Posts Tagged ‘Ligue 1’

Deschamps’ rises Marseille again.

If there is a man who can turn around the fortunes of Olympique Marseille at any point in time, look no further than Didier Deschamps. Deschamps captained Marseille to the Champions League crown in 1993, as well as winning two league titles. Since returning in 2009, he has overseen the club’s first league triumph in 18 years and picked up the Coupe de la Ligue twice as well as two Trophées des Champions.

The early months of this season looked chaotic with no league win after nine rounds of games with Marseille at rock bottom of the league. It was no surprise to see some passionate Stade Velodrome faithful asking for the head of their head coach. During the mini-crisis, some disillusioned fans attempted to invade the pitch a pitch with a banner calling for the return of former coach Éric Gerets. This despicable act was followed up with a clash between Deschamps and sporting director Jose Anigo in the press, club owner Margarita Louis-Deryfus delivered a devastating blow with a poorly timed reminder that Champions League qualification was “imperative” and warned that she could walk away from the role that she had taken over from her late husband, Robert Louis-Dreyfus, in July 2009.

The prospect of a long season of in-fighting and under-achievement loomed, but he has been able to turn the corner.

So what went right?

Steps were taken to improve the harmony within the changing room. Scores were settled at a crisis meeting between Louis-Dreyfus and the players in a bid to hurl themselves out of their misery.

After club president Vincent Labrune fined him for criticising Deschamps, Anigo distanced himself from the squad and focused his attention on recruitment (with Deschamps and Anigo barely on speaking terms, Labrune has been forced to act as a go-between in discussions over potential signings).

Summer recruits Jérémy Morel who joined from Lorient to replace Taye Taiwo, Cameroonian stopper Nicolas Nkoulou a promising and youthful successor to Gabriel Heinze, Gennaro Bracigliano, Alou Diarra and Morgan Amalfitano all took some time to fit.

Deschamps has also made efforts to get closer to his players, distributing uncharacteristic on-pitch embraces after matches and joining in with ball exercises in training. Required tactical adjustment were made while under-performing stars like Lucho Gonzalez and Mathieu Valbuena were dropped from the starting XI momentarily.

All these changes have impacted positively. Three straight wins in late-October steadied the ship, before OM’s campaign exploded into life with a 3-0 humbling of PSG and a magnificent comeback at Borussia Dortmund that took Deschamps’ men into the Champions League last 16.

They have been flying ever since.

Valbuena has returned to the starting line-up after his sensational winner against Borussia Dortmund. The departure of Ghanaian brothers André and Jordan Ayew, Charles Kabore to the Africa Cup of Nations has only reduced Deschamps’ options but their absences were barely noticed in the 2-0 defeat of champions Lille recently. Marseille are now dominating their opponents and playing attractive football. Even maligned striker Brandão, back at the club after an exile in Brazil following his arrest on rape charges in March last year, has been granted a warm reception by the Vélodrome.

Rémy’s burgeoning partnership with Valbuena has been a key factor in the revival. Five of Remy’s nine league goals have been created by Valbuena who tops Ligue 1 assists chart with 11 decisive passes. Rémy said;

“Sometimes, it feels like we’re the only ones playing and that everything will come off”

Champions League qualification remains the minimum requirement this season, but the current run means supporters’ eyes are beginning to linger on the eleven-point gap separating them from leaders and sworn enemies PSG in the league table.

“As the manager of the club, you could say that my role is to expect the worst,”

says Labrune.

“But you could also say that we can always dream.”

The were 2 goals up against Lyon on Sunday, but ended the game with 1 point, thanks to a fight back from Lyon.

With OM still in contention for four major honors having made it to final of Coupe de la Ligue where they can retain their title for the third straight year.  They are also in the round of 32 in the French Cup, eleven points behind leaders PSG in French Championnat and are in the round of 16 knock-out stage of UCL.

President Vincent Labrune’s courage must be commended for keeping faith in a manager who is a proven winner and has never let Marseille down in the past.

Didier Deschamps’ Marseille has risen like a phoenix from the ashes.


