Misery loves company in Ligue 1 as Marseille not alone in their mediocrity
Even as France's nurseries fuelled their World Cup win last year, clubs there have been big disappointments in 2018/19
It was an arresting post-match interview, and not one designed to find favour with his manager or indeed his club’s fans. Florian Thauvin, exhausted and exasperated, told the story of Olympique Marseille’s 2-0 defeat at Bordeaux last weekend with unpolished candour.
“We were rubbish,” he sighed.
And then he really let fly. “Even if we did make it into the [Uefa] Champions League, we’re not good enough. What’s the point?”
Surveying a Ligue 1 table that left Marseille – OM – eight points off an automatic Champions League spot, with seven matches left, Thauvin turned even more sombre. “We won’t make the top three, and it’s the same story every year.”
Thauvin, 26, acknowledged he was tired and at the end of his tether as he spoke. But he was also expressing the frustrations of many.
And not just at Marseille, the only French club ever to have won a European Cup, a club that regards itself as the owner of the most passionate support-base in the country but looks up through a telescope at the top of a domestic structure where Paris Saint-Germain, with their unmatchable wealth, are so far ahead that their domination is becoming routine.
Nor are PSG convincing flag-bearers for the French football that Thauvin, in the most glorious moment of the gifted winger’s up-and-down career, was proud to represent last July. He was among the 23 who collected gold medals at the World Cup, and one of the few employed by a Ligue 1 club. The majority of the world-champion Bleus are elsewhere, although it is the excellence of France’s football nurseries, and many of its clubs academies that provided the base for the triumph in Russia.
Those glories seem very removed from the day to day of the domestic league. And even PSG, who on Sunday can confirm their sixth championnat title in seven years, have once more fallen short of expectation in club football’s premier tournament, the Champions League, eliminated in the last 16 by Manchester United.
This season, no compatriot club has helped compensate. Where Monaco reached the semi-finals of the European Cup with their vibrant young side in 2017, and Thauvin’s OM made it to the Europa League final in 2018, the quarter-finals of both major European competitions this season are a Ligue 1-free zone.
Monaco have fallen furthest, their promise of 24 months ago eroded by the departure of a fleet of stars-in-the-making – Kylian Mbappe to PSG; Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy to Manchester City; Fabinho to Liverpool; Thomas Lemar to Atletico Madrid, to name just a few. They also made poor executive decisions, one of which was the appointment of the untried Thierry Henry as manager.
Monaco, back under the guidance of Leonardo Jardim, whom Henry replaced only in October, have eased away from the relegation zone, but will not look back on 2018/19 with much satisfaction.
As for OM, inconsistency has undone them. They were optimistic of penetrating the top three after taking 15 points from a possible 18 a month ago. They have taken one from nine since.
Thauvin’s frustrations are understandable. He has been their most reliable goalscorer, his reputation as a singular talent now fully redeemed after a disappointing spell trying to make it abroad with Newcastle United. He is impatient to see how far OM might go with all their maverick talents combining in attack.
Marseille have since January been the new home of Mario Balotelli, and the Italian’s impact – seven goals in 10 games – has been emphatic. But because of injuries, he, Thauvin and the mercurial Dimitri Payet have yet to be all on the pitch at the same time.
The other Olympique, Lyon, have disappointed, although they proved competitive in matches against City and Barcelona before bowing out of the Champions League. OL have a six-point advantage over Saint Etienne in third place, so they would expect a place in the Champions League group stage in September.
But in the contest to be the best of the rest, beneath PSG, Lyon have been eclipsed by, surprisingly, Lille.
In 2017/18, Lille avoided relegation by one place. They are set to finish 2018/19 one place off first, thanks to the goals of Nicolas Pepe and Jonathan Bamba, and some shrewd management of their resources.
They might even postpone PSG’s coronation as champions if they beat the Parisians in the joust of leaders and chief-chasers, at Lille on Sunday. But it would only be a symbolic delay.
PSG are 20 points clear. They will not be caught, not this season and maybe not for a long time ahead.
Updated: April 11, 2019 04:52 PM