barton so far. His four outings in Marseille's ultimately unsuccessful Europa League campaign included a collector's item of a goal, struck directly from a corner. The club's belief is that Barton's set-piece delivery will be an asset for the remainder of the season.
He has shown a versatility that the Marseille coach, Elie Baup, appreciates, having operated as one of a pair of holding midfielders, and, more advanced, at the centre of the attacking trio of midfielders.
As for his fame as a trouble-stirrer, a potential tempest, little evidence. The newspaper Le Point asked: "Has anybody heard a bad word about him? Has there been a fracas with a teammate? An explosion on the field? Apart from pointed comments towards the English FA, he has not made any waves at all."
Steve Mandanda, the Marseille captain, said: "He'll be an important plus for the team."
Like the hosts, Lille are recent French champions who have been humbled in Europe, knocked out of the Champions League. For Marseille, a league title remains a possibility. The top of the French table is tight, with the leaders Lyon only three points ahead of Barton's club. It is a challenge the exiled Englishman should relish.
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