Can Marcelo Bielsa and Marseille kick on after exodus of stars?
For a team that finished fourth in Ligue 1 in 2014/15, an improvement of two places from the previous season, the last few months for French giants Marseille (16/1 title chances with Coral) have surprisingly been very troublesome.
Their boss Marcelo Bielsa, who was appointed at the beginning of the campaign, impressively led the south coast side to the top of the table for much of the term, despite a shaky start, after a run of eight victories.
However, as the season progressed, their form gradually tailed off, and at one point went 11 games with just two wins, to let PSG, Lyon and slow starters Monaco eventually beat them to the three Champions League places.
Marseille would’ve taken a Europa League place at the start of 2014/15, with their relatively thin squad. But constant squabbles between Bielsa and the club’s hierarchy, as well as their decline from the end of April, have led to what seems like the start of a mass exodus of star players.
Their top performers last term Andre-Pierre Gignac, who came second in the Ligue 1 scoring charts, and Ghana winger Andre Ayew have both left on free transfers to Mexican outfit Tigres and Swansea City respectively, leaving huge holes to fill in attack.
On top of that, the likes of other key players last season Jeremy Morel and Rod Fanni are also out-of-contract, with the former already being snapped up by Lyon.
There is likely to be even more disappointment for Marseille fans, as club captain and keeper Steve Mandanda, defensive rock Nicolas N’koulou, rising star midfielder Florian Thauvin and West Ham United target Dimitri Payet have all been linked with moves away. Young anchorman Giannelli Imbula is also a target for top teams.
What would this leave? Marseille’s already small squad could become wafer-thin and the loss of such qualify would surely only be a bad thing, even if the club brought in new talent.
Former Argentina, Chile and Athletic Bilbao boss Bielsa will perhaps be left wondering what might have been for his own future had he taken over at Premier League side West Ham this summer. However, he was eventually pipped to the post by former Hammer Slaven Bilic.
Veteran keeper Yohann Pele and young winger Georges-Kevin N’Koudou have already joined the Stade Velodrome side, but it is going to take a lot more talent to revive the club’s fortunes to when they last won the league title in 2009/10.
Former Marseille striker Didier Drogba has been linked for a return, following his release from Chelsea, but at the age of 37 it is difficult to see if he can still do a job.
Luckily for L’OM, it seems that they will be keeping fan favourite Bielsa, 59, who has been lauded by the likes of Pep Guardiola as being one of the best in the business.
Certainly for the supporters, who have let their frustrations be heard in the off-season, keeping Bielsa is essential and their last hope of enjoying any good news this summer. If he does decide to move on, though, expect a dramatic collapse in the club’s fortunes next term.