What next for Carlos Tevez?

No Love Lost

I got my first glimpse of Carlos Alberto Tevez during the FIFA u-17 World Cup hosted by Trindad and Tobago in 2001. His goal celebration caught my attention during their semi-final loss to France. He pulled his shirt off and to my surprise, I saw a full grown man with a hairy chest at age 17.

Carlos’ professional career has been hugely successful but it has also been accompanied with its bags and bags of controversies and issues. His protracted ownership right alongside his country man Javier Mascherano who both moved from Corinthians to West Ham in the summer of 2006 couldn’t be resolved until Manchester City acquired his full rights in 2009.

During his second season of his loan spell at Manchester United, he showed a lot of animosity when he dropped down the pecking order. One of his famous act of cynicism was him standing right in front of the Man Utd dug out with his hands to his ears (a gesture to SAF to listen) as the Old Trafford fans were chanting his name after his goal against Manchester City. A few months later, he was on the other side.

Tevez was signed by Hughes but was made captain by Mancini when the Italian replaced the Welsh man. The Argentine was arguably City’s best player in his first two seasons at the club despite his numerous outburst of being unsettled in England and had his fixed eyes on the exit door.

The day it all went south...

Manchester City managed to deal with his tantrums quite well and the manager even appeared to be a partial with the way he handled Carlos’ case when one compares it with the situation of Emmanuel Adebayor and Craig Bellamy who were turned to outcasts. Every beginning they say must have an end so it is in Tevez’ case. His Munich refusal to warm up and play in a UCL game against Bayern appeared to be the final straw that broke the camel’s back. He has been suspended indefinitely from the first team and in a bid to force his way out of the club, Carlos went AWOL in November and vowed never to return to the club.

Livin' Lavida Loca?

His club responded by freezing his salary account at the end of November. A total of £9.3m has been taken away from the Argentine in fines, lost wages and bonuses since the start of this season.

The final resolution to the problem is for both parties to part.

AC Milan and a host of other clubs signified their intention to sign the embattled striker but City have refused to be bullied into selling a disgruntled star at a cut price.

Manchester City have warned Milan that they are “not an option” for Carlos Tevez unless the £30m price-tag is met, despite their “misplaced sense of confidence.” According to reports, the AC Milan’s negotiating team have agreed personal terms with the players and hope to use that as a means for City to lower their asking price.
The usually quiet Abu Dhabi owners have finally broken their silence on the matter to express their anger about what they regard as Milan trying to engineer a way to sign Tevez on the cheap.
On the other hand, PSG, another front runner for Tevez signature look to have pulled out of the race. Their Sporting Director, Leonardo told L’Equipe,

“We’ve ended the talks, there was an opportunity to sign him, but it is over. We did our calculations, we made a good offer but we’ve been unable to reach an agreement. We don’t intend to overpay in order to sign him.”

With just a day left in the January transfer window, it appears all parties involved in the Tevez saga have reached an impasse.

Manchester City have refused to budge. Milan who can’t match City’s demand have opted to sign another Argentine, Maxi Lopez from Catania. This may signal the end of their pursuit.

All interested clubs have in one form or the other backed out, what becomes of Carlos Tevez from now till the end of the season if no one comes to bail him out of his wilderness by 11:59pm, January 31, 2012?

Can Les Parisiens go all the way?

Full of promise..

Despite their loss on the first day of the season, it promises to be an exciting 2011/12 season in the fashion city and French capital. The acquisition of 70% stake in the most prominent club in Paris by the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) at the end of May has heralded a new beginning for PSG. The French side who were outsiders to Ligue 1 title last season finished fourth thereby narrowly missing out on the lucrative UCL. They also suffered another disappointment as league champions Lille defeated them in the French Cup final.

