Euro­pean pedi­gree in short sup­ply but the un­der­dogs have bite

Sport360 - - Europa League - By Andy Scott @andp­scott ed­i­to­

Twenty-five years have passed since Mar­seille’s crown­ing mo­ment, but the only French club ever to have been Euro­pean cham­pi­ons are fi­nally dream­ing of more glory on the con­ti­nen­tal stage.

Af­ter a Europa League cam­paign that be­gan in late July, Rudi Gar­cia’s side now find them­selves up against Atletico Madrid in Wed­nes­day’s fi­nal in Lyon, at the home of one of their great ri­vals.

OM will not be the favourites against Diego Sime­one’s for­mi­da­ble team, and in­deed any­body brave enough at the start of the sea­son to tip a French side to go all the way in Europe would prob­a­bly not have said Mar­seille. But Paris Sain­tGer­main again came up short in the Cham­pi­ons League, de­spite the world-record sign­ing of Ney­mar, and Lyon failed to reach the Europa League fi­nal in their own sta­dium, leav­ing Mar­seille to fly the flag.

They have done that with dis­tinc­tion be­fore – Basile Boli’s headed win­ner against AC Mi­lan in the 1993 Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in Mu­nich al­lowed them to be­come Euro­pean cham­pi­ons for the first time.

No French side has re­peated that feat, with PSG’s vic­tory in the now de­funct Cup Win­ners’ Cup in 1996 the only other Euro­pean tro­phy suc­cess for the coun­try’s clubs.

Mar­seille have had their mo­ments though – al­ready beaten in the 1991 Euro­pean Cup fi­nal, on penal­ties by Red Star Bel­grade, they lost the UEFA Cup fi­nals of 1999 to Parma and 2004 to Valencia.

Still France’s best sup­ported side, they are pre­par­ing for their fifth Euro­pean fi­nal al­to­gether, look­ing to give their no­to­ri­ously pas­sion­ate fans a night to re­mem­ber.

“It’s fan­tas­tic. I’d re­ally love to write his­tory with OM. We have had a great run and given our­selves this chance,” said Flo­rian Thau­vin, their out­stand­ing player this sea­son.

Those fans will travel the three hours by road to Lyon in big numbers, rel­ish­ing the prospect of lift­ing that tro­phy in their ri­vals’ own back­yard, even if only around 11,000 tick­ets have been al­lo­cated to them.

In a Mediter­ranean city which lives and breathes for its foot­ball team, there have been more downs than ups in the last quar­ter of a cen- tury, and fans de­scended on the Old Port to cel­e­brate in style af­ter the semi-fi­nal win over Salzburg.

“When you are a player and you live in Mar­seille, you un­der­stand right away,” Boli, now 51, said in an in­ter­view with France Tele­vi­sions.

“You go to the butcher, the baker, you go to pick up your daugh­ter, the city is like that, you don’t need to be told that you rep­re­sent some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary. You ex­pe­ri­ence it every day.”

The 1993 suc­cess of Boli’s side ended up clos­ing a golden pe­riod in the club’s his­tory – a match-fix­ing scan­dal erupted at the same time, and fin­ished with Mar­seille be­ing con­signed to the sec­ond divi­sion a year later. OM have been French cham­pi­ons only once since, un­der Di­dier Deschamps in 2010, and since then have seen their great­est en­e­mies, PSG, be­come one of the rich­est clubs on the planet un­der Qatari own­er­ship.

PSG’s bud­get is around four times that of Mar­seille, and the cap­i­tal side have just won a fifth Ligue 1 crown in six years. But they have con­sis­tently fallen short in the Cham­pi­ons League.

Mar­seille will cer­tainly set­tle for vic­tory in Europe’s less pres­ti­gious com­pe­ti­tion, as they look to cap their first full sea­son since Amer­i­can ty­coon Frank McCourt took over at the Stade Velo­drome.

For­mer Los Angeles Dodgers owner McCourt bought the club from Mar­garita Louis-Drey­fus in Oc­to­ber 2016 and im­me­di­ately launched his ‘Cham­pi­ons Project’, in­sist­ing: “We’re go­ing to put our club back on the road to glory.”

Af­ter spend­ing sig­nif­i­cant money to bring in ex­pe­ri­ence and qual­ity in the likes of Dimtri Payet, Luiz Gus­tavo and Adil Rami, Mar­seille are well down that road now, and it leads to Lyon this week.

French fancy: Basile Boli’s headed win­ner against AC Mi­lan in the 93’ fi­nal.

Make them Pay: Dim­itri Payet.

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