Marseille’s controversial on-loan midfielder Joey Barton claimed earlier this week that he is set to stay with the Ligue 1 giants this summer and that a deal is already in place between OM and his parent club, Queens Park Rangers.
Les Phoceens have moved to deny those claims. Marseille supremo Vincent Labrune told 20 Minutes that any permanent move will ultimately be decided upon by the English Premier League side.
Recently, Barton caused a stir in France with a scathing attack on Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian international defender Thiago Silva via Twitter, which came after the Brazilian made comments regarding the Englishman to L’Equipe. PSG have since threatened legal action, and Barton will face a French Football Federation ethics committee hearing regarding the outburst.
Barton retracted his comments after Silva’s colossal performance in the first leg of PSG’s Champions League quarter-final with Barcelona before making an official apology through Marseille. The damage has been done, though, and Barton’s foul-mouthed outburst threatens to undermine everything he has worked so hard to achieve in his time in Provence.
The 30-year-old has stated his love and gratitude for Marseille on a number of occasions and truly appears to be settled in Provence. However, despite a number of impressive performances this season (most recently against bitter rivals PSG in Ligue 1, where OM were unlucky in defeat), do Elie Baup’s side need him?
Barton’s last two appearances for the club have come from the bench against Nice and Bordeaux. That illustrates how far down the pecking order the Englishman has slipped, thanks to the impressive form of Benoit Cheyrou and Alaixys Romao in the centre of midfield.
Togolese international Romao was unavailable for selection immediately after signing from Lorient late in the January transfer window because he was on Africa Cup of Nations duty. The 29-year-old helped the Sparrow Hawks to an all-time-best quarter-final appearance in South Africa before returning to take his place in the OM side.
Since Romao’s return, Barton has been less instrumental to the team. That does not mean he can’t contribute anything, though. He may not be in the same form that he once was, contributing three assists in his first 10 league games for the club—not to mention an inspired debut in the Europa League against Fenerbahce and his first goal for the club against Borussia Monchengladbach in the same competition—but he still retains Coach Baup's faith. The Frenchman insists Barton still figures in his plans.
Is it enough to convince the club to take a long-term gamble on Barton, though? Perhaps not.
There can be no doubt that Barton has proven himself effective and a far better signing than compatriot Joe Cole at Lille the year before, but his contribution has not been so outstanding that Marseille can’t do without him next year.
The club’s signings of Foued Kadir and Romao show that they are already rebuilding for next season with a smaller budget. Romao and Cheyrou's good form makes it harder for Barton to break into the side. Given that he is on big money and still courting controversy, the club may well opt to not prolong his stay at the Stade Velodrome, even if it proves to be an unpopular decision with the fans.
A contentious red card for two yellow cards in February also didn’t help his case, leaving Baup short of numbers when the club was weakest thanks to the AFCON. But that incident and his Twitter outburst still mean that OM can’t trust him, no matter how reformed he appears to be when he does take to the pitch.
In the early parts of his spell, Barton impressed me. He appeared focused on his football, happier in his surroundings and crucially more muted (whether it was a product of not being able to fully express himself in French or not). Sadly, that is no longer the case, and it appears Marseille are learning that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Labrune and OM are now faced with a difficult decision: Do they dispense with Barton’s services and reinvest his wages elsewhere, or do they take a risk and throw their lot in with the Englishman? He certainly has his benefits off the pitch in terms of exposure for the club, but more often than not it is negative.
Given his recent decline in form, it looks increasingly likely that this might be Barton’s only season in Ligue 1.