Joey Barton has told L'Equipe he hopes to return to Marseille to "give back" what the French club gave him after Queens Park Rangers had declared him persona non grata.
Barton, 31, was handed a 12-match ban by the Football Association after being sent off on the dramatic final day of the 2011-12 Premier League season. Though the hefty suspension meant he could not play in domestic competition until the November of the following campaign, Marseille agreed to take the fiery midfielder on loan for the season.
Though he has now reluctantly returned to QPR and is helping the club in its bid to return to the top-flight, Barton has not forgotten OM's role in keeping his career alive.
"[QPR owner] Tony Fernandes spoke to me and told me that he had a real project to get promoted and I would be a leader in that. But I wasn't interested at all in all of that, because the club had kicked me out a year earlier. I had been banished from here even though I was captain. Marseille welcomed me with open arms. Now that I'm here I'll do everything I can so that we get back into the Premier League. But I'll never forget what Marseille did for me," Barton, who played 33 games in all competitions for the French club, said.
"I'm playing better now than I did at Marseille. I loved my life in France, but on the pitch, I wasn't the best. I could have done more. I didn't feel good there, I hadn't had a pre-season, but I'm not looking for excuses. That's also why I hope to go back there one day, to give back what they gave me."
If Barton had had his way, he would be a Marseille player today. After frequently and publicly declaring his desire to remain at the Stade Velodrome, as well as his wish not to play in the Championship, the former England international hoped QPR would free him from the final two years of his contract this summer.
"The club had just been relegated and had to sell players. So, I was confident. I said to myself: 'I'm going to work in training, keep my head down, and at the end, I'll go back to Marseille and everything will be fine,'" said Barton, whose plans fell through when, despite manager Harry Redknapp having agreed he could leave, Fernandes demanded a transfer fee.
"The tacit agreement was that I would arrive on a free. Suddenly, QPR wanted some cash. And I fully understand why Marseille didn't pay to take me."
He added: "I know that Marseille aren't in the same financial position as PSG, and because I spoke very often with [OM president] Vincent [Labrune], I knew he wanted young players like Payet and Thauvin. He told me clearly he wanted to spend the money he had on them, and I couldn't argue as they're very good players.
"He told me that he had kept some money to one side for me, but it was the money planned upon at the start. He didn't have any more. I could have kicked up a stink with the club, the manager, so that they allowed me to leave. I think it would even have worked. But I'm not that kind of guy. I've never done that in a club during my career."