As OM were crowned autumn Champions, all looked rosy in the south of France. After a nervy start to the season, Bielsa had his side playing exciting football and most importantly were winning. But post-half-season-championship, things took a dive for Marseille, performances and form dipped, Gignac’s goals dried up, injuries left the squad looking rather thin and before long we were being touted as a side who would be lucky to reach the 5th place needed for Europa league qualification (or didn’t even deserve it in some eyes!). Given the last few results and performances though, thankfully, Marseille will be back in Europe again next season and personally I hope it’s the Europa league.
Now that statement may be a little controversial, given most people’s dislike of the format and duration of the Europa league, compared to the glamour and more importantly the money that the Champions League brings with it, however, I think it would be the right step up for OM. Let’s not forget this season we’ve had no European football after last seasons disastrous campaign resulting in a 6th placed finish. Also, during that season we had the humiliation of a Champions League campaign that amassed a grand total of 0 points from the group stage’s 6 games.
This summer Marseille are set to lose at least 2 consistent stars of the past few years, Gignac and Ayew. Add to that the possibility of NKoulou, Mandanda, Thauvin, Imbula and Payet and our small experienced senior squad is seriously diminished. Marseille are not in the financial situation to bring in players anywhere near the calibre of those listed above. It would be incredibly difficult for OM to succeed without considerable investment in all positions and as usual it sounds as though MLD and Labrune just don’t have that sort of money, particularly given that no money will come in through losing Ayew and Gignac.
Regardless of where we finish, it would seem as though the coach must partially re-build the squad. I want that coach to be Bielsa. He knows his current players strengths and (some of their weaknesses) and should have a clear picture of which players OM need to maintain a campaign on 4 fronts for a full season next season. A lot was made of Bielsa’s ‘list’ from last summer, reportedly none of the players OM brought in were from that list, something to which Bielsa made clear he was frustrated with. If Bielsa stays, he must be allowed to build his squad.
This seasons failings can’t all be pinned on Bielsa, given the lack of opportunity to build his own squad, he has done phenomenally well with a squad that was appealing last season, not just in ligue position but in performance. There have been times in the previous 2 season under Baup and Anigo that I have despised watching OM. The flaccid, bore-fests I have tried to endure to give updates and write previous and reports on are not what I signed up for. I found myself disliking OM, following them had become a chore that on-top of family, work and gigs felt very much like a one-sided relationship, I was giving all and getting nothing in return.
The French Football Weekly podcast have had many interesting discussions about OM and Bielsa this season and one in particular I really agreed with some of the points made recently. One of the gang (apologies as I can’t remember who or exactly how the question was worded) offered the question ‘would OM fans settle for 3rd/4th/5th playing the type of football under Bielsa, rather than a more boring style and pushing for 2nd?’ Well as an NUFC fan who was a season ticket holder back in the Keegan ‘entertainer’ days, I’d take Bielsa any day of the week. Realistically, OM are not going to win the ligue any time soon, a cup perhaps, maybe even a good Europa League run, but as much as I am loathe to admit it, psg managed to invest huge amounts of money before FFP and are now in a position to dominate domestic French football for the foreseeable future. So we might as well enjoy the football and entertainment that I guy like Bielsa can provide.
I could be biased given how bad OM were for the last 2 years, but I want to be entertained by my football team. I want to see the players try for the fans, for themselves, for each other and for the coach, and anyone who witnessed the goals against Metz, Lille and the late winner against Monaco can see that OM have that in abundance under Bielsa.
Whatever happens tonight I can say I have enjoyed the season overall. Yes there’s been some negatives and we may always think ‘what if’ (we drew instead of loosing some games between Christmas and Easer, didn’t have all of the terrible conspiracy-theory inducing refereeing decisions against us, never started Doria, inexplicably sold Mendes and continually played Thauvin etc etc etc), but regardless:
Thank you Marcelo Bielsa and Marseille for making me love the club again.