Football is at a paranormal stage, a stage struck by Covid 19 and without fans. A stage that often provides exceptional results and inexplicable situations. In Marseille’s case, it’s a period that has brought hostility amongst those at the club and the fanbase alike.
From an organised fan attack at the training centre to their Head Coach’s suspension, the recent unfolding of disturbing events at Olympique de Marseille has been astonishing. And things do not look like they are going to resolve themselves any time soon.
FROM JUBILATION TO FRUSTRATION IN 18 MONTHS
Frank McGourt’s decision to replace Rudi Garcia with Andre Villas-Boas was certainly a divisive one amongst the Marseille faithful. Despite largely overachieving and guiding OM to the 2018 UEFA Europa League Final, Garcia announced his departure following an underwhelming 2018-19 campaign which saw Les Olympiens finish fifth in Ligue 1, subsequently missing out on European football.
Andre Villas-Boas’ 18 months with Marseille have been nothing short of eventful. The former Chelsea manager guided the club to Ligue 1 runners-up last season with a paper-thin squad at his disposal. Despite the occasional brilliance of Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin, the credit largely went down to the innovative tactics and pragmatism of the man in the dugout.
It’s fair to say he exceeded expectations in the OM hot seat – a position that involves enormous pressure from a vociferous footballing faithful. Although losing some key players, the Portuguese instilled a winning mentality that reaped its rewards. Marseille was not exactly producing eye-catching performances, but they were a team that picked up results even when they were playing poorly. Not only did he guide the club to the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League for the first time since 2013/14, but Villas-Boas also became the first Olympian coach in nine years to lead his team to victory in Le Classique against Paris Saint-Germain.
In a sense, Villas-Boas has been a victim of his overachievement. The board could not back him in the summer transfer window due to Financial Fair Play restrictions, leaving him with a squad lacking in depth and quality to compete both in Ligue 1 and the Champions League. After initially starting the season well, the cracks have now begun to show. OM sit 9th in Ligue 1, winless in seven games in all competitions and 15 points adrift of the Champions League places. The January transfer window was a crucial period that would arguably define Marseille’s season, but one that was the tipping point for Villas-Boas who offered his resignation following the loan signing of Celtic midfielder, Olivier Ntcham.
HAS Andre VILLAS-BOAS LEFT A SINKING SHIP?
A dramatic few weeks has arguably erased and overshadowed the remarkable work Villas-Boas has conducted at Stade Velodrome. Facing significant financial difficulties and amid a civil war, how can Villas-Boas build successful foundations at Marseille from here?
The reaction to the signing of Frenchman may have been an overreaction. Still, more concerningly, it seems the final straw for a frustrated Villas-Boas who more than deserves financial backing for the miracles he has produced at the French outfit.
French football is plunging into further financial crisis due to a cancelled 2019/20 campaign and a collapsed broadcasting deal worth €3.25billion. Marseille and the majority of Ligue 1 clubs find themselves in trouble, and it’s a situation that is proving unhealthy for the relationship between Olympique de Marseille and their fans. Let’s face it, unless your PSG, most Ligue 1 clubs will struggle to raise funds in this current predicament.
All those problems combined with a poor run of results, escalated tension with players in the dressing room, and voicing his opinion over the club’s transfer activity – Villas-Boas was a dead man walking. An unfortunate conclusion at a club where he turned around their fortunes, but an inevitable ending which resulted in his dismissal.
WHAT NEXT FOR MARSEILLE
Marseille will want to bring in a replacement quickly if they are to revive their miserable season. Maurizio Sarri and Rafa Benitez have been mentioned in the media, but both former Premier League managers have reportedly rejected the club’s approach to becoming the next manager.
OM need a manager with Ligue 1 experience, a safe but exciting appointment equipped with a European pedigree. After all, the 10-time Ligue 1 Champions are a massive club with some impressive players. However, the underlying hostility between the club and its tumultuous fans makes it a difficult place of work, especially if results start heading in the wrong direction.
That prompts the ultimate question: Was Andre Villas-Boas right to leave Marseille? Time will soon tell.
Words by Dan Woffenden – @DanWoff98
Graphic by Sam Ingram – @SamIngram_