It might be a tempestuous relationship, but Didier Deschamps and Marseilles aren't breaking up just yet. Here's Juliet Jacques.
Didier Deschamps’ decision to remain with Olympique de Marseille is excellent news for France’s most successful club. Captain when L’OM became their country’s first European Cup winners in 1993, Deschamps cemented his legend in 2010 when he led them to their first Ligue 1 title since the match-fixing scandal that overshadowed that Champions League triumph, during his first season in charge. But despite his hero status amongst the demanding Stade Vélodrome crowd, further consecrated by declining a move to Roma, Deschamps faces another difficult pre-season at one of Europe’s hardest clubs to manage.
“Didier loves OM and the city” said chairman Jean-Claude Dassier, telling the media that Deschamps would at least see out his contract, which runs until 2012. Having led Monaco to the Champions League final in 2004 and secured Juventus’ immediate Serie A return after the Calciopoli scandal, Deschamps is a young manager in demand. After turning down Liverpool last summer, Deschamps said that he would like to be coach when the revamped Vélodrome opens in 2014 – Dassier has suggested that the press has fabricated rumours about his discontent, but L’OM have sorely tested Deschamps’ undoubted love this last season.
With his club favourites to retain the long-coveted championship, Deschamps’ preparations for his second campaign were hampered by Dassier and sporting director José Anigo, also a former player (who made 207 appearances between 1979 and 1987) and manager. Against Deschamps’ wishes, top scorer Mamadou Niang was sold to Fenerbahçe, which meant retracting their request to France international winger Hatem Ben Arfa that he leave the Stade Vélodrome. Livid, Ben Arfa went on strike, forcing L’OM to loan him to Newcastle United, which left the club needing two new forwards.
On the final day of the transfer window, L’OM spent €30m on Toulouse attacker André-Pierre Gignac, Ligue 1 top scorer in 2009, and Loïc Rémy of Nice. Deschamps had wanted Brazil’s World Cup star Luís Fabiano, and made it clear that Gignac was not his choice. The revamped forward line never quite gelled, and goals proved a problem all season. Rémy initially impressed but struggled for fitness; Gignac scored just once before the winter break and attracted criticism from club legend Jean-Pierre Papin but returned well, scoring several goals before tearing a muscle, and then failing to recapture his form.
L’OM were rendered even more toothless by Brandão’s unplanned departure: the Brazilian striker was loaned to Cruzeiro until the end of 2011 after being indicted on a rape charge. Deschamps’ decision to allow his players to display Brandão’s shirt whilst was detained was heavily criticised, not least by Dassier, and contributed to Brandão’s hastily arranged exit. It is unlikely that he will return when the loan deal expires.
Deschamps’ team reserved their best performances for the Champions League, making progress from a tough group before Manchester United narrowly defeated them in the second round, and whilst they stuttered to second place (and automatic qualification for Europe’s main club contest), they never really looked like preventing Lille OSC’s first title since 1954.
L’OM’s competition for next season’s championship may prove stronger. Hated rivals Paris Saint-Germain have been bought by the Qatar Investment Authority, adding significant funds to the capital’s underachievers, and Lyon will spend heavily as they strive to reassert their recent dominance. Lille have already lost key players – defender Adil Rami and midfielder Yohan Cabaye – and the influential Gervinho will almost certainly move abroad, but playmaker Eden Hazard has committed for another year, and LOSC will rebuild around him.
Deschamps is bracing himself for the loss of key figures. Out of contract Nigeria left-back Taye Taiwo has arranged to join AC Milan, and Gabriel Heinze has played his last game in Marseille. More pressingly, Heinze’s Argentinian compatriot Lucho González, a skilful midfielder, has stated his desire to exit, and Deschamps will struggle to retain creative winger Mathieu Valbuena, linked with Arsenal and Manchester United, and young Ghanaian forward André Ayew, son of Deschamps’ old team-mate Abedi Pelé, whose scintillating form was the most encouraging feature of L’OM’s season.
Deschamps is battling Lyon to sign 28-year-old Senegalese international Kader Mangane from Rennes to fill the left-back hole, whilst Lorient midfielder Morgan Amalfitano, 26, has been identified as a potential replacement for González. This would leave his squad looking weaker than the one that stuttered to last season’s second place, and with less flair than his title-winners, which in turn was far less exciting than the sides in which he played.
The Vélodrome crowd worship Deschamps, but came to expect dynamic, attacking football in the early Nineties, when they often used two attacking midfielders, a playmaker and two forwards. Deschamps has often employed this formation, with González and Valbuena behind Ayew, supporting Rémy and Gignac, but Amalfitano is more pragmatic than González, and his team more resembles the conservative line-up that won the European Cup than the free-flowing team that lost to Red Star Belgrade on penalties two years earlier.
Deschamps is unlikely to lose Valbuena or Ayew to French rivals, and can at least promise them another Champions League campaign, but as has been the case since the Bosman ruling was passed, they could earn more and stand better chance of winning European trophies in England, Italy or Spain. Should they leave, attracting replacements of similar quality will demands much of L’OM’s scouting network, and unlike Paris Saint-Germain, who have six players in France’s Under 17 World Cup squad, they do not boast reserves of young talent – so if Deschamps can reclaim the title for L’OM, fighting off the resurgent Parisians, Lyon and Lille, it may be the best achievement in an already impressive managerial career.
Juliet is a freelance journalist, covering everything from transgender issues, to European literature, to experimental film, to football. Follow her on Twitter @julietjacques.