| 6 December 2023, Wednesday |

Marseille in crisis as it prepares to face PSG in French league

Marseille is in crisis again as it prepares to face bitter rival Paris Saint-Germain in the French league on Sunday.
A quick glance at the standings shows that undefeated Marseille is in fourth place and is one point above PSG in fifth.

Hardly awful.

Yet a chaotic week saw Spanish manager Marcelino step down on Wednesday after only a handful of games in charge of Marseille, The Associated Press reported. He had replaced Igor Tudor, who left after just one season. Marcelino’s departure came after a tense board meeting between supporters groups — who have long held positions of strong influence — and the directors.

“It’s been quite a torment,” veteran striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang said. “Of course it’s not easy. But I’m not going into what we’ve said to each other (players and directors).”

Supporters groups reportedly expressed their strong dissatisfaction at the level of play so far. Sunday’s 0-0 home draw with Toulouse was Marseille’s third draw in five games so far. Still, the team is only two points behind leader Monaco and victory in Paris would condemn PSG to a second straight league defeat at home after the 3-2 loss to Nice.

“It’s a strange context,” said Aubameyang, a former Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal and Barcelona striker. “When you look at the league table we’re still in it and there’s nothing dramatic.”

Aubameyang was speaking on the eve of Marseille’s Europa League game at Ajax later Thursday. Following the PSG match, Marseille has a tough trip to Monaco next weekend.

“We have a series of important games coming up and we need to show we can surpass ourselves,” Aubameyang said. “We have to get results, and that means sticking together even in a somewhat chaotic situation.”

But Marseille appears a rudderless ship at the moment.

Former Marseille defender Jacques Abardonado, a former reserve team coach and assistant who was Marcelino’s translator, said he only found out late Wednesday night that he was taking temporary charge against Ajax.

“It is sad and a bit painful when you know what this club’s about,” the 45-year-old Abardonado said. “Players know the situation before they sign for the club that these things can happen. They need to focus on the match, not what happens off the field.”

As a former player and long-standing member of the coaching staff, he knows what goes on.
Marseille has been unstable at management level for several seasons, with both Marcelo Bielsa and Jorge Sampaoli suddenly quitting after disagreements, and former coach André Villas-Boas suspended for publicly criticizing the club.

Tudor guided Marseille to third place, won fans over with his hard-nose and dynamic playing style, and then also left the club after a disagreement with president Pablo Longoria.

Longoria did not travel with the club to Amsterdam for Thursday’s game.

Perhaps he’s still recovering from Monday’s meeting.

During the talks, fans castigated the board and asked for its entire departure. While complaining about the team’s recent displays, they also criticized Longoria for the frequent changes of coach and players, and the running of the women’s and youth teams.

After Monday’s meeting, Marseille said in a statement that the supporters association — some of whom form hardcore Ultras groups — had threatened “a war” against board members if they did not resign. This is not to be taken lightly, given that more than 200 Marseille Ultras attacked their own training ground in January, 2021.

“The OM board of directors believes in a transparent and regular relationship with its supporters,” the club said in a statement. “On the other hand, the OM directorate cannot accept personal threats. Its members cannot tolerate individual attacks and any form of unfounded public defamation.”

Under Marcelino, Marseille failed to qualify for the lucrative group stage of the Champions League after losing a playoff against Panathinaikos in a penalty shootout having conceded an equalizer nine minutes into stoppage time. Two groups of Marseille Ultras fought each other at that game.

Once a powerhouse of French soccer, Marseille is the only French team to win the Champions League, back in 1993. But it hasn’t won the domestic league title since 2010, while PSG established its dominance, winning the league nine times in the last 11 years to set a French record with 11 titles.

Marseille’s Champions League bragging rights over PSG remain intact, but there’s little else to shout about for now.


  • Asharq Al-Awsat