SPIRO BLOG: Barton to the rescue?
By M. Spiro
Joey Barton's move to OM has attracted its share of cynicism on both sides of the Channel, but as Ligue1.com's Matthew Spiro explains, the outspoken midfielder has not taken an easy option by joining the southern giants.
OM legends Chris Waddle and Jean-Pierre Papin have been among those to question the wisdom of signing England's very own enfant terrible. Papin thinks French referees will make life in Ligue 1 untenable for the notoriously feisty Liverpudlian; Waddle, meanwhile, does not appear to think Barton is good enough to grace the famous sky-blue shirt.
Never one to get bogged down by negative press, the man himself has been busy telling the world - via blogs and tweets - about how happy he is on the Mediterranean coast and how much he is relishing the challenge of adapting to a new culture and another kind of football. At least the ex-Newcastle and Manchester City schemer is one person who has absolutely no doubt he will be a success.
Back in action
Thankfully, 85 long days after the Queens Park Rangers player completed his switch, Barton is ready to stop tweeting and start playing. Now that his 12-match domestic ban is over, the 30-year-old is free to make his Ligue 1 bow against Lille at the Stade Vélodrome on Sunday and at last we will start to get answers to the question: was signing the gifted yet notoriously temperamental Englishman a good idea or not?
Succeeding at Marseille is difficult at the best of times. The fans are unforgiving and the opposition always fired up. Robert Pires and Claude Makelele are among those to have struggled in an environment where Barton hopes to shine. Furthermore, Barton - who has only played in the Europa League until now - is arriving in the team at a very awkward time.
OM's flying start to the campaign has raised expectations, yet Elie Baup's charges are now flagging: they've won only one of their last six league games, dropping to fourth after losing at Bordeaux last weekend. By the time they take to the field on Sunday, they could find themselves as low as seventh. Lose by a couple of goals to Lille and Marseille may even be eighth by the end of the weekend - if that happens, talk of a crisis will quickly kick in.
Short of firepower
This is of course a worst-case scenario. Indeed, the league table is so bunched, OM could alternatively be top come midnight on Sunday. The problem is, however, the team appears to going backwards and they remain desperately short of firepower.
With Loïc Rémy and André-Pierre Gignac injured, Baup does not have a proven striker. At Bordeaux, midfielder André Ayew was forced to play centre-forward (his younger brother Jordan was suspended) and barely had a kick. Billel Omrani, 19, got on for his debut in the second half - as did Fabrice Apruzesse, a 27-year-old forward plucked from OM's amateur team and thrust in to fray. Unsurprisingly, Marseille did not score a goal.
Jordan Ayew will return against Lille, but this is undoubtedly a daunting test for a below-strength OM. It won't get much easier on Wednesday either when they host leaders Lyon.
Test of character
Nobody is expecting Barton to come in and suddenly provide a goal threat. That isn't his job. But he will be expected to lift those around him and help bring some belief back to the team. Is Barton capable of doing that? His performances at QPR last season would suggest not. Then again, if he rediscovers his Newcastle form of a couple of years ago then maybe he will be the man to reignite Marseille's title charge after all.
Whatever happens in the coming weeks, it'll be interesting - and after all the talk, something of a relief to finally see what Barton the footballer is made of.