the return to grace of Olympique de Marseille

The return of the great nights? The crazy end of the Olympique de Marseille season kicks off next Thursday, April 28 in Rotterdam (at 8:50pm on M6), against the Dutch from Feyenoord. A semi-final first leg of the Europa Conference League, the “smallest” of the European Cups of course, but a continental meeting nonetheless. And the only one at this level for a French club this year. Ligue 1 then takes over on Sunday 1er May, with the reception of Lyon. OM’s goal: maintain a six-point lead over their pursuers to finish well three championship days later in second to an already crowned PSG.

→ ANALYSIS. Europa League: Villarreal, the triumph of peripheral football

An OM that played around the top on two points had not happened since 2009. The Olympians were knocked out in the Europa League quarter-finals by Chakhtar Donetsk (future winner of the event), finishing second in Ligue 1 just three points behind the Girondins de Bordeaux, still in majesty at the time. Sure, the chronicle maintains that Marseille was a PSG dolphin in 2013. But the Phocaeans were then out of the Europa League from the group stage. Conversely, in 2018 they had reached the final of the Europa League, knocked dry by Atlético Madrid (0-3). But in Ligue 1, they stumbled down the last stretch and had only finished fifth.

A chairman and a coach in phase

This season Marseille is doing quite well, but without major setbacks. As if something had finally calmed down, after a long period of instability. Since the takeover of the club in October 2016 by American magnate Frank McCourt, it has been a start of balance, fragile but real. Probably because the right people are in the right places. At the forefront of which Pablo Longoria, the club’s president, was promoted ex-sports director in February 2021 to replace Jacques-Henri Eyraud.

The 35-year-old Spaniard, with his passion for football and his encyclopedic knowledge of the players, quickly became involved in a fairly hectic summer transfer window. Even constrained by limited finances, the club has revamped its workforce with a dozen arrivals. Winning bets, such as international Matteo Guendouzi, the kingpin of midfield, Brazilian Gerson, often decisive at the end of the season, or defender William Saliba, a revelation recently called up to the Blues.

→ REREAD. Football: three European Cups or nothing

Pablo Longoria also managed to find the coach who could set his score to music: the Argentinian Jorge Sampaoli, recruited for his “philosophy” The most repeated term throughout the season, by both leaders and players. So OM is a style, “the school of positional football”, defines Pablo Longoria. That is, a possession, posed by the Iberian technician Juanma Lillo, assistant to Jorge Sampaoli in Seville for a year (in 2016-2017), and who is in charge today alongside playing master Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

A project built on a game identity

“We are developing a very outspoken project, with a game identity. There are always times when we start to doubt our ideas. But we have to stick to our principles.” entrusted Pablo Longoria to The team in December 2021. And Marseille persevere, with often changing tactical plans and sometimes mediocre performances. But the imposed direction the players follow without hesitation. “For me, the greatest satisfaction is to see a group that has understood this idea and is defending it at every meeting,” also supports Jorge Sampaoli.

Hold the ball, make the game, find the mistake. Supporters appreciate it. The evidence in the recent turnaround against Nantes at the Vélodrome. A bad start, but in the end a 3-2 victory. “Coward mentality, like Guendouzi”, displayed on a banner the group of supporters Marseille Trop Puissant. They like it, guts on the table, all the way. And Jorge Sampaoli to applaud “this rest” which ultimately leads to success.

Champions League goal

If OM manages to complete a hellish program (seven games in twenty-eight days if it makes the European final), the team can finally fulfill its contract. “Playing the Champions League every year is an obligation. At the end of the season, OM must qualify for this competition.” hammered Frank McCourt at the start of this championship year. Ambition comes through here, the club has known this since the start of its owner’s “project”.

The 2020 pandemic had offered him the place of dolphin by interrupting the championship after 28 days. The next European campaign was catastrophic (just one win in six group stage matches). This season seems to be writing a much more constructed prologue. Like the beginning of a beautiful story.

Supporters are allowed to travel

Fans can finally support their team in the Netherlands. They will not be allowed to travel for a few European matches, including those in Basel and Thessaloniki during the last two rounds of the Europa League conference, and will be between 1,000 and 2,000 to push Dimitri Payet and his teammates to Rotterdam.

However, on the return, on May 5, the north bend of the Vélodrome stadium will remain closed, a measure penalizing the excesses observed during the reception of the Greeks of PAOK in the previous round. It was considered for a time to open these 6,500 places to children licensed by OM’s partner clubs, but the project was halted due to lack of adequate safety guarantees.

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