Football Features

How Marseille could line up if they hadn’t sold their star players

By Squawka News

Published: 16:57, 11 April 2019

Having to sit by and watch your fiercest rivals consistently filling their trophy cabinets each season would be galling for any supporter. 

Spare a thought, then, for the fans of Olympique Marseille whose club have bounced from one shambolic crisis to another while fierce rivals PSG have cemented their place as the undisputed kings of French football.

L’OM are one of France’s most decorated football clubs – a statement supported by their 10 Ligue 1 triumphs, joint-highest with Saint Etienne – but as recent as the 2015/16 season they suffered a serious low point in their illustrious history as they finished 13th in the top-flight, losing as many games as they won.

That has since changed, though, with Marseille battling it out to restore order in French football and cement their place back in the upper reaches of Ligue 1, though they haven’t quite been able to thwart PSG’s stranglehold just yet – in fact, the club are struggling to clinch a top four finish this season.

But despite their current malaise, Marseille have always boasted some fine talents and a quick glance at those who have been let go by the club recently perhaps explains why they have not been able to mount a title charge.

Looking at some of their recent departures, as well as their current crop, this is how Marseille could have line up this season had they not sold their star players…

GK: Steve Mandanda

Age: 34

Current club: Marseille

Appearances for Marseille: 514

Following a couple of productive seasons for Le Havre, Steve Mandanda was snapped up by Marseille in 2007 and he proved to be an outstanding acquisition for the club, spending nine years as their undisputed No.1.

Mandanda was appointed club captain and established himself as France’s first-choice backup to Hugo Lloris during his time with L’OM before eventually leaving for pastures new in 2016 to join Crystal Palace.

The stalwart has since returned after just one-year in the Premier League and has re-established himself as the club’s unrivalled shot-stopper.

RB: Cesar Azpilicueta

Age: 29

Current club: Chelsea

Appearances for Marseille: 68

After starring for his local club Osasuna back in their La Liga heyday, Cesar Azpilicueta was snapped up by Marseille when he was just 20 but despite his lack of experience he quickly became a first-team regular at Marseille.

Azpilicueta’s performances in France culminated in a move to Chelsea in 2012 where he has since become a favourite for the club’s various managers as well the supporters in the stands.

CB: Medhi Benatia

Age: 31

Current club: Al-Duhail

Appearances for Marseille: 0

In fairness to Marseille, they are one of Europe’s best clubs when it comes to honing the skills of their young talents, but Medhi Benatia can certainly be filed in the ‘one that got away’ category.

Benatia progressed through the youth academy at Marseille before spending time in Ligue 2 with Tours, Lorient and Clermont, where his form attracted the attention of Udinese and then Roma and Bayern Munich.

After finding regular football hard to come by at the Allianz Arena, Benatia moved on to Juventus, but has since signed for Qatari side Al-Duhail, despite the defender still being in the prime years of his career.

CB: Nicolas N’Koulou

Age: 29

Current club: Torino

Appearances for Marseille: 205

Another stalwart who was allowed to leave for nothing in 2016 was Nicolas N’Koulou, who ended a five-year association with the club to join the more upwardly mobile Olympique Lyonnais.

Nkoulou was on the books of Marseille’s Ligue 1 rivals Monaco as a teenager and spent three seasons in their first team before moving to Marseille in 2011 aged 21.

His stint at the Groupama Stadium lasted just one season before he pitched up in Turin with Torino, where he has gone on to establish himself as a key member of Walter Mazzarri’s formidable defence – with only the Serie A top three (Juventus, Napoli and Inter) conceding less goals than the Bulls this season.

LB: Benjamin Mendy

Age: 24

Current club: Manchester City

Appearances for Marseille: 101

Benjamin Mendy made the same career move as Mandanda, starting his career with Le Havre, before being snapped by Marseille in 2013. He quickly showed his promise in a white and sky blue shirt, sealing his place in the side soon after his transfer.

Unfortunately, he is yet another player to have left for bigger and better things, first transferring to Ligue 1 rivals Monaco – where his game went up after Leonardo Jardim’s prodigiously young and gifted Les Monegasques side won the 2016/17 Ligue 1 title.

