Marseille’s Champions Project is coming off the rails

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Marseille's French head coach Rudi Garcia gestures during the French L1 football match between Monaco (ASM) and Marseille (OM) on August 27, 2017, at the Louis II Stadium in Monaco. / AFP PHOTO / Valery HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

Following a season of huge disappointment, some months into the 2016/17 campaign, an American sports investor named Frank McCourt purchased Olympique de Marseille. Immediate investment in the club earned the label of “Champions Project”.

The goal of this project was to win Ligue 1 and eventually the Champions League, according to the new owner. His vision was to bring silverware and fame back to the sleeping French giant after years of below-average performances.

For the first time since the 2014/15 season, fans felt optimistic about the club. Immediately, former Ligue 1-winning coach Rudi Garcia took the reins at the Stade Vélodrome and had some time to plan his upcoming transfer windows. Despite this, the manager has not lived up to expectations.

The January Signings

In January, Gregory Sertic, Patrice Evra, Morgan Sanson and Dimitri Payet all signed for Marseille. Despite the high-profile signings of Evra and Payet, both players were signed a long way into their career.

Marseille ended up paying over the odds for the 30-year-old French international, who, ignoring his performances at West Ham, is past his best. His return to Marseille pleased the fans in the short term, but now the man from Réunion Island is finding life a little tougher.

Patrice Evra is long past his prime and has struggled this season in particular. Against Rennes, he was terrible defensively, wildly out of position defensively and offering nothing going forward. He should not be starting any games, given that the more athletic left-back, Jordan Amavi, was brought into the squad on loan this summer.

Of the signings that winter, only Morgan Sanson can be considered something of a success. He has his best years ahead of him and in fact recorded the most assists of any player under 23 years old in the big five European leagues last campaign.

The Summer Signings

This summer, the questionable work in the transfer market continued. Veteran centre-halves Adil Rami and Aymen Abdennour joined the already ageing backline, and two other players nearing the end of their career, Luiz Gustavo and Konstantinos Mitroglou, were also signed. In fact, the club went from one of the youngest squads in the league last year, to the joint oldest this season.

Marseille had almost the entire summer to recruit someone to take the goalscoring burden off Valère Germain, but the transfer of Mitroglou has all the marks of a desperation signing. The club were initially linked with Olivier Giroud and Carlos Bacca—two strikers who have proven themselves at the top level—but find themselves with an attacker who has never had a full season in one of the top five European leagues. Mitroglou signed on the last day of the transfer window, and cannot even play for two weeks due to a previous injury.

Following two wins early in the season, Marseille have slumped to a draw and two defeats since. There is serious danger of another calamity season for the club.

Whose fault is it?

The blame for the poor transfer business and performances lies with the manager. Garcia is ultimately has the final say on the players who join the club. It was his decision to bring in the players who have, so far this season, grossly underperformed. Not only was he the one to sanction their arrivals, he is also the one who refuses to drop them.

Grégory Sertic has been one of the worst players for the club this campaign but still starts games on a regular basis. The young talent Maxime López has had a poor start to the season, and Garcia refuses to rest him for a significant period.

The Playing style

The manager is also very stubborn over his formation, employing a 4-3-3 and rarely being flexible with it. Payet would be put to much better use in a central role behind the striker, and two holding midfielders would shield the backline much more effectively.

When the manager did try to alter his team formation against Monaco, it failed in spectacular fashion. Garcia switched to a five-at-the-back system which he had never previously employed, playing several players out of position.  He should never have been testing a new formation against the champions and got his just desserts when Monaco thrashed his side 6-1.

The owner, McCourt, should be shouldering none of the blame. He has kept his word and invested over €100m in the team. Instead, Garcia and his team have to change things. The Frenchman has proven himself, winning Ligue 1 in the past with Lille. If he shows no flexibility in his tactics, however, Marseille will continue to slide down the table and he will be out of a job before Christmas. A new formation is needed to bring the best out of the players at the club; Garcia needs to stop persisting with players who have shown they are not performing; and the recruitment strategy needs to be focused on young talent come January.

Marseille’s Champions Project is on hold for the moment. They need a drastic change to get it back online.

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