Football Features

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

By Squawka News

Published: 14:30, 10 August 2022

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 de Marseille whose club have bounced from one shambolic crisis to another while fierce rivals Paris Saint-Germain 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 nine Ligue 1 triumphs, 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.

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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, recently finishing as runners-up in 2021/22.

But despite their current march back to prominence, 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: 37

Current club: Rennes

Appearances for Marseille: 607

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 then returned after just one-year in the Premier League and re-established himself as the club’s unrivalled shot-stopper, before leaving to become the No.1 at Rennes this summer at the age of 37.

RB: Bouna Sarr

Age: 30

Current club: Bayern Munich

Appearances for Marseille: 179

Having risen through the ranks at Metz, Bouna Sarr was pinched by OM in 2015 and went on to become a consistent, able-bodied attacking full-back for half-a-decade at the Stade Velodrome. Such form naturally alerted Europe’s leading lights and in 2020, Bayern Munich prised the Senegal international away from France to function as a competent back-up at the Allianz Arena.

CB: Duje Caleta-Car

Age: 25

Current club: Marseille

Appearances for Marseille: 129

The 23-capped Croatia international has established himself as one of Ligue 1’s most talented centre-backs since arriving from Red Bull Salzburg in 2018, naturally leading to links with Premier League clubs seemingly every transfer window. He also established a pretty solid partnership with the next man on this list as Marseille finished runners-up last term with the third-best defensive record.

CB: William Saliba

Age: 21

Current club: Arsenal

Appearances for Marseille: 52

William Saliba was frighteningly good on loan at Marseille last season, leading to plaudits from plenty of French analysts, former players and current stars, with Didier Deschamps handing the young defender five senior France caps this year as a result. His exploits in the heart of Jorge Sampaoli’s backline culminated in him earning the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year award and a place in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year.

LB: Cesar Azpilicueta

Age: 32

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.

CM: Dimitri Payet

Age: 35

Current club: Marsielle

Appearances for Marseille: 300

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: Boubacar Kamara

Age: 22

Current club: Aston Villa

Appearances for Marseille: 170

A product of Marseille’s esteemed academy, Boubacar Kamara burst through the ranks in 2018 and cemented a consistent starting berth in the heart of the club’s midfield across four seasons, prompting some of the continent’s most-revered clubs to sit up and take notice. Aston Villa ultimately won the transfer foot race for his signature, perhaps to the surprise of many, and he is now looking to build on his still fledgling career in the Premier League.

RW: Hatem Ben Arfa

Age: 35

Current club: Unattached

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 in 2017/18 and has since joined Rennes, where he won the Coupe de France, before moving on to Real Valladolid, Bordeaux and most recently Lille.

LW: Franck Ribery

Age: 39

Current club: Salernitana

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 remained until joining Fiorentina and now Salernitana.

CF: Alexis Sanchez

Age: 33

Current club: Marseille

Appearances for Marseille: 0

Marseille have signed 13 players this summer as they try to re-evaluate their squad following Sampaoli’s exit last month. The latest, Alexis Sanchez, is quite possibly the most exciting. Things haven’t quite worked out for the Chilean legend since he left Arsenal in that now-infamous move to Manchester United in 2018, but he remains one of the game’s mots recognised and celebrated attackers. If he can get anywhere close to his Arsenal form, which could be aided by the wizardly of Payet’s playmaker brilliance, then Marseille could have a game-changer on their hands.

CF: Mario Balotelli

Age: 31

Current club: Adana Demirspor

Appearances for Marseille: 15

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 him — since joining Marseille he’d scored eight goals across 15 outings. A brief return to Italy followed with Brescia and Monza, and he is now tearing it up in Turkey with Adana Demirspor.