Monday, September 25, 2023

Jorge Sampaoli leaves Marseille: What next for OM after shock exit despite reaching Champions League?

Olympique de Marseille are searching for a new head coach after Jorge Sampaoli mutually agreed to part ways with the French giants on Friday. The Argentine tactician led Les Phoceens to second place in Ligue 1 last season which secured a return to the UEFA Champions League, but this summer’s modest business had created tension.

“OM and Jorge Sampaoli announce their joint decision to end their collaboration,” read a club statement. “Sampaoli is the first coach to whom Pablo Longoria entrusted the fate of the first team in February 2021. Since his first day in Marseille, he has fully invested in the implementation of a philosophy of play and a winning state of mind corresponding to the values of OM. It is therefore with emotion that the club and Jorge Sampaoli announce their joint decision to end their collaboration.

“OM would like to thank the work of Jorge Sampaoli sincerely and warmly. After 16 months of collaboration, this work has allowed the club to reach a milestone in the construction of its new sports project and to qualify directly for the UEFA Champions League. We are satisfied with the path we have taken and the emotions we have experienced together, but after a long reflection, both parties, acting in the interest of the OM project, have agreed to end this stage. The club will now begin a new cycle that will continue the sports policy implemented by President Longoria since his arrival.”

Now, with the players returning to preseason training and continental competition to prepare for, Marseille finds themselves needing a new boss with Igor Tudor an early candidate. The Southern powerhouse is not an easy posting with Andre Villas-Boas and Marcelo Bielsa among those to have enjoyed limited success at Stade Velodrome before growing frustrated.

Despite the arrival of AC Le Havre’s Isaak Toure earlier in the week from under Manchester City’s noses, Sampaoli has deemed Pablo Longoria’s summer plans insufficient. Pau Lopez, Matteo Guendouzi, Cengiz Under and Arkadiusz Milik’s moves have all been made permanent heading into the offseason.

However, Toure’s arrival effectively spelled the end for Marseille’s pursuit of a permanent deal for Arsenal’s William Saliba and France international Boubacar Kamara was lost to Aston Villa on a free. Added to the uncertainty which surrounds OM’s ability to significantly strengthen with a potential transfer ban relating to Pape Gueye’s signing still hovering and there are questions over whether last season can be bettered.

Dimitri Payet remains in magnificent form despite his 35 years of age, but this squad needs significant reinforcement to compensate for the losses of Saliba and Kamara. Also, Champions League qualification was narrowly obtained, and competition will be fierce against next campaign — not to mention the significant gap between an underwhelming Paris Saint-Germain and the rest of the domestic pack.

Sampaoli’s departure echoes that of Bielsa after the opening game of the 2015-16 Ligue 1 season which also owed to differences of opinion with the club’s leadership and the former’s predecessor Villas-Boas also left under a cloud after an impressive first season. Funnily enough, Bielsa is available and there will no doubt be clamor for his arrival at the Velodrome from some sections of fans.

The reality is that whoever comes in to replace Sampaoli will be expected to repeat or better last term’s showing while remaining relatively prudent on the transfer market while the Gueye situation is resolved. UCL soccer will certainly attract many worthy candidates, but they are likely to come up against the same problems which have seen the two previous bosses depart.

Also, the unfortunate timing will not be lost on many that Marseille-born Christophe Galtier recently left rivals OGC Nice and would have been the outstanding candidate to take over had he not already agreed to be Mauricio Pochettino’s replacement as PSG’s new boss.

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