If Didier Deschamps leaving the Stade Vélodrome had been on the cards for a while and was not a huge surprise for OM fans, then the club’s fast appointment of Élie Baup as Deschamps’ successor must have been a big surprise. OM toiled through last season finishing in 10th place despite starting the season as one of the favourites for the title, only a Coupe de la Ligue victory provided some brief success.
Since the start of the campaign Les Phocéens hit some patchy form and the club spent the early days struggling at the foot of the table. Soon after the rot had set in, cracks emerged as it became clear that Deschamps and sporting director José Anigo were not seeing eye-to-eye. By the time the season had reached its climax, the divide had become a crevasse and Deschamps had backed himself into a corner with little room for manoeuvre following a season of barbed comments aimed at his superior.
The former France captain leaves the Vélodrome having brought some much-needed success to the club including a first Ligue 1 title in 18 years, but last season it became painfully obvious that the club were ceasing to compete with their league rivals, especially on a financial level. Perhaps it is because OM’s fortunes sharply contrast to those of their sworn enemies Paris Saint-Germain, or perhaps it is the uninspiring transfer dealings that the club embarked upon as they sought to cut their wage bill whilst attempting to keep the promising young players in the side. This policy resulted in sale of key player Lucho González who the club have yet to replace, and the spectacular loss of form of some of their more reputable stars.
With a disgruntled squad and problems in the boardroom, Deschamps was put under extreme pressure and in the end he cracked. It takes a strong character to take control of the considerable egos in the Marseille dressing room but it takes an even stronger character to command the respect of the club’s hungry fans which is what makes the decision of the club’s hierarchy to appoint Élie Baup as Deschamps’ replacement all the more curious.
Baup is seen in French football circles as a Gallic equivalent of Peter Reid (albeit perenially wearing a cap), an uninspiring character who has enjoyed little success as a manager but still manages to get new work despite limited success at the helm of some of Ligue 1′s biggest names. The 57-year-old coached Bordeaux to the title in 1999 but also had spells with Saint-Etienne (1994-96 and 2004-06), Toulouse (2006-08) and Nantes (2008-09) – before taking over at OM following a three-year absence from football.
His last Ligue 1 position, with Nantes, was ended by mutual consent after the club slipped back down to Ligue 2 in their promotion season in 2008-09, and following that he has spent more time on the sofa as an analyst for Canal+ than scouring the job market. It is no surprise then that Marseille’s fans see this appointment as a massive backwards step and a signal of the club’s lack of ambition and desire to overthrow their considerably richer rivals.
With the team currently containing such talents as Loïc Rémy, André Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Mathieu Valbuena, Steve Mandanda and Nicolas N’Koulou but no signs of major investment this summer, Vincent Labrune’s comments towards the end of last season that one or two big names would be sold ahead of this season suggests that OM have accepted being second best for the time being.
Not wishing to judge Baup before he has had a chance to prove himself, he has hardly got the credentials that suggest he has the experience and ability to make the most of the talent at his disposal despite the lack of funds. Although he has a title to his name following the successful 1998-99 season with les Girondins, the team was brimming with attacking talent such as Sylvain Wiltord, Lilian Laslandes and Johan Micoud and there was no foreign-owned juggernaut like PSG at the time. Now inheriting a talented but troubled side, Baup’s challenge is to work within the board’s financial constraints whilst trying to remain competitive. However, given the struggles on the pitch last season heavy investment is needed and given the club’s insistence on focusing on youth, it does not appear to be forthcoming.
His other Ligue 1 tenures have been mediocre at best; in addition to his relegation with Nantes he has also tasted the drop with Saint-Etienne, although he did lead them back to the top flight eight years later. Then at Toulouse he led them to Champions League qualification one year only to nearly get them relegated the next. Hardly the sort of pedigree you’d expect a club like Marseille to plump for.
It would be unfair to pre-judge Baup but it would take and incredibly optimistic OM fan to say that they are encouraged by the club’s appointment. This season will be one of adaptation for Les Phocéens who will now be bracing themselves for bids for their star names. The club are seeking to further cut an over-inflated wage bill with little room to strengthen on the pitch. Depending on who is first out of the door, a few departures could easily turn into an exodus which may leave the club staring at some meagre years ahead.