New Qatari owner Nasser al-Khelaifi retained Antonie Kambouare as head coach which comes as a surprise to me. However, Leonardo, the former AC Milan and Inter coach was subsequently appointed as the club’s sporting director with a wide range of power over all sporting activities in the club on a three-year deal. The former Brazil international had a spell during his playing days with PSG so he would be operating in a familiar environment.
Before Leo’s appointment, Kambouare with the backing of Nasser was already active in the transfer market. Striker Kévin Gameiro joined from Lorient while Nicolas Douchez arrived from Rennes.
Leonardo informed the media during his presentation of Les Parisiens new project.

He said

It all starts today. The transfer market is crazy.

I think the first thing is to speak with the coach – I haven’t had a chance yet. we’ll see which players want to stay and who wants to go. We’re not putting together a project to win the first game of the season, but to succeed in the long term. I need to take a good lok at where things stand and then, patiently, put this project together.


Experienced wide man Ludovic Giuly and erstwhile captain Claude Makelele who departed the club at the end of last season have been effectively replaced by two France internationals Jeremy Menez from AS Roma and Blaise Matuidi from Saint-Etienne. Mali midfielder Mohammed Sissoko also arrived from Juventus to join the PSG revolution. The former Valencia and Liverpool man who came through the youth ranks at Auxerre has an opportunity to strut his stuff in the Ligue 1 now. 24 years Palermo goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu has also put pen to paper. The two caps Italian goal tender’s capture is indicating the direction in which PSG is moving.

It looks like Leo has landed the big one with the confirmation of a deal for Javier Pastore right under the noses of English Premier league heavyweight, Chelsea.

Speaking at the press conference, Leonardo welcomed the arrival of the Argentina international.

Javier is a world class player, very important for us, we are very happy that he chose to continue his career in Paris after Palermo.

“He is a player who already understands what we are trying to do at PSG. Javier is a young and very talented player, like Menez, Matuidi, Sirigu and Gameiro. We are just carrying on with the direction the club has taken.”

The Argentine international will be joining Paris Saint-Germain in a record transfer of over €40 million. The arrival of the  Italy based footballer in Paris shows the transfer capabilities of PSG’s sporting director.

Just arrived.....One of many quality signings

I’m not sure if Les Parisiens have closed their cheque books for this transfer window, but the already acquired players on their roaster alongside the old players like Mamadou Sakho – the captain, Slyvain Armand, Mathieu Bodmer and Guillame Hoarau will have their fans and football enthusiasts alike buzzing as Ligue 1 kicked of last weekend. I’m particularly impressed with the acquisitions. They are young, talented players with a lot of character.

The French clasico (matches involving PSG and Olympique Marseille) this season and in the coming ones would be highly anticipated. Champions Lille OSC, title contenders, Olympique Lyon and Marseille have another re-energized old foe to contend with for the coveted league title come May 2012.
With all things being equal, PSG fans can start dreaming of their third league triumph even before the season starts and perhaps another European title in the Europa league campaign.

The French league this season will be set alive with so many gladiators ready to give football fans some spectacle as we welcome back the ever mouth-watering European league football!

OM, living Dreyfus’ dream

Former owner... pointing the club the way he wants it to go..

Even on his death bed, former owner Robert Louis-Dreyfus had a strong conviction that the Olympique Marseille dream will come through.  He pleaded with Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, his wife and current owner of the club not to sell until the club had failed to achieve success for 99 years.

Like a man who saw tomorrow, Olympique Marseille won the Coupe de la Ligue in 2010 and followed it up with their ninth Ligue 1 title couple of months later, less than a year after Robert passed on. Since OM’s return to the top flight in 1996, the southern France club has barely achieved albeit an Inter toto cup success in 2005.

OM fans regularly endure taunts from Olympique Lyonnais fans whose team dominated French football through the ’00s. For a club that happens to be the only French winner of the UEFA Champions League, it was a bitter pill to swallow , the board of OM have been intolerant. Managers and players have come and left the club.

The decision to appoint former captain Didier Deschamps as head coach in the summer of 2009 appears to be the turning point for OM’s fortune lately. Like a man who knows Les Phoceens problem in and out, he made accurate changes to the side in playing personnel (Souleyman Diawara, Gabriel Heinze, Lucho Gonzalez, Stephen Mbia) and has instilled a winning mentality in the side. The former French captain defeated his former international team mate (Laurent Blanc then head coach of Bordeaux) in the 2010 Coupe de la Ligue final for Marseille’s first silverware in a long time. He also masterminded Ligue 1 triumph when reigning champions Bordeaux capitulated in the spring of 2010.

