Marseille midfielder Joey Barton has made an immediate impact since arriving on the Mediterranean coast, displaying the full extent of his talents with a rare goal direct from a corner in the Europa League as well as two assists during Sunday’s 2-1 win over Brest in Ligue 1.
“Barton gave me a gift. I had the fortune to find myself in the right place,” said Souleymane Diawara, the scorer of Marseille’s opening goal at the weekend and not the last person to thank the player on loan at Stade Velodrome from Queens Park Rangers.
Named in Elie Baup’s starting lineup days after lasting just 45 minutes of Marseille’s heavy 4-1 home defeat against league leaders Lyon, Barton, along with his teammates, demonstrated great character to respond positively and tighten their grip on second place in the table.
Playing in the rain and fog in Brittany, Barton explained: “The conditions were very English, I felt almost at home.”
As the architect of both Marseille goals, the former Newcastle man admitted that victory was the only thought on his mind, as it would “provide an answer to the questions provoked by Wednesday’s match”.
“The important thing is to have won. [For the second goal], Andre [Ayew] was better positioned than me, I didn’t think for a second to try my luck. If I had scored a goal and we had lost, I would have been very disappointed,” said Barton.
Seemingly a complete gamble, the year-long loan signing of one of English football’s most controversial figures appears set to pay dividends.
Barton was restricted to intermittent appearances in the Europa League matches as he was forced to serve a domestic 12-match ban meted out by the English Football Association following his dismissal at the end of last season for striking Manchester City forward Carlos Tevez before subsequent clashes with Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany.
Still short of match-fitness, he had already showed glimpses of his promise by scoring straight from a corner against Borussia Moenchengladbach in a 2-2 draw with the German side in early November.
Against Lyon, he was withdrawn at half-time after being outclassed, like the rest of his side, by the opposition’s midfielders, but the tale against Brest was markedly different as Barton played the full 90 minutes and was instrumental in Marseille’s success.
With just two yellow cards in eight matches, Barton, who has a history of falling victim to provocation, has so far shown an ability to keep his emotions in check.
“Joey can bring all his potential into the vision of the game and his passes. If he has restraint in his game, it’s also because only one thing awaits, his first red card,” said Baup.
Voted man of the match on Sunday by Marseille supporters, Barton displayed a dynamic style that Baup had lauded at the start of the season, labelling him a tireless player who is just as adept defensively as he is going forward.
Even if his grasp of the local language remains limited, as seen during a recent press conference when he spoke English with a French accent, the once-capped England international could also shoulder the role of on-field “barker” or motivator that Marseille sometimes lack.
“Barker I don’t know, perhaps,” said captain Steve Mandanda.
“But above all, it’s the quality he can have on the pitch that he can give us.”