Marseille had to wait a long time, fully 18 years in fact, before becoming league champions again. Anxious to bring an end to their championship drought, l’OM proved unstoppable in the second half of the season, finding their very best form just as reigning champions Bordeaux and serial Ligue 1 winners Lyon lost their momentum. FIFA.com reflects on a thrilling league season in France.
The banner unfurled by Marseille during the title-clinching game against Rennes said it all: 'Deschamps, player and coach: you bring us happiness'. That expression of gratitude was well deserved. The FIFA World Cup™ winner and captain of the Marseille side that won the UEFA Champions League in 1993 has steered the club back into the limelight, despite taking up the coaching reins in very trying circumstances.
Allied to the difficulty of rebuilding the side following the departure of club president Pape Diouf and revered coach Eric Gerets, and the death of majority shareholder Robert Louis-Dreyfus, Deschamps also had to contend with the injury suffered by the club’s record signing Lucho Gonzalez.
Struggling to find momentum at the start of the campaign, l’OM found themselves fully ten points behind the leaders and reigning champions Bordeaux as winter set in. Strike partners Hatem Ben Arfa and Matthieu Valbuena gradually began to find their range, however, and with Gonzalez regaining fitness and form and central defenders Souleymane Diawara and Stephane M’bia commanding the rearguard with increasing authority, Marseille started stringing victories together and cutting their way through the field. And by the time they made sure of the trophy against Rennes, there was little doubt who the best side in France was. Just as the deposed Bordeaux have found out, however, the task now facing Marseille is to go out and do it all again next term.
For the second season running, Lyon have gone away empty-handed. Devoting most of their energies to the Champions League, the former masters of the French scene staged a late revival to clinch second place and with it a direct ticket to the group phase of Europe’s leading club competition. After narrowly avoiding relegation last term, Auxerre enjoyed a superb season, mounting a title challenge of their own before taking third place and earning a berth in the Champions League play-offs.
Though Lille can take plenty of satisfaction from finishing fourth and winning a place in the UEFA Europa League, that final Champions League slot would have been theirs had they not lost on the last day. One place below them came Montpellier, who mounted a surprise title challenge and will be delighted with a slot in the Europa League in their first season back in the top flight.
Also of note
Deposed champions Bordeaux will be bitterly disappointed with their title defence. Laurent Blanc’s men looked unstoppable back in January but went into freefall after losing the League Cup final and then suffering elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Lyon, eventually dropping down to sixth and out of the European places.
The only bright spot in another largely dismal season for Paris Saint-Germain was their French Cup win. Never in the running in the league, meanwhile, the misfiring Parisians finished 13th and will want to forget a campaign in which they suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat at home to Marseille.
The big names
While the main architect of their success was Didier Deschamps, l’OM also had their fair share of heroes on the pitch. Team captain and the top scorer in the league, Mamadou Niang formed a lethal partnership with Lucho Gonzalez, who was in superb form after the mid-winter break and deserves his reputation as the best passer in French football. And at the back the experience of Gabriel Heinze and Souleymane Diawara, a championship winner with Bordeaux last season, gave Deschamps’ side the defensive solidity they needed.
The player of the season was not to be found at the Velodrome, however. That honour, voted for by his peers, went to Lyon’s Argentinian striker Lisandro Lopez, who arrived from Porto at the start of the season and wasted little time in showing his goalscoring acumen and will to win. Team-mate Hugo Lloris proved yet again why he is France’s No1, while Jeremy Toulalan was outstanding in both midfield and central defence, where he deputised for his injured and suspended colleagues to great effect.
Making important contributions elsewhere were Polish forward Ireneusz Jelen, who scored 14 goals for Auxerre despite his recurring back problems. Topping him by one goal was Mevlut Erding, one of the few success stories in another season to forget for PSG. Among the revelations were Lorient forward Kevin Gameiro, who finished just behind Niang on the scoring chart, and Belgian prodigy Eden Hazard, an inspirational presence for Lille. Also shining for Les Dogues were Rio Mavuba and Yohan Cabaye, who dovetailed to perfection in midfield and dispatched their ball-winning and creative duties masterfully.
Ups and downs
Following a disastrous start in which they lost 11 games on the trot, it was no surprise to see Grenoble drop back into Ligue 2 after a two-year stay. Joining them there will be Boulogne-sur-Mer, who only came up last season, and Le Mans, who finally paid the price for selling their best players. Replacing them in the elite are Caen, who make their return after a single season in tier two, Brest, back in the big time for the first time in 19 years, and minnows Arles-Avignon, who will be making their Ligue 1 debut.
At a glance
1. Marseille, 78 points
2. Lyon, 72
3. Auxerre, 71
18 goals - Mamadou Niang (Marseille)
17 - Kevin Gameiro (Lorient)
15 - Mevlut Erding (Paris St Germain), Lisandro Lopez (Lyon)
17 - The number of years that have elapsed since Marseille’s last trophy win, the 1993 UEFA Champions League. L’OM brought the drought to an end by winning the French League Cup and followed up a few weeks later by winning their ninth league championship and their first since 1992.