Marseille fans have had to wait a long time to see on-loan midfielder Joey Barton in action, but the Englishman has not disappointed since making his competitive debut for the club in the Europa League against Fenerbahce in September.
Although he was banned from making his domestic debut in Ligue 1 until the end of November when his new team faced 2011 champions Lille, the QPR man has made up for lost time since his ban from the end of last season´s English Premier League climax expired.
Barton has made four appearances since arriving in Provence and by all accounts has settled in well in Marseille despite initially not speaking much French. The Merseysider may have found a happy medium through which he can communicate with his teammates for the moment via "Bartonese," but it is his impact on the pitch that has pleased the club´s fans most. Despite recent results going against his new side, Barton has put in a number of impressive performances and looks happy to be playing football again.
In Brittany when facing Brest a fortnight ago, the 30-year-old was instrumental as l´OM emerged victorious 2-1, having laid on both goals with a superlative individual showing which the French media were quick to praise, and rightly so.
For all of his drawbacks, of which many have been well-documented, Barton is essentially a talented footballer and one who would no doubt have received greater recognition had he not been so appealing to the English media. Now in an environment where he doesn´t often speak English to either his teammates or the media, the Englishman is thriving because he is now solely focused on his football.
Though still short of regular-match fitness, Barton looks capable of succeeding where compatriot Joe Cole failed because of his staying power and—more importantly—a desire to play football regularly.
When Cole was at defending champions Lille, it didn´t always appear like he was enjoying himself or his football (still the case at Liverpool), and despite an impressive start to life in France, his experience gradually fizzled out, and he left les Dogues quietly.
Marseille fans—more than most—can appreciate English footballers, Chris Waddle enjoyed a successful stay at the Stade Velodrome between 1989 and 1992 (winning three league titles and reaching a European Cup final) and is remembered fondly. More recently Tyrone Mears spent a season on loan in Provence from Derby County (in 2008-09) but is remembered less glowingly.
Whilst Barton will need to stay in France for longer than one season to enjoy the same level of adulation from les Phoceens fans that Waddle does, his early reception has been positive, and if any club in France likes a bad boy, then it is most definitely Marseille.
Perhaps less well known to OM fans is Barton´s admission in an interview with Canal+ when linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain in the early days of the Qatar Sports Investments era. He said he was a "PSG fan" in his childhood due to their European clashes with Liverpool and his history as a childhood Everton fan.
Those little details all paint a bigger picture though: Barton is a popular character in France possibly through intrigue from the French press and domestic football fans and partly down to his representation of the EPL and all that goes with English football abroad.
It is too early to quantify his impact at the nine-time winners just yet, but following showings like his debut against Lille where he demonstrated his fantastic passing ability or against Brest where his creative side came to the fore, it appears that Marseille got the better end of the deal for Stephane Mbia in landing Barton in the sort of form we saw in his time with Newcastle United under Alan Pardew.
Whether he can maintain it over an extended period of time with a team destined to struggle during the African Cup of Nations despite their strong first XI is the big question now. Despite claiming that his new side can win the title, big question marks remain over Barton's Marseille as they attempt to keep pace with bitter rivals and French juggernaut PSG and seven-time winners Lyon in the race for the title.
Following last season´s 10th place finish, a European qualification position would be a big step in the right direction, but if Barton´s form can lead this OM side to the summit of Ligue 1 before the AFCON starts, then the Englishman could become more of a hero in Provence than even Waddle.