Andrew Gibney looks at the multitude of problems throughout the club that have caused so much misery for Marseille fans this season.
Last summer Olympique de Marseille welcomed fans into the refurbished Stade Velodrome. The roof had been completed and, with legendary coach Marcelo Bielsa in charge, the club’s 70,000 fans had reasons to go into the new campaign filled with optimism.
With over 12 million registered fans in France, OM is still the biggest club in the country – which is why their downfall is so devastating and disappointing.
Things went sour very quickly. After an opening day defeat to SM Caen, Bielsa told the press after the game that he would be leaving the club. Trust issues between him and President Vincent Labrune made their working relationship difficult. Bielsa felt he couldn’t continue.
Former Olympiakos boss Michel came in, and things looked bright. Using the players apparently hand-picked by Bielsa, a 6-0 win over Troyes was followed up by a 4-1 win over Bastia. That result came on the 13th of September and, shockingly, they haven’t won a league game at the Velodrome since.
Sixteen games played, two wins, nine draws and five defeats. Only bottom of the table Troyes have a worse home record and things were brought to a head on Friday night when they lost 5-2 to Rennes.
If Marseille had struggled for the rest of the season it would be easy to pinpoint obvious problems, but in complete contrast they have the fourth best away record in Ligue 1.
They have still drawn six games, too much for a team pushing for European football, but they have only lost three times.
You have to go back to the summer to find the root of the problem. Andre-Pierre Gignac, Dimitri Payet, Giannelli Imbula and Andre Ayew all left the club – stripping OM of experience and stand out quality. The players that came in had potential, but with the exception of former Chelsea and Arsenal man Lassana Diarra they are all young and inexperienced.
When you have 70,000 fans demanding success and expecting results, when it goes sour the Velodrome will let you know.
Defeats to Angers and Nice were huge blows, but greeted with as much disgust were the draws with Gazelec, Guingamp and Lille. It’s wasn’t just the draws, but the insipid performances given by Michel’s men that so riled the fans.
Friday’s game exemplified all the on-field problems inside 90 minutes.
The defence has been all over the place at times: poor communication, discipline and a lack of togetherness makes it easy to pull apart, all too often relying on heroics from goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to keep them in the game.
Rennes punished poor marking twice to go 2-0 up in ten minutes. Then, as the old adage goes, when your luck is not in things start to go against you. So when Ousmane Dembélé’s shot flicked off Nicolas N’Koulou’s leg and over Mandanda, heads completely dropped.
Florian Thauvin, back on loan from Newcastle United, scored a wonderful individual goal to give the fans a sliver of hope, but that’s the problem with Marseille’s attack. Everything is too individualistic.
Poor decision making, or an eagerness to make the difference sees players pick the wrong option all to often, going for glory rather than combining their talents to better effect.
It’s safe to say that a lot of the players just aren’t good enough to play at the level Marseille – or, at least, their fans – are striving for, but poor coaching hasn’t helped. However, Michel is not where the problem starts.
You have to look further up the ladder, to the President Labrune and club owner Margarita Louis-Dreyfus. The latter doesn’t want to own the club and won’t back the project with her own money, but you can’t blame her when the man making the decisions – Labrune – has made mistake after mistake.
Marseille are rotten to the core. If this great club wants to build a successful team on the pitch, they need to rebuild in the boardroom. Without new ownership, a new president and perhaps a new board in place, any changes on the field are just patching up the cracks.
The Stade Velodrome is now one of the most spectacular stadiums in Europe, but sadly the team that plays there has been built on crumbling foundations.