Joey Barton was in Marseille for negotiations with its football club when the latest execution-style murder was carried out and French social network users lost no time in noting the coincidence.
Bad boy Barton in baddest of French towns
MARSEILLE // Joey Barton, considered the "baddest boy" of English football, is embarking on a new life in a French city so lawless that a mayor has called for the army to be sent in to combat gangland killings.
Barton, 30 today, is infamous for his violent excesses on and off the football. He was stripped of the captaincy of the London club Queens Park Rangers (QPR) after his most recent fall from grace, but has now signed a one-year loan deal with France's best-supported team, Olympique de Marseille.
The southern city likes to be known for its sunny climate, cosmopolitan mix and the gift of bouillabaisse, a substantial fish soup, to international cuisine.
But it also has a reputation for ruthless criminality. Barton was in Marseille for negotiations with the club when the latest execution-style murder was carried out on Wednesday night and French social network users lost no time in noting the coincidence. Walid Marzouki, 25, a passenger in a car driven by a young woman was shot dead with a Kalashnikov. The woman had a miraculous escape.
It was the 14th lethal case of scores being settled at gunpoint in Marseille this year, already one more than for the whole of last year and the 19th in the region. Police sources said Marzouki's killing appeared to be linked to drugs.
The unusual call for military intervention came from Samia Ghali, a socialist member of the upper house of parliament, and mayor of two tough Marseille districts.
She said: "With criminals using weapons of war, only the army can intervene." In some Marseillais suburbs, drug-dealing was now the main source of employment, she told the newspaper La Provence.
Ministers swiftly ruled out any question of soldiers being deployed. But Ms Ghali insisted exceptional measures were necessary to tackle crime in France's only city where "young people die by Kalachnikov in the streets".
Jean-Marc Ayrault, France's prime minister, announced a special inter-ministerial committee would examine the social problems of Marseille within the next few days. Parts of the city have already been designated priority security areas.
By comparison with such feuds, Barton's escapades fade into insignificance. All the same, he has an unenviable record of misconduct.
On his website, he describes himself as an "ex-con, ranting anti-celebrity, football's philosopher king, loving dad and violent thug all rolled into one".
He is serving a 12-match ban for an extraordinary outburst in the final game of last season, against Manchester City. Sent off for elbowing Carlos Tévez, he kicked another City player, Sergio Agüero, tried to headbutt Vincent Kompany and confronted Mario Balotelli before reaching the dressing room.
In 2008 he was jailed for six months for assault and affray in the centre of his native Liverpool.
Marseille's problems with crime are not new and stem in part from its history as a port serving as an entry point to Europe from North Africa. There are also links with criminal activity on the French island of Corsica.
High unemployment has made drug trafficking and other serious crime attractive options for young men from high-rise estates. In that respect - added to the ease with which gangsters can obtain deadly weapons - it is tempting to draw comparisons with the two English cities Barton knows best, Liverpool and Manchester, where gun crime also causes deep concern.
As for football, Barton's suspension means he will be unavailable to his new club before November. Supporters will be hoping he then keeps his latest promise to behave himself.
"Once the ink is dry," he tweeted as the deal neared completion, "I can immerse myself in the culture, learn the language and just play football. That is my dream."