Marseille’s nouveau riche add spice to bitter PSG rivalry

Where would Luke Skywalker have been without Darth Vader? demanded France Football last week.
Marseille’s nouveau riche add spice to bitter PSG rivalry

This may seem an unusual question for a football paper to ask – perhaps he would have taken time to sort out his feelings towards Mara Jade and Princess Leia? - but in the context of the French league the absence of a powerful force to rival Paris Saint-Germain is an obvious handicap.

Healthy competition demands a least one continuing visceral rivalry.

The rivalry can be local - for example Madrid, London, Rome, Manchester and Liverpool - but north-south is also desirable, as with Munich and Dortmund, and in the past France did have this with Olympique Marseille and Paris.

The French media dubbed it ‘le Classico’, which always seemed a little pretentious when compared to the history behind the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry or Boca Juniors and River Plate. But while the Marseille rivalry with PSG may have been relatively short-lived, it did have that vital visceral quality.

The two sets of supporters clashed on numerous occasions, and still detest each other. The hatred and the rivalry continued even during the seven lean years when Lyon were out of sight and PSG and OM trailed in 20 or 30 points behind.

But once PSG hit the jackpot – or, more accurately, struck oil - their financial resources became so big and inexhaustible that the enmity with Marseille threatened to become irrelevant.

Monaco are a potential alternative, as they are also in the money, but they lack both the support and the traditions required to have developed a convincing rivalry, so far at least.

Marseille’s traditions embrace both crisis and recovery and on Sunday they arrived at the Parc des Princes for their first match under a new manager and with a new American owner in charge.

It looks like a major turning point in their history.

The new owner is Frank McCourt, renowned for a costly dispute with his wife involving the ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and thus the most expensive divorce in the history of California. By comparison the €45 million he paid for Marseille looks like a bargain.

The new manager is Rudi Garcia, previously at Lille and then at Roma, where his boss was James Pallotta, so he should be familiar with US management style.

It is a scenario with promise, but football being football this new era opened with a 0-0 draw.

PSG had 17 shots, but only four on target, Edinson Cavani being especially wasteful. They passed the opposition to death but could not finish. Marseille’s shot count came to zero and they finished the match without even a corner to their name.

Not exactly in tune with the usual American concept of sport, although the idea of a scoreless match is gradually becoming understood if not accepted, but a decent result given Marseille are back in 11th place.

Garcia did a good tactical job in the three days available to him, switching from his preferred 4-3-3 to a five-man defence. By contrast Unai Emery failed to make the necessary attacking substitutions until the last 15 minutes, and PSG paid the price.

Does ‘le Classico’ still really exist? Most people think not, although some would love it to be revived. Robert Pires, who was at Marseille for two years before moving to Arsenal, believes there is still scope because of the new ownership.

“I remember that for OM supporters you could lose every match apart from the two against PSG,” he said.

“I don’t know if the players feel the same pressure today, but as far as we were concerned it definitely pushed us.”

Eric Rabesandratana, who was at PSG at the same time, believes that with more foreign players involved “there is possibly less intensity about this meeting… they put in a bit less rage. But PSG-OM is still PSG-OM.”

In any case, this may be an unusual season in France, with PSG currently trailing Monaco, 6-2 winners against Montpellier on Friday, and league leaders Nice - the big surprise.

If Mario Balotelli can continue his revival then anything is possible.

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