“[EVENING ADVICE]. Be patient. The transfer window closes at midnight. We’re so fine together, right ?” On August 31st 2015, Olympique de Marseille sent their faithful followers into overdrive as the 2015 summer transfer window entered its final hour with a cheeky tease. Tottenham’s Argentine international winger Erik Lamela was expected to put pen to paper over a one-year loan move to the Canebière. The deal collapsed at the eleventh hour, because Spurs failed to find a suitable replacement. Les Phocéens were a laughing stock: some weeks earlier, Vélodrome-revered Argentine head coach Marcelo Bielsa handed his resignation just after OM’s home loss against Caen on Ligue 1’s opening day. OM slumped their way to a miserable, and not so fine, 13th place finish.
Fast-forward seven-and-a half years later and Marseille are a whole different beast. Their clever transfer activity in the past few weeks is testament to the hard work done behind the scenes by newly-named president Pablo Longoria and sporting director Javier Ribalta. No drama, no last-minute rejection, no failed medical, no administrative lateness, no unwanted transfer request, no smugness shown to bitter rivals… The flaws in the Igor Tudor-led side have simply been identified and addressed. Unhappy or struggling players have been shown the exit and duly replaced. Spectacular but unreliable Brazilian midfielder Gerson (25) returned to Flamengo over a €15m deal. The new Marseille #8 is now World Cup sensation Morrocan Azzedine Ounahi (22). The all-action midfielder that left Spain boss Luis Enrique in absolute awe was quoted with a Leeds’ bid close to €25m. OM managed to pay Angers less than half of that to acquire him. Disappointing striker Colombian Luis Suárez (25) and wantaway midfielder Pape Gueye (24) were both loaned out respectively to Almeria and Sevilla.
Out-of-favour Senegalese forward Bamba Dieng (22) was sold to Lorient for a €7m fee. To compensate his transfer and Amine Harit’s (25) season-ending knee injury, OM planned ahead and reacted, because that’s what well-run clubs do, by quickly agreeing a loan move with Ukrainian international Ruslan Malinovskyi (29). The Atalanta loanee has adapted to his new environment with ease and is now a starter for Tudor’s side.
The single setback in OM’s winter transfer window was the failure to sign Lorient’s Nigerian striker Terem Moffi (23). Nice were ahead in the race to his signing and had proven convincing enough to make the Ligue 1’s second best goalscorer reject Marseille’s advances. Longoria and Ribalta didn’t show stubbornness and moved on to explore different options. They succeed in trumping Premier League competition, and that’s no mean feat, to sign highly-rated Portuguese striker Vitinha (22). But ambition has a price and OM broke their record transfer, parting with €32m for the Braga forward.
Time will tell whether the Vitinha gambit will prove successful. But there’s every reason to believe that Marseille are now a stronger and better team now. Marseille enter Ligue 1’s second half of the season with a renewed sense of pride and hunger as well as only a five-point deficit over leaders and arch-rivals PSG. To get a taste of the feel-good factor surrounding Les Phocéens, one only has to listen to Igor Tudor’s words. “Honestly, I lived this transfer window calmly. I put faith in my executives. We’ve done a good work until now with cleverness. I’m happy with our work.” Times are definitely changing for one of Ligue 1’s most tumultuous clubs.