This prompted a move to Manchester City where the Frenchman has since become a Premier League and World Cup winner, though his time at the Etihad has been – and continues to be – blighted by injury problems.

CM: Dimitri Payet

Age: 32

Current club: Marsielle

Appearances for Marseille: 178

It seems strange to consider that Dimitri Payet only made the move to a more reputable league at the age of 28 as he had excelled for years in France.

Payet started out at Nantes in 2005 before moving to Saint-Etienne in 2007, Lille in 2011 and then Marseille in 2013, where he flourished into one of the most creative attacking talents in Europe.

He certainly transferred his Ligue 1 form over to the Premier League in his debut campaign for West Ham, landing the club’s Player of the Year award and earning a place in the Premier League Team of the Year.

But after starring at Euro 2016 with beaten finalists France, Payet’s head was turned in east London. He fell out with the fans and made a swift return back to Marsielle in January 2017.

CM: Mario Lemina

Age: 25

Current club: Southampton

Appearances for Marseille: 50

The Gabon international began his career at boyhood club Lorient but before having a chance to really break into the team, Marseille plundered the club’s ranks.

It took a while for the combative midfielder to get going, but once he did his stock skyrocketed and Juventus would soon coming knocking in 2015. During his two years under the tactically astute stewardship of Massimiliano Allegri, Lemina won two Serie A titles and two Coppa Italias.

The 25-year-old was unable to truly secure a starting berth and he is now making significant noise at Southampton, though an abdominal injury has kept him out of action since December.

Kevin Strootman would be another contender for the central midfield role having impressed since relocating to Marseille from Roma in the summer.

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RW: Hatem Ben Arfa

Age: 32

Current club: Rennes

Appearances for Marseille: 91

Tipped for big things at Lyon during the height of their successful period, Hatem Ben Arfa’s poor attitude eventually saw them lose patience and offload him in Marseille’s direction.

During his three-year spell with Marseille between 2008-2011, Ben Arfa was a talismanic playmaker but after getting into trouble again he was sold to Newcastle.

He left the Championship side to join Nice in 2015 where he rebuilt his career so impressively that PSG saw fit to add him to their star-studded squad.

However, he failed to make a single appearance last season and has since joined Rennes where his undoubted quality is once again shining brightly.

CAM: Florian Thauvin

Age: 26

Current club: Marseille

Appearances for Marseille: 230

Thauvin exploded onto the scene after Bastia prised the forward away from Grenoble, scoring 10 Ligue 1 goals for I Turchini in the 2012/13 season at just 20.

This encouraged Marseille to make a move where he immediately wowed the Stade Velodrome with his twinkle-toed feet, and Newcastle thought they had pulled off a masterstroke when they secured his services in 2015.

Well, it didn’t quite work out on Tyneside for the Frenchman and he has since returned to Marseille, where he has been, quite simply, sensational.

LW: Franck Ribery

Age: 36

Current club: Bayern Munich

Appearances for Marseille: 90

It is easy to forget that in his younger days, Franck Ribery was something of a journeyman, taking in stints at Boulogne, Ales, Brest, Metz, and bizarrely Galatasaray.

After just six months in Istanbul, Ribery transferred to Marseille in 2005 and it was there that his career truly took off. Following a brilliant 2005/06 season, Ribery was called into France’s 2006 World Cup squad and his cameo appearances at that tournament saw him touted as Zinedine Zidane’s natural heir.

Another season at Marseille followed before he joined Bayern Munich where he has remained ever since.

CF: Mario Balotelli

Age: 28

Current club: Marseille

Appearances for Marseille: 10

Tipped for the very top during his Inter Milan days, Balotelli impressed so much at the San Siro that he became one of the first marquee signings of the Sheikh Mansour era at Man City in 2010.

It’s safe to say he was something of a Jekyll and Hyde character in the north-west of England, and he soon turned up at Inter’s rivals AC Milan in 2013. Back in the comforts of the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium, the Italian once again showcased his goalscoring prowess.

And that again prompted a return to England, this time with Liverpool, though his stint at Anfield was pretty disastrous and he left for Nice in 2016. French football has certainly favoured the 28-year-old who has been scoring goals for fun – since joining Marseille in January he has scored seven in nine.