There is a big club in France in turmoil with aggressive ultras completely dictating boardroom decisions… and it isn’t Paris Saint-Germain.
Marseille go to the French capital on Sunday for the biggest game in the Ligue 1 calendar, without a manager, and almost without a president — he temporarily quit in midweek before returning yesterday with threats of legal action against the ultras.
And all this as Marseille face a PSG side who, despite having had their worst start to a league season since the Qataris took over in 2011, look more like a football team than they have at any other time in that period.
Such has been their stuttering start, PSG are below Sunday’s rivals in the table. But it is Marseille whose coach was forced out this week just seven games in, pretty much on the orders of their most radical fans. The ultras are in charge at Marseille. It is hard to come up with any alternative narrative.
For years, they have been indulged with scheduled meetings in which they ask the club’s directors for explanations. It may smell like democracy but ends up stinking of mob rule.
Marseille’s ultras are incredibly influential and in a meeting on Monday, demanded that the president, manager, and director of football leave
Manager Marcelino was forced out just seven games after joining despite being a respected figure in European football
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In one of those meetings on Monday, the ultras demanded Marseille’s Spanish president Pablo Longoria, his coach Marcelino and director of football Javier Ribalta all left the club.
Longoria described the encounter as ‘very unpleasant’ in an interview with La Provence. He said he was able to talk for a couple of minutes and then came the barrage in which ‘a line was crossed’, with the ultras threatening ‘war’ if they did not get what they wanted.
Longoria had temporarily stood down as president, genuinely concerned by the nature of the threats.
He has been on the wrong end of campaigns before. Suggestions he was syphoning off money from transfers led to him volunteering all information from his bank accounts in France and Spain, to the ultimate complete satisfaction of the club’s owner Frank McCourt.
The US magnate bought Marseille in 2016, having sold the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. McCourt said in a statement this week: ‘The situation that occurred on Monday and that led to the resignation of Marcelino and his staff is unacceptable. The incident is one of many that undermines what we are trying to build.’
Pablo Longorio has returned as president after temporarily stepping down due to ultra threats
Marcelino was only seven games into his tenure as head coach. Marseille are unbeaten in the league and third in Ligue 1. They did lose a Champions League qualifier to Panathinaikos on penalties and played their first Europa League game on Thursday, with caretaker coach Jacques Abardonado in charge.
He called up Azzedine Ounahi and Amine Harit and those two — out of favour with Marcelino (and that is maybe one thing he was getting wrong) — helped Marseille to a 3-3 draw at Ajax.
But defensively the team were a souffle and there are major concerns over what Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Randal Kolo Muani might do to them on Sunday.
Which brings us to the calm sanity of PSG, where the circus left town in the summer and a football team is emerging.
Mbappe never needed Neymar and a veteran Lionel Messi alongside him — he needed a midfield that would work and run behind him, and now that is what he has. The Portuguese Vitinha is just 23, Uruguayan holding midfielder Manuel Ugarte is 22 and French starlet Warren Zaire-Emery is only 17.
PSG are behind Marseille but are rediscovering some serenity under new boss Luis Enrique
New head coach Luis Enrique wants to make that midfield the heartbeat of his team. He has installed a work ethic and a level of organisation which should ensure that last season’s awful defensive record of 40 goals conceded is not repeated.
Tuesday’s 2-0 win at home to Borussia Dortmund does not make a Champions League winning campaign. But their total football-style second goal, with right back Achraf Hakimi arriving in centre-forward territory to finish, is a taste of the way Luis Enrique wants them to play.
Luis Enrique sees winning the league as the necessary precursor to Champions League success. Much of PSG’s slow domestic start is down to teething problems and Mbappe’s gradual reintegration into the squad.
Sunday ought to see them lay down a marker, against a club whose current travails makes last season’s boos for Messi and ultras at the gates of Neymar’s mansion seem like nothing.
Bellingham ready to pile on the pain for Simeone
Diego Simeone has had a rough week and it may not end well on Sunday evening, with the Madrid derby to contest at home and England goal-machine Jude Bellingham to stop.
The Atletico Madrid coach said last week’s 3-0 defeat at Valencia was possibly their worst performance since he took over 11 years ago.
Then in midweek, Atletico were heading for a 1-0 win at Lazio in their Champions League opener when Lazio goalkeeper Ivan Provedel headed in the equaliser from a corner with the last kick of the game. He was easy to spot because he was the only one wearing gloves and a yellow jersey.
Jude Bellingham is in formidable form for Real Madrid and can carry that into Sunday’s clash against Atletico Madrid
It could cap off a painful week for Diego Simeone after a 3-0 loss against Valencia and Lazio’s equaliser at the death in midweek
Provedel has form for scoring goals, having played as a centre forward until he was 15. In 2020, he also scored as a goalkeeper for Juve Stabia in Serie B, earning his team a last-gasp 2-2 draw at Ascoli.
All this came for Simeone in a week when Joao Felix scored three goals in two games for Barcelona — having joined on loan from Atletico on transfer deadline day — as Xavi’s side secured back-to-back 5-0 wins for the first time since Lionel Messi left the club.
Can it get any worse? On Sunday night night, Bellingham and Madrid will be out to show Simeone it can.
Can Xabi Alonso scupper Kane’s Munich mission?
Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen ended last weekend top of the Bundesliga after their 2-2 draw at Bayern Munich. And on Thursday, they put four past Swedish side BK Hacken to kick off their Europa League campaign in style.
‘This is a process,’ reasoned Alonso, not entirely happy with how often his team surrendered control of possession in midweek.
‘We have to try to stay at this level for 90 minutes. We must not always play so quickly forward after winning the ball. There are times when it’s better to just maintain maximum control.’
It is clear after just four league games that Alonso’s perfectionism is the biggest threat to Harry Kane winning the Bundesliga in his first season.
Xabi Alonso has Bayer Leverkusen ahead of Bayern Munich and is building a reputation as one of Europe’s brightest managers