Amid all the controversy that regularly surrounds Joey Barton, it's often easy to forget that he's a footballer, and a decent enough one as well.
After his move last autumn to OM, he made 30 appearances for the Ligue 1 side in all competitions, helping them to an unexpected second-place finish in the table, scoring his only goal in a 2-2 draw at home to Borussia Monchengladbach in the Europa League. He was solid if unspectacular in the centre of midfield, and while he wasn't perhaps the sort of signing that Marseille fans would have been dreaming of, particularly when their Parisian rivals were throwing money around like nobody's business, he turned out to be a pretty good bargain given the sort of wages he was on.
With the season finished, Barton made it clear in the media that he wasn't particularly keen on a return to England with Q.P.R and stated his intention to sign a permanent deal with OM if such a move was to be possible. OM, however, weren't exactly on the same wavelength, and, preferring to explore other opportunities, they turned down the overtures of the combative scouser.
Rumours then surfaced recently that Barton was close to a return to Merseyside, with Everton believed to be interested in making a move. Yet, despite Barton tweeting 'Once a Blue...', less than subtly indicating his own interest in joining his boyhood heroes, sources at Goodison Park told ESPN the desire for the move was not mutual. Everton legend Neville Southall was less than keen, even going so far as to draw comparisons between Barton and fictional film character Forrest Gump.
It seems then that wherever Joey Barton is playing his football next season, it won't be with either Olympique de Marseille or Everton. The clubs have made their minds up—but are they right? Or could it be the sort of move they'll regret not having made once things get tough later on in the season?
First up, it's important to take a look at the context. When OM moved for Barton last year, they were undergoing a tightening of the belts at all levels, and Barton represented a budget option that could do a job for them with the club competing on four fronts. Expectations were relatively modest following OM's lowly finish the previous season, and most fans would have settled for a return to the top five of the table without even considering finishing as high as second.
It's taken on a rather different complexion this season.
Marseille are back in the Champions League, and although financial prudence and responsibility are still very much the order of the day, it is a far cry from the situation at Lyon, for instance, where the club are having to let go of most, if not all, of their more established players. Money has been made available, and Elie Baup has already brought in Dimitri Payet, Bernard Mendy and the much sought after Gianelli Imbula for a combined total of roughly €30 million, with a view to further strengthening the squad before the end of the transfer window.
In short, Marseille have moved on from the period where Barton was the best they could do, and with more funds at their disposal and the promise of Champions League football, they are now able to attract a better quality of player.
Everton's situation is somewhat different from that of Marseille—different expectations, different circumstances and a different environment. For the first time in over a decade, the club have a new manager, and although Roberto Martinez will be looking to carry on where Moyes left off, he'll also want to leave his own stamp on the club—is Barton really the sort of player he wants?
Sure, hardworking, competitive midfielders are a necessity in the EPL, but Barton will be 31 in September. He's a liability both on and off the field, where his attitude and his conduct are likely to regularly land him in bother with the authorities, and although he has his merits as a player, like Marseille they can do better.
With Marouane Fellaini's departure looking increasingly likely, the midfield will need strengthening, and it will take a higher standard of player than Joey Barton to do it. For example, while they differ in style, wouldn't signing James McCarthy be a far better option? Or giving Ross Barkley his chance?
Signing Barton would be a backward step, a stop-gap solution, and while to a certain extent you could argue it worked for Marseille last season, Everton have the means at their disposal to go out and get better quality.
All things considered, quality is what it's really about. Barton is a controversial figure who divides opinion, and that in itself could be considered reason enough for teams to think twice about buying him, but if he had the right ability, you could make a case for either OM or Everton bringing him in. If he was the right calibre of player and really add something to either side he would be worth the effort, even taking into account his disciplinary issues, but he isn't.
Joey Barton might end up getting a good move this summer and go on to prove his doubters wrong.
But as far as OM and Everton are concerned, saying no is the smartest thing to do.