Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Marseille, back in the business

April 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured, International

By Shaï Mamou

Photo from fOTOGLIF

“Dude ! I can’t believe it, I thought I wouldn’t live to see this again, now I can die quiet !” Ok, the reaction of my friend Richard is maybe a little exaggerated. But it perfectly symbolizes the euphoria of Marseille fans these days. The most popular French team is close to its eleventh title of national champion, putting an end to a curse of 17 years…

Being 22, I don’t have a single memory of the golden age of “l’Olympique de Marseille”, except my father jumping frantically on his couch while I was playing with my toys. It was 1993 and the southern team had just beaten the great AC Milan in the final of the European Champions League. From this very moment everything changed. The club was relegated in second division for cheating and only found back the elite way in 1996. Youngsters, be honest. You’ve been laughed and mocked because you supported a team that sucked and lived in its past, having forgotten what it meant to lift up a trophy. All these frustrated teens should be relieved in a few weeks. It is the end of the Lyon hegemony and of the short Bordeaux episode. Marseille is five points ahead of the surprising AJ Auxerre with only five games left.

Food shortage in spite of great players

I obviously watched every single game this year and went several times to the Velodrome, this explosive and passionate arena. Well, if Didier Deschamps has unquestionably brought his tactical science and his experience, the work of his predecessor Erik Gerets has been crucial. The charismatic Belgian made Marseille ambitious again, along with the first black president in Europe, Pape Diouf. Their replacement by the 98 World Champion Deschamps and the ex-journalist newbie Jean-Claude Dassier finally put l’OM at the top of the bill again. However, this year on the field, I have not seen the most seducing Marseille of my life. I mean, there were no potential superstars at the beginning of the season. Keep in mind that in the past 10 years the Phoceans have had players like Laurent Blanc, Robert Pires, Franck Ribéry, Samir Nasri or Didier Drogba. All of them failed to break the spell. These men were just amazing but unfortunately too talented to stay here. Like an NBA team, Marseille patiently built a new roster with less famous but nonetheless decisive players.

Souleymane Diawara, who arrived this year from Bordeaux is not a rock. He is even harder than that. Six cruciate goals and a savage tackling on the icon Cristiano Ronaldo, good enough for the first season of the defender. As a sentinel in front of the defense, Edouard Cissé is more efficient than a vacuum cleaner, showing an Energizer Bunny-like stamina (I witnessed fans booing him because they thought he was finished).

Most expensive recruit in Marseille’s history, Lucho Gonzalez delivers assists like Christmas gifts. After a bad injury, the Argentinian recovered and proved he was one of the best midfielders in Europe. Seriously, even if you blindfold this guy, he will still be accurate. From the top of his… 5 feet and 3 inches, Mathieu Valbuena drives the defenders crazy. Ok, the little man is often lying on the ground trying to obtain free kicks. But he is so obstinate that he deserves a place in South Africa for the World Cup. Domenech if you hear me… I first saw Valbuena in a piteous third division game, 4 years ago. He was completely unknown and a collegue told me : “Watch the wingman right there. I call him Speedy Gonzales, you will see him in the future, he is amazing.” I guess he wasn’t wrong…

Last but not least, the captain, Mamadou Niang. With 15 goals, he is the top scorer in Ligue 1. I have to admit I did not believe in him when Marseille signed him. Many players had not succeeded in replacing the idol Drogba and in my opinion Niang was just another usurper. Five years later, the former Strasbourg player is just essential and thank God I only bet 10 bucks on his failure…

With what journalists usually call “the luck of the champion” (penalty kicks, last minute goals or opponents shots on the posts) “l’OM” is about to give happiness to its numerous supporters in the world (favourite team in France, North Africa, and 5th in Europe at the shirts sales). If Marseille wins against Saint-Etienne on Sunday, they will be in an ideal position before the big game at Auxerre next Friday.

In March, Habib Beye, the Aston Villa (English Premier League) defender and former Marseille captain, told me at the end of an interview that Marseille would win the title this year. Bordeaux was still nine points ahead and the final victory an utopy. I should probably listen to him for my next bet…

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