Firebrand Gattuso charged with restoring order to Marseille

Firebrand Gattuso charged with restoring order to Marseille

October 4, 2023 at 1:06 AM
Gennaro Gattuso's first game in charge of Marseille ended in defeat against Monaco
Gennaro Gattuso's first game in charge of Marseille ended in defeat against Monaco. Photo: Valery HACHE / AFP/File
Source: AFP

Life is rarely dull at Marseille but even by the standards of France's most passionately followed football club the weeks leading up to this Thursday's Europa League clash with Brighton and Hove Albion have been remarkable.

A team that had been unbeaten saw their coach, Spaniard Marcelino Garcia Toral, resign after just seven games in charge following an angry meeting between supporters groups and club directors.

Pablo Longoria, the 37-year-old president of the nine-time French champions, considered quitting after saying he had been threatened during the meeting in question.

He claimed in an interview with local daily La Provence that he and three fellow directors had been told to "resign or it's war".

Longoria also said he had asked his lawyers to file a police complaint, a move that was unlikely to get supporters back onside, especially among the powerful ultra groups that dominate the terraces of Marseille's imposing Stade Velodrome.

Prosecutors in the Mediterranean port city later confirmed that an investigation had been opened into possible extortion, blackmail and threats made against Longoria and the directors.

However, in the end Longoria opted to stay after receiving the backing of the club's owner, American tycoon Frank McCourt -- although sports daily L'Equipe reported Longoria would have had to pay back several months' salary had he suddenly decided to quit.

With the team slumping to a 4-0 defeat away to bitter rivals Paris Saint-Germain on September 24, Longoria stepped up his search for a new coach and soon had his man in Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning midfielder Gennaro Gattuso.

The firebrand 45-year-old, a former coach at AC Milan, Napoli and Valencia, has the temperament needed to handle the atmosphere in a city obsessed with its football team.

But it remains to be seen if he can get a side that finished third in Ligue 1 last season under former Croatia defender Igor Tudor back on track.

"I have faith in Gennaro. I know he is the right man for the job. He has taken over clubs in Italy in the middle of the season when they have been in difficult situations and he has always improved things," said Longoria at Gattuso's unveiling.

European heritage

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was one of a host of new signings made by Marseille ahead of this season
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was one of a host of new signings made by Marseille ahead of this season. Photo: Nicolas TUCAT / AFP/File
Source: AFP

Yet Gattuso was not immediately able to get Marseille back to winning ways, as his first game in charge ended in a 3-2 defeat at Monaco last weekend, a result which left OM in the bottom half in Ligue 1.

That makes the meeting with Brighton even more important, with both teams still seeking a first win in Europa League Group B.

Marseille are proud of their European heritage as the only French club ever to have won the Champions League.

Runners-up in the Europa League in 2018, Marseille were also beaten finalists in the UEFA Cup in 1999 and 2004, and they want to go on another deep run in the competition this season.

Yet while Brighton are thrilled to be in the Europa League on their first ever foray into continental competition, their opponents this week had planned for a Champions League campaign.

Longoria overhauled the squad ahead of this season with signings like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Senegal winger Ismaila Sarr, with the aim of building a team that could compete with Europe's finest.

Marseille duly fell in the Champions League third qualifying round, losing on penalties to Panathinaikos, a setback that did little to endear Marcelino to supporters.

Gattuso's first task is to fix a defence that has leaked 10 goals in its last three games as he measures up to a Brighton team coached by his fellow Italian, Roberto de Zerbi.

And he indicated that the timing of this game makes it something of an inconvenience.

"Obviously we don't have much time given that we are in Europe, but we need to play and honour these matches," he said after his first game as he pondered the work that needs to be done.

"It would have been much better if we didn't have the Europa League. We don't have much time but we just have to get on with it and understand as quickly as possible what we need to do."

AFP photo