No man should blame another for fancying a few months in the vibrant Mediterranean city of Marseille. If Joey Barton can return unscathed, so can Steven Fletcher.
It is a surprising move in the sense that many of us expected him to end up at Celtic or West Ham, maybe, not to go abroad. But no one will be shocked to see him go somewhere, with just the rest of the season to run on his contract and no appetite on Big Sam’s part for prolonging his stay.
For those who do not know Marseille, forget what you’ve seen of its supposedly Chicago-esque nature. Yes, hoodlums kill one another and yes, that is sad for them and their families. Fletcher will probably see no more of that side of Marseille than I do when I am there, which is fairly often.
The window may be shut until the end of the season. In the meantime, you can still check out reliable transfer news online at bethut.co.uk
The city has serious problems. Some young Muslims have been “turned” by vile apologists and recruiters for terrorism. The odious far right has a strong presence. You could say the same of several English cities. For all that, it’s a place where people from different backgrounds get along quite well; when riots swept France in 2005, it was relatively untouched.
Somewhere I have book of quotes about Fletch’s new club, Olympique de Marseille, which includes these priceless words from Joseph Antoine-Bell, the Cameroonian goalkeeper who played for them in the 1980s: “When we score, blacks, Jews, Arabs and everyone else rises to their feet at the same time.”
There’s an impressive roll call of former players. It includes the names of Gunnar Andersson, Chris Waddle, Laurent Blanc, Jean-Pierre Papin, Fabius Barthez, Eric Cantona and many more but not Marseille-born Zinedine Zidane. And now Fletch.
I wish him well. I wish he’d achieved more with us. There was often promise, but not often enough results. It is a good move for him and for Sunderland AFC.