When a club is termed as the ‘biggest in the country’, the tag comes with enormous expectations. Olympique Marseille are no doubt one of the top clubs in Europe and after a satisfying summer, the Stade Velodrome outfit can look forward to the new French league campaign with renewed vigor and optimism. Rusi Garcia’s side have started with two wins, a 3-0 thrashing of Dijon in the opening weekend, followed by a hard fought 1-0 away win over Nantes this past Saturday.
This is certainly exciting times with a significant change in landscape in French football. Paris St Germain laid down the marker by signing Neymar from Barcelona for a world record fee, while Lille’s appointment of Marcelo Bielsa was certainly another head turner. Add to that Claudio Ranieri being at the helm of Nantes, Lyon’s dazzling football, Bordeaux having a young rookie manager in Jocelyn Gourvennec, with a string of youthful players and Monaco’s title winning team last season, the French Ligue One suddenly looks a lot more competitive.
Marseille, since their last league supremacy in 2010 have strengthened. Under the able guidance of Rudi Garcia, backed by American owner Frank McCourt’s investments and is home to some of the most dazzling attack minded players in world football, Marseille fans would be hoping the club’s trajectory would finally peak rather than resemble a downward spiral.
This summer saw the return of household names, Floriant Thauvin, who took a significant pay cut to rejoin his former club, making his loan move permanent, ending a nightmarish association with Newcastle United while Steve Mandanda also ended his English sojourn with Crystal Palace. Brazilian Luis Gustavo, was snapped up £9m from German side Wolfsburg while the club hierarchy also managed to acquire the services of Valere Germain from reigning champions Monaco. Add to that Bafetimbi Gomis, Dimitri Payet, Maxime Lopez and the graceful Morgan Sanson, Marseille finally boast of a side who can final challenge PSG and Monaco for the title come next May.
The club though must banish their past ghosts if they are to be in the running for silverware. Marseille were looking dominant at the top of the table half way through in the 2014-15 season before they self-imploded under the ever demanding Bielsa, ultimately somehow managing to finish fourth in the standings. The following year was nothing short of a disaster, the club finished 13th under Spanish manager Michel. Frenchman Frank Passi was in charge as caretaker manager before Garcia took over the reins in October last year.
The former Roma manager who made the Italian side such a force in the Serie A has the right mix of experience and tactical acumen to lead Marseille to the top. Garcia had earlier led Lille to a domestic double, winning the league for the first time since 1955 developing young players in Michel Bastos and Belgian prodigy Eden Hazard. The French manager is one of the very few advocates of attacking football which will surely make Marseille one of the most exciting sides to watch out across Europe.
The attacking triumvirate of Gomis, Payet, and Thauvin is expected to flourish as they will be given enough freedom to attack the opposition up front. Lucas Ocampos is another dazzling winger to look forward to while Gustavo’s presence will mean Sanson will have enough space to find his team mates with his wide array of passing ability. Garcia’s well-drilled philosophy imbibed in the players also means a watertight defense which could be the key to win close games throughout the course of the long and treacherous campaign.
However, with Europa League commitments, the manager must make sure that he keeps his squad fresh and happy if they are to return to the pinnacle of French Football. Only time will tell if Marseille can bring back the fear they instilled in their opponents when they took the stage at the Velodrome.