View from Marseille
May 3, 2018
And the derby in all that?
Are people already thinking about OM – Nice in Marseille? Given that the return leg of the semi-final of the Europa League between OM and Salzburg takes place on Thursday, the answer was never in doubt. But that doesn’t mean that the Marseillais have nothing to say about their 36th game of the season in L1...
“Historic” journalist and author from Provence, Mario Albano therefore picked up the phone to talk about the situation, about OM and the Gym. A good way to get an insight into a city that’s on fire.
“The fact that the Gym didn’t sink is remarkable”
Marseille - Nice on Sunday
“Today, to be honest, nobody in Marseille is thinking about the game on Sunday, because the challenge of the Europa League is too important. Nice may well be one of the big rivals, the match may well be interesting for the league table, but the semi-final trumps everything. Whatever the result may be, we will not really think about matchday 36. If they qualify, until Sunday, people will be focussed on how Lyon do (where the Europa League final will take place on Wednesday 16 May), and that’s what they will want to read. If Marseille are knocked out, Friday will the day that everyone takes to get over it and Saturday, they will start to think about Nice. Lots of things will depend on this evening; be that physically, because at the moment for Marseille, there is an injury in every game. We don’t know how they will be mentally. Then OM need to win because of Monaco and Lyon, and for the Gym, 5th or 6th place is up for grabs. Once you say that today, you need look no further.”
“In all of the club’s history, OM have been to the final of the Coupe d’Europe on six occasions, so a season where they get there, is of course, one of the best. Not only that, but there have been some great matches too. The first leg of the semi-final against Salzburg (2-0) with the record attendance, the match against Leipzig, (a record there too), with the way the game turned and the five goals. Before that, the games against Braga and Bilbao were also just as remarkable, the one against Ostende and the return leg against Domzale weren’t bad. There are the results and the spectacle. It’s not “four great months and then nothing”, like with Bielsa. We are at the start of May, they are still going…”
The Gym’s season
Europe is difficult when it’s not a habit. When you play in it all the time, a rhythm gets going, for the players, but also for the people who work at the club. If it hadn’t been for Europe this season, the Gym could have maybe been close to Marseille, Lyon and Monaco. But you can’t have a short memory. After Puel, Germain and Ben Arfa, they went with a new coach, Lucien Favre, they had an exceptional 2016/2017 season and then, with the games that build up, it’s only logical that there are difficulties. The fact that Nice didn’t sink, for me, is remarkable. Remarkable too, because they play with the ball. Despite the players that left, despite Europe, the team this season was able to bounce back, the elimination (against Lokomotiv Moscow, in the Round of 32 of the Europa League) didn’t destroy them. Better still, they got themselves back into the race and, once again, are a contender for Europe. When you think that the Gym were battling against relegation a couple of years ago, it’s crazy. If they end up in a European spot - and I think they will, because I see them as better than Rennes - I take my hat off to them.”
“The Gym, one of the best teams in the league”
Who are the main players in this Marseille side?
“Number one is Thauvin. Against Angers, he scored his 20th goal of the season in L1 (+ 10 assists). Last year, Gomis scored 20 goals too. For two people to get to that mark one after the other hasn’t happened since Papin in 92 and Boksic in 93. And Thauvin is a winger, whilst all the other players who have scored more than 20 goals in L1 for Marseille have been centre forwards (Zatelli, Skoblar, Papin...).
Number 2, it’s Luiz Gustavo. He has been there since Nice, where he scored his first goal and where he confirmed himself as one of the leaders. Now, he speaks French, he is the vice capitain, he has become hugely important over the weeks and months… He is good everywhere… And then there is Payet who has come into form in the second half of the season, so I put him in 3rd. During the first 6 months of the season, he was often held back by injuries, but he is one of the members of the squad who make the difference between an OM who are looking to find themselves and a brilliant OM, like in Europe.”
And the Gym’s main players?
“Balotelli, for everything that he represents… He is the type of player that you would never have expected in L1, apart from with Paris and Monaco. At the start, you could have thought that he was finished, like when Vieri signed for Monaco or Morientes for OM. He isn’t: it’s his second season and he continues to score. From time to time, “he is neither here nor there”, but he has still scored 15 goals in L1 (23 in all competitions, Editor’s note).
What is remarkable and makes the Gym one of the best teams in the league, is that they have two strikers at the same level. Paris have Cavani and Neymar; Lyon, Diaz and Depay; Nice, Balotelli and Plea. I think that demonstrates the offensive desire of this side.”
Your top Marseille - Nice?
“Three come to mind immediately, I have spoken about it with the players from that time, because I have historic papers. The one in December 1970, first. Skoblar beat Serrus, struck firmly towards goal, scored… but the ball went through the goal because there was a hole in the net, so the referee gave a goal kick! There was a gathering of players and the Niçois then accepted that it had been a goal…
Another memory. During a match in January 74, Didier Couécou scored with a magnificent scissor kick. At that time, he had a broken nose and a protective mask. The photo of his goal - where you can see Baratelli - was chosen as the best sporting photo of the year.
Another rather spectacular OM - Nice took place the season after, 74-75. Except that this one was a comedy… OM had bought Beretta from St-Etienne, the Gym’s President at the time (Roger Loeuillet) had complained saying that rules had been broken during the transfer. So the game was postponed - which was ideal for the Gym as they had lots of injuries on that day. Fernand Meric, President of OM and owner of cinemas, had nonetheless organised the match at the Vélodrome... and 3000 supporters turned up at kick-off. The Marseille players had received instructions to prepare as normal, so they came onto the pitch and kicked-off (without anyone on the other side). From the first chance, Georges Beretta crossed for Robert Buigues, who scored… It was a parody (laughs). And Buigues said to me that he still controlled it because he didn’t want to look like an idiot…”