By James Philips
France has had a major impact on the history of football. Jules Rimet, founder of the World Cup, Henri Delaunay, founder of the European Championships and Gabriel Hanot, instigator of the Ballon D’or award and European Cup all hail from the country. Yet only Marseille have ever won the Champions League, defeating Fabio Capello’s AC Milan 1-0 in Munich. Since that monumental victory in 1993, l’OM have failed to even get out of the group stage. Denied the opportunity to defend their trophy in 1994 because of a domestic match-fixing scandal involving then president Bernard Tapie, the club were relegated and stripped of their domestic title. After two years out of Ligue 1, Marseille won promotion under new owner Robert Louis-Dreyfus but struggled to return to their former power.
Louis-Dreyfus oversaw Marseille’s inconsistent challenges over the course of a decade and a half as Lyon became the dominant force in French football. But one of the last things he did at Marseille before passing away in summer 2009 turned out to be the most influential. By giving the go-ahead for Didier Deschamps to manage the club, he ushered in a new era at the Stade Velodrome. Deschamps, who became the youngest ever European Cup-winning captain back in that 1992/93 season, brought in experience in the form of Edouard Cisse and Fernando Morientes which sparked instant success. A first league title since 1992 as well as a first ever league cup triumph saw Deschamps cement his legendary status at the club and there were high hopes for the 2010/11 season in Europe.
Over the summer, Morientes retired and top scorer Mamadou Niang was sold to Turkish club Fenerbahce but in came national team strikers Andre-Pierre Gignac and Loic Remy, who had been coveted by many Premier League clubs. The addition of young Spanish full-back Cesar Azpilicueta, and return from loan of Ghanaian World Cup star Andre Ayew also pointed to a step in the right direction. Added to the solid foundations of Gabriel Heinze , Souleymane Diawara, Cisse, Lucho Gonzalez and Brandao, all the ingredients for further success seemed in place. Yet the south coast giants have faltered again. Languishing in eighth after eight rounds of games in Ligue 1, the team seems to have lost all momentum.
Favourites to progress behind Chelsea in their Champions League group, two defeats in the first two group games have put pressure on the squad to deliver. Unlucky to lose at home to Spartak Moscow who failed to register a single shot on target, and only scored from an Azpilicueta own goal, the French were easily outclassed at Stamford Bridge by a Chelsea side who didn’t get out of second gear. Deschamps will be hoping for a favour from his old London club, as l’OM’s best chance of qualifying now would be if the Blues did the double over the Russian club. It is not over yet for Deschamps’ men but he will need a full six points against group F makeweights MSK Zilina and at least three points from the return game at Spartak and Chelsea’s visit to the Velodrome. Even if they do scrape through, there is a lot of work to do before Marseille, or their compatriots Lyon earn France their second European Cup success.