OM started this current season poorly both on the domestic form and on the continent. Summer recruits, Gignac and Loic Remy did not settle in as expected but have since integrated well into Deschamps team. OM qualified for the knock out stages of the UEFA Champions league and were narrowly eliminated by Manchester United.
Les Phoceens became the first team to win back-to-back Coupe de la Ligue finals with Taye Taiwo striking the only goal of the game to see off Montpellier in a bitterly-contested affair at the Stade de France.
Olypique Marseille is also in contention to win the league title this season but have to dislodge leaders Lille OSC who are a point ahead of them with 5 games left in the French Championnat.

Marseille's players celebrate with their trophy after winning the French soccer League Cup final match against Montpellier

These are definitely happy times for the Stade Velodrome club. A right decison was made by the former onwer not to sell the club in the midst of the frustrating times when the club was under performing. The club’s board  also made a right move in appointment a former Phoceens to head the bench.

Late Robert Louis-Dreyfus should be happy and proud of his beloved Marseille now.

Owner and Manager... respecting the wishes of the former owner

Rudi Garcia – The man on a mission


Man on a mission

Every journey starts with the first small step. Lille OSC won the French Ligue 2 title and gained promotion back to the elite division (French Ligue 1) in 2000. Respected Bosnia coach, Vahid Halilhodzic revived the club’s fortunes in his four year stint which included their promotion back to Ligue 1.
Claude Puel took charge of the club in 2002 and steadied their status in the French top division. Les Dogues’ ambition leaped further with an eye on continental football.
Puel led Lille to UEFA Inter toto cup glory in 2004 thus qualifying for the UEFA cup and in the same manner, UEFA Champions League football was achieved in the 2005/06 season. Lille confirmed their status as a mainstay in the top division over the years despite their small financial resources.

Garcia and his captain

Former player Rudi Garcia replaced departed Claude Puel and was saddled with responsibility of keeping the standards set by his predecessor not withstanding the fact that he had to work wit a decent budget.
The former St. Ettienne coach started a rebuilding process at the club due to the loss of some key players in the wake of Puel’s exit at the club. Present captain, Rio Mavuba who was brought in from Villarreal Reserves helped the Metropolitan club to a fifth place finish in the 2008/09 season.
Mickael Landreau and mercurial Ivorien, Gervinho joined in the summer of 2009 from PSG and Le Mans respectively while Belgian starlet, Eden Hazard was promoted to the senior side. Les Dogues continued their progress under Garcia with a fourth place finish in the 2009/10 season missing out narrowly on the final UEFA Champions League slot.

With their steady and consistent improvement, Garcia’s Lille OSC have gone a step further this year with their attractive brand of football. In spite of being considered outsiders to the Ligue 1 title this season, his team have been in pole position in the league since last December and have maintained their momentum. Senegalese striker Moussa Sow who was signed from Rennes on a free has been the revelation of this campaign leading the forward charge with goals with able support from the flamboyant Gervinho and the highly rated wonderkid Eden Hazard. Captain Mavuba is the balancing factor in the midfield with French international centre half Adil Rami keeping it tight and solid at the back just as experienced campaigner Mickael Landreau is in goal for them.

Rudi’s mission to claim the coveted prize looks pretty close and at the same time, it seems so far away. The former RC Lens coach should be commended for the marvelous job done at a modest club like Lille with heavy spenders and previous champions Olympique Lyon, PSG and Olympique Marseille chasing. His technical, tactical and managerial skills has brought out the very best in the decent players at his disposal. With nine games left and a four point gap between Lille and defending champions Olympique Marseille who are in second place, Garcia has to instill poise and self belief in his lads in order for  LOSC Lille to win the French ligue 1 title for the first time since 1954.

Garcia's boys - good enough for the title?