Match Review #3: Olympique de Marseille 2 – 1 AS Saint-Étienne

Stade Vélodrome, 28th September 2014

There’s nothing I like better than reading about a match 11 days after it took place. And it’s for that very reason I’ve held off on writing about Marseille vs. Saint-Étienne until today. You’re welcome.

It’s actually quite a curious fixture as there is something pretty cool about both sides that makes it an appealing game to watch. Saint-Étienne will always have a sort of retro glamour while OM remain France’s iconic team, forever associated with their swaggering, superstar laden sides of the late 80s and early 90s. They both have awesome jerseys too. But, for all that, it’s a bit like the Boca Juniors vs. River Plate game. One of those matches that, for all the residual glamour of both clubs, is unlikely to include more than a couple of players that the casual viewer is familiar with.

This iteration, however, had an extra layer of coolness – cult icon, Marcelo Bielsa, now in charge of Marseille. Bielsa is probably the ultimate auteur coach. He is indelibly linked with his own formation (3-3-1-3*). His authorial signature is visible in his teams’ reckless, high pressing and high intensity style. Because the availability of players in his last 3 jobs (as manager of Argentina, Chile and Athletic Bilbao) was restricted by nationality he has not had to share credit with any particular player, leaving his perceived artistic vision pure and undiluted.

And then there are the extra-football elements that contribute to this “author image”. His reputation is that of the cultured yet obsessive eccentric. His upper middle-class upbringing and his relatives’ relatively famed legal/political careers have added a cosmetic intellectual weight to his behaviour. In the English speaking world, authorities such as Tim Vickery have delighted in his quirks and enthused over his approach to management for years. And like other attack-minded, managerial loose-cannon cult heroes such as Zdeněk Zeman, his glorious failures have kept him enough of a niche figure to continue to be enjoyed.

However, perhaps the strongest endorsement of Bielsa comes from hugely successful managers like Pochettino, Simeone, Martino and Guardiola. In fact, as an auteur, he’s a lot like Roger Corman. While I think that Bielsa is more idealistic and more of a true artist than Corman, there are interesting parallels between the men. Like Corman, his protegés have had much more success than he has (for Simeone, Martino and Guardiola see Bogdanovic, Demme and Scorcese). And indeed, like Corman, there is a certain rudimentary style to Bielsa – based on physical preparation and effort – that he prides himself on and that his more successful followers have imitated.

There’s still hope for Bielsa though. While Jaws and Star Wars killed the B-Movie before Corman had a chance to jump ship Bielsa is currently riding high with OM at the top of Ligue 1. Which leads me nicely to the match. OM won 2-1 with goals from Payet and Imbula. ASSE have a pretty impressive looking 17 year old player called Saint-Maximin. More analysis next week.

*Also used to great effect by many a Championship Manager 98/99 enthusiast.

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