Marseille – English 'bad boy' Joey Barton is set to make his league debut for French giants Marseille, who host Lille Sunday, after seeing out a 12-match ban originally imposed by the English Football Association.
Since arriving on loan from QPR this summer Barton has played several times in the Europa League, even scoring a goal direct from a corner in a 2-2 draw with Borussia Moenchengladbach, but the Ligue 1 game will put him in the national spotlight.
The lengthy ban came when the FA charged him with attempting to start an all-out fight after he elbowed Carlos Tevez, kicked Sergio Aguero and attempted to headbutt Vincent Kompany in the last match of the Premier League season at Manchester City.
Short on funds but with big ambitions Marseille then took the gamble of loaning the fiery midfielder as part of a transfer deal taking Stephane Mbia in the other direction.
“I'm in good shape,” Barton told the Marseille website ahead of Sunday's game.
“I've worked really, really hard but it'll take four to six games before I'm 100 per cent,” said the 30-year-old, who has 1.7 million followers on his Twitter account.
After 10 seasons in the English top flight Barton's coach at Marseille Elie Baup described him as “capable of playing in many positions”, but looks set to start him on the right.
“He's a good guy by comparison to what we'd heard about him,” said Barton's new teammate Nicolas Nkoulou.
“His fighting spirit is all about getting the win,” explained the defender.
Barton will be following in the footsteps of two previous Englishmen at the club in Chris Waddle and Trevor Steven, but is hoping to emulate former Marseille striker Eric Cantona.
“Cantona was a magnificent player at Manchester and if I can do at Marseille half of what he did for Manchester, I'll be more than happy,” said Barton, who had to sit out nine Ligue 1 or League Cup matches in France of the 12-match ban.
The Lille match will be an important clash for fourth placed Marseille, who after a stunning start to the season with six straight victories, have taken just five points from a possible 18 in their last six matches. – Sapa-AFP