Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Marseille’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is pleased being Europa League’s top scorer, but his end goal is higher

Olympique de Marseille’s UEFA Europa League quarterfinal clash with SL Benfica on Thursday (3 p.m. ET on Paramount+) is the latest in a long line of big European nights for the French soccer powerhouse. OM are famed as the only French club to have won the UEFA Champions League despite Paris Saint-Germain’s best attempts but Les Phoceens also reached the 2018 UEL final.

This is Marseille’s second European last eight appearances since that loss to Atletico Madrid following on from the 2021-22 UEFA Europa Conference League semifinals. Leading the charge for the Southerners is a veteran Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who has nine goals to lead the Europa League scoring charts this season on top of being the competition’s all-time top scorer.

“I am very happy, but it is not an end in itself,” said the OM talisman exclusively to CBS Sports. “I really want to continue helping the team, especially in this competition. We have had a very good run and we have the desire and motivation to go even further because we are aware of the importance of European competitions for a historic club like OM, which has already won the Champions League.

“It is a competition that has always worked well for me at all the clubs I have been lucky enough to play for. Once again this season, I managed to be decisive by scoring a brace in our first match and then a hat-trick against Ajax. It is very satisfying to be top scorer in this competition, but I hope to continue my good form against Benfica.”

The clash with the Portuguese giants is one steeped with European soccer tradition as these are two of the continent’s historic powers going up against each other. Marseille, though, are a different beast in Europe to Ligue 1 this campaign with not only Aubameyang leading the scoring charts but Amine Harit and Jonathan Clauss also atop the assists charts with six apiece which should worry Thursday’s hosts.

“I do not particularly like talking about our individuals,” OM President Pablo Longoria told CBS. “Performances are always collective. Above all, they must be consistent when we’re talking about top-level performance and excellence. They need to keep this kind of performances and spirit that corresponds to the city and therefore to the club: strength of character and the desire to give everything, driven by the will to never give up. Aubameyang, Harit and Clauss are players we have recruited to be leaders and they have been so this season in Europa League.”

Getting this far in the Europa League raises the prospect of France’s second major piece of European silverware after their Champions League crown but Benfica and then one of Liverpool or Atalanta could stand in the way of Jean-Louis Gasset’s side. Longoria is proud of OM continuing the club’s long-standing history on the European stage over the past few years.

“Olympique de Marseille is an institution in French and European soccer because of its history, its achievements and its community,” he said. “We have a responsibility to represent the club and the city at the highest level on every pitch. Since the arrival of Frank McCourt, we have taken part in six European campaigns in seven years, and in the last three seasons since I took over, we have reached the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League, played in the Champions League and now we are in the quarter-finals of the Europa League. It is an absolute objective and it is what we must strive for every day.”

Not only are Marseille the only club flying the flag for France in the UEL now but they are one of three Ligue 1 clubs left in Europe with PSG in the UCL and Lille OSC in UECL. OM are playing a leading role in Le Championnat’s resurgence as a continental force to protect its top-five league status with the hope that a trophy could be a possibility for one of France’s three hopefuls.

“I have regular discussions with all the chairmen of the Ligue 1 clubs,” said Longoria. “Beyond our sporting rivalry at home, we are aware of the importance of French clubs performances on the European stage. These issues are discussed by the LFP Board of Directors. The recent rearrangement of fixture lists is an example that we are moving in the right direction and that our discussions are constructive. Performing in Europe must be an objective for all French representatives as members of the European Top five and we are all doing a good job this season. Olympique de Marseille, because of what the club represents, must be one of its driving forces.”

A solid result in Lisbon on Thursday could set Marseille up for success over two legs having seen Toulouse go close earlier in the competition before narrow elimination against Benfica. If Aubameyang, Harit and Clauss can continue to perform as they have been so far, then it might not only be OM’s glorious past that we are talking about in the next few weeks if another trophy remains in sight.

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