By Robbie Chalmers
The French coach has quietly improved the French side with the backing of US businessman Frank McCourt. With a return to Champions League football next season nearing ever closer, the recent disappointment of the last few years could soon be a distant memory.
The second highest number of title wins, most second placed finishes in the country and the first French side to win the European cup. Marseille have a storied history unmatched by most in France’s top flight with success spanning from pre-World War II to Didier Deschamps title win in 2010. Their first title win in 1937 came before rivals PSG were even established and they had the most French Cup wins before the Parisians received a Qatari fuelled cash injection.
The capital club grab all the headlines now. As France’s standout side they can build a team to compete for the UEFA Champions League and attract world class stars like Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. Since their takeover in 2011 they have amassed four league titles, five league cups and three French cups. In the same period Marseilles’ fortunes could not have been more different. Of course the club don’t have the riches to compete with their rivals and their recent league performances emphasise that.
Since their title win eight years ago they have finished 2nd, 10th, 2nd, 6th, 4th, 13th and 5th. Even in that period Monaco have been promoted, won the league and reached the UEFA Champions League semi-finals. And all this was preceded by Lyon’s seven consecutive title wins from 2002 to 2008. The Marseilles have been outshone and have drifted away from the French elite.
In 2016, after the club’s worst league finish in fifteen years, Marseille again sold a number of key personnel due to financial demands and to clear the wage bill ahead of an impending takeover. Goalkeeper Steve Mandanda was club-captain and ended eight years at the club by moving to Crystal Palace, lead centre-back Nicolas N’Koulou moved to rivals Lyon, while striker Michy Batshuayi was sold to Chelsea for a club record fee. Few quality signings were made to replace them and another season of struggles lay ahead. With mass protests in the stands in an already rapturous Marseille ultras following, things looked to get worse. Change was needed, and fast.
Enter Rudi García and Frank McCourt.
Marseille began last season without a permanent manger due to takeover talks that had lasted all summer. In August 2016, it was announced that American businessman Frank McCourt had agreed to buy the club from Margarita Louis-Dreyfus. The purchase deal was completed for a reported price tag of €45 million two months later. Within the next few days, McCourt appointed a new club president in Jacques-Henri Eyraud, employed former Barcelona and Spain goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta as director of sport and, perhaps most pertinently, hired Rudi García as the manager.
Garcia is seen as a fiercely stubborn individual who rules his sides with an iron fist and holds a no nonsense attitude. This authoritative image is only trumped by his drive to play attacking, high energy football – which is not very common in France. His track record in the past makes for impressive reading. He was at the helm of the league and cup winning Lille side in 2011 that boasted Gervinho and a certain Eden Hazard. Winning with a stirring brand of football brought him many accolades including the Ligue 1 coach of the year award. Links to both Arsenal and Liverpool followed.
Champions League qualification was achieved at Lille the next season, despite many players being sold, and in 2013 Roma brought the Frenchman in an attempt to construct a title challenge of their own.
The Giallorossi preceded to win their first ten games in Garcia’s first season, which was a club record. That season Roma finished second to Juventus but, in the end, reached a club record points tally of 85 points. A similar theme followed his two other seasons at the club with strong starts leading to Champions league qualification. Before Garcia arrived the Roman side had not qualified for Europe’s premier club competition since 2010 and they finished 6th prior to his appointment. His track record of improving sides and making them competitive is there for all to see.
McCourt is hoping Garcia can lead Marseille on a similar path; to regular Champions League football. Monaco’s recent title win gives hope to the club that, with enough investment, they too can upset the PSG apple cart. McCourt’s promise to spend €200m in his first two years have helped bring quality with Florien Thauvin and Dimitri Payet, experience with Luis Gustavo and Steve Manadanda (again), as well as promise in Lucas Ocampos, Clinton N’Jie and Morgan Sanson.
Payet’s €30m return from West Ham was seen as a big coup and shows that they have the means to attract talented players from a more established league. With half the budget remaining, Garcia has the freedom to build a team going forward and there are already signs of improvement. Currently occupying third placed with just eight games remaining a return to Champions League football is close.
With a revamped stadium, an exciting manager, strong financial backing and a wealth of player potential, Marseille are close to returning to the summit of French football. Where PSG lie in wait to greet them there.
Robbie runs the Football Diet blog, check it out here.
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