Pitchside Europe

Embattled Marseille show spirit as Anigo returns to bench

For all that Marseille's Champions League campaign was a disaster and their domestic form has been horribly inconsistent, the decision to sack coach Elie Baup last week was harsh, but the team has shown real character in the two games since he was replaced by sporting director Jose Anigo.

The veteran Baup was shown the door after a mediocre display by OM in losing 1-0 at home to Nantes last weekend. The man who led Marseille to second place in Ligue 1 last season could not survive a run of 11 defeats in 19 games in all competitions since the start of September.

A section of OM fans had called for Baup to resign during what turned out to be his final game in charge. The next morning, with Marseille eight points adrift of the top three, president Vincent Labrune made his move.
He reportedly told the players that the display against Nantes made him "want to be sick" before announcing that sporting director Anigo would be taking over at least until the winter break.

Baup was unlucky, but Labrune must have realised the need to protect his own credibility. In the summer, he had spoken about drawing inspiration from Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal and turning to youth as he tried to make OM a force capable of challenging Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco.

They spent €37 million (£31 million) in the summer on new signings, largely untried youngsters. A third of that went on Lille's Florian Thauvin, and they also paid €8m to Lille for Dimitri Payet. But it is Lille who are challenging the top two just now, not Marseille.

Labrune's decision to turn to Anigo was partly because he had not even considered the possible long-term options, but Anigo knows the club inside out. He was born in Marseille and supported and played for OM. He first became coach on an interim basis in the 2001-02 season and then replaced Alain Perrin in January 2004, taking a team containing Didier Drogba to the UEFA Cup final, which they lost against Valencia.

He stepped aside again in November that year but has remained at the club since, working in the role of sporting director. In an interview in January, he said that he wanted to return to coaching, but not at OM. And yet here he is, back in the dugout.

"In all that I have gone through in my personal life in the last few months, the club has always remained by my side. I couldn't turn them down," Anigo said last week.

In September, Anigo's son Adrien, who had become too closely involved in the city's notorious organised crime scene, was murdered. Taking charge of OM is a difficult job for anyone, but Anigo has clearly faced bigger challenges.

Against Dortmund on Wednesday, Marseille played for almost an hour with 10 men after the sending-off of Payet but nearly claimed a draw until conceding a late goal and losing 2-1. Anigo's first game saw the club claim the unwanted record of being the first French side to complete a Champions League group stage campaign without collecting a single point.

Nevertheless, Anigo had injected some much-needed fighting spirit into the side and that shone through in Sunday's clash with Lyon at the Stade de Gerland, eventually anyway.

Lyon tore the Marseille defence apart for long spells and eased into a two-goal lead, but Andre-Pierre Gignac's strike just before the break gave the visitors hope. Some stern words from Anigo at half-time and a switch to a three-man midfield helped keep them in the game, and a deflected Thauvin free-kick 11 minutes from the end secured a point.

"Things would have been completely different had we been 2-0 down at half-time, but the reaction in the dressing room was positive. That shows the spirit we have," said Anigo.

The headlines on Monday were positive, with the front page of sports daily L'Equipe speaking of Marseille's 'Lucky Star', while La Provence went with the headline 'OM hold on to their dream'.

The dream of course, is a top-three finish and a return to next season's Champions League, even if this year's European campaign was more of a nightmare.

The least Anigo can ask of his players is to keep showing the same fighting spirit. And when the likes of Mathieu Valbuena and Andre Ayew, who were missing on Sunday, are back, Marseille may yet stand a chance of closing the gap to third-placed Lille, which currently stands at 11 points.

Andy Scott - @andpscott