It’s been a summer of discontent on the baking streets of Marseilles. For a time it looked as though the solid structure which had been slowly established at Olympique Marseille over the last decade was about to come apart in the kind of farcical implosion not seen since the heyday of Bernard Tapie in the aftermath of the match-fixing scandal of the early 90s. But change of one kind can follow change of another and on the eve of the first round of games in Le Championnat, it’s all finally coming together for OM.
On the face of it, the 2008-09 season should be seen as a major progression. To be in with a shout of winning the title for the first time since ’92 on the last day is an improvement on recent years even if the taste of what could have been is still ripe in the Provençal air after the declining powerhouse of Olympique Lyon crumbled in the closing months and an underwhelming F.C. Bordeaux stumbled across the line in first place.
Even as the final whistle sounded on last season’s campaign, a mantra familiar to fans of sleeping giants around the world was mumbled on lips across the second city. Next year will be our year.
And then the wheels came off. Trainer Eric Gerets, the former Belgian defensive terrier, clashed with Marseille supremo Robert Louis-Dreyfus and was asked if he’d like to consider alternative employment for the following season. No sooner had his successor been found in the shape of France’s most decorated footballer, Didier Deschamps than another tremor hit the club. Pape Diouf, the journalist turned agent turned president who most consider largely responsible for steadying the ship in the port city, had words with the big cheese and was soon following in the wake of the former manager. The club and the city were rocked, Deschamps had second thoughts about joining the circus and the supporters of France’s most popular club were calling for RLD to leave the club. On the night of the fourth of July, in the most macabre fashion, they got their wish as Dreyfus succumbed to leukemia. Television bigwig Jean-Claude Dassier was ushered in as president and before long the waters had calmed.
That left only the traditionally frenetic mercato (transfer window) for Deschamps to navigate. Around about this time each year, Marseille, like their table-topping rivals, tend to sell their biggest star to a big European team and use the money to fund the purchases of the leading lights from the teams below them. But this time, while Lyon were hocking Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) to balance the books and Bordeaux prepared to lose Chamakh to whatever Premiership club would have him, while sweating on a potential last-minute change of mind from their golden boy Yoann Gourcuff, Deschamps could breathe easily knowing that OM for once had nobody to sell. No Drogbas, No Ribérys, not even a Samir Nasri to flog to the highest cross-channel bidder, only the sales of captain Lorik Cana (Sunderland), Karim Ziani (Wolfsburg) and Gael Givet (Blackburn) plus the final deparure of permanent nomad Djibril Cissé (Panathinaikos) ruffled the waves while the cheque-book was opened for ten new signings, including Argentine internationals Lucho González (Porto, for a whopping 20 million euros rising) and Gabriel Heinze (Real Madrid) and Spanish warhorse Fernando Morientes (Valencia), who previously worked with Deschamps at Monaco.
It remains to be seen whether this new, improved version of Olympique Marseille can go that final step and finally retake the crown of French champions, but with Lyon further weakened by the departures of talismans Juninho and Benzema and Bordeaux struggling to recruit additions to one of the weakest squads to win the league in some time, they may find themselves looking north, to hated rivals PSG, for the strongest competition to their drive for Le Championnat.