Barton grateful to Marseille
Joey Barton has revealed he feels he has a debt to repay to Marseille after the club showed faith in him during a difficult time, with the Ligue 1 club having expressed their interest in retaining the on-loan Queens Park Rangers midfielder beyond the end of the season.
Banned for 12 games by the English FA for violent conduct during QPR's final Premier League game of last season, Barton was persona non grata at Loftus Road. Though he was unable to feature in league football until November, the 30-year-old found Marseille willing to take him to France on a season-long loan.
It is something the combative midfielder is not ready to forget.
"Marseille believed in me at a time when it would have been easy not to. I won't forget that loyalty," the ex-Manchester City and Newcastle man told OM's official website. "Whether it's the coach, [sporting director] Jose Anigo or the president, they all trusted me. The players, the fans have been very welcoming. It's only natural I try to return that.
"Compared to the love I've received since coming here, I've done nothing for this club. The manner in which I've been welcomed here will stay with me for a long time, even after my playing career is over. That's why I'm willing to give everything for this club which means a lot to me."
Though he only made his Ligue 1 bow in late November, Barton has impressed at the Stade Velodrome. He even provided assists on both his team's goals in their 2-1 win at Brest in December - the first time he had teed up two strikes in the same game in his career - helping OM establish themselves in the top three in Ligue 1.
For a player many thought would suffer at the hands of French referees, who are less likely to turn a blind eye to the sort of physical play Barton would have been used to in the Premier League, he has picked up just two yellow cards in nine competitive outings, and has tried to show a more mature side in the dressing-room.
"When I was a youngster, I constantly observed the more experienced players," Barton explained. "I have had the chance to play alongside a lot of good players, and I learned a lot from Peter Schmeichel when he was at Manchester City, and also from Ali Benarbia.
"You have to take the best from the each player you play with. It's great if I can transmit a little of my experience to the young OM players. They're ready to listen, and take advice and learn from me or other experienced players like Steve Mandanda, Souleymane Diawara, Benoit Cheyrou or Jeremy Morel. They're always ready to give advice and take time to help young players."
Barton added: "I've played in clubs where there were clans, which is never positive for a football club. Fortunately, there's a good squad at Marseille, and you can see that in our current position in the league."
Marseille are equally happy the gamble has paid off.
"We have very good relations with QPR, and extending the loan is perhaps possible," Anigo told Bixente Lizarazu on the former France defender's radio show on RTL earlier this week. "He likes it at Marseille, he likes the city, which lives for football. We haven't started talks with QPR, but he's a nice guy and we want to keep him, although nothing is certain."
Anigo added: "He's a good pro in terms of his work and everyday commitment. Many French players should follow his example. He works hard, and is a competitor who knows what it is to work and sweat. The fans like what he represents on the pitch: he's combative and gives a lot of himself."