Blast from the past drags Marseille back to the summit

An unexpected and unpopular appointment is winning over the Marseille fans – by winning all five of their games so far, as Vaishali Bhardwaj reports...

It hadn't happened in France for 14 years, since the 1998/99 campaign. Fourteen years had passed, but still no team had been able to repeat what Bordeaux had achieved that season.

Fourteen years ago, Les Girondins won their opening five league matches and signalled their intent to win silverware from the very start of the 1998/99 campaign. By the close of season, they were duly rewarded with the league title.

Fourteen years later, Bordeaux’s impressive 100% record after the first five games of a new league campaign had finally been repeated – by Marseille. Les Phocéens claimed their fifth straight win of the 2012/13 season when they defeated Nancy 1-0 last weekend.

The most striking aspect of Marseille’s feat, however, was not simply that they had repeated what Bordeaux had done all those years ago. It was that the same man had guided both teams to that achievement – Élie Baup.

The 57-year-old, who replaced Didier Deschamps as Marseille manager in the summer, has done a remarkable job in his short time so far at the Stade Vélodrome. Under Baup, Marseille have a 100% win record in Le Championnat and lead the league with 15 points.

Baup’s revival of the club is all the more impressive considering Marseille's situation on and off the pitch last season, and most certainly coming into the current campaign.

This time last year, l'OM were hovering just above the relegation zone after a poor start. The team had to wait until matchday seven to claim their first win of the season and inconsistency on the pitch was made worse by a public spat between Deschamps and sporting director José Anigo.

By the end of the season, Marseille had failed to qualify for the Champions League after finishing in 10th place, Deschamps had left for the vacant France managerial position and rumours began swirling about which players would have to be sold because of the club’s precarious financial position.

Even with the capture of France's secondary Coupe de la Ligue trophy, which ensured Marseille would qualify for the Europa League, the season had been a disappointment.

The immediate question was who would succeed Deschamps? When the answer came, some were left crestfallen. The new man was supposed to signal the club’s intent; some saw Baup's rapid appointment as a step backwards for Marseille.

Baup is unveiled by Anigo (l) and l'OM president Vincent Labrune

The 57-year-old possessed a mixed managerial record overall. Yes, he had tasted success with Bordeaux 14 years ago, but that's a long time ago: for English comparison, it was the season that David O'Leary first got his young Leeds United side to qualify for Europe. And since then, things had looked bleak for Baup.

After being fired by Bordeaux in 2003 he had been unable to save Saint-Étienne, and then Nantes, from relegation; in between those two spells he had also come close to going down with Toulouse, although he had led the club to Champions League qualification the year before. And before arriving at Marseille in July, Baup had spent three years away from management – swapping coaching for punditry on French TV channel Canal+.

With several players leaving the Stade Vélodrome this summer including Alou Diarra, César Azpilicueta and Stéphane M’Bia, the difficult task facing Baup was to make Marseille competitive while working within the club’s budget.

Marseille still had a number of talented players – Steve Mandanda, André Ayew, Benoît Cheyrou, Loïc Rémy and Morgan Amalfitano, as well as new recruit Joey Barton. But could Baup realistically steer Marseille back to competing for the league at a time when Paris Saint-Germain were spending freely and other teams such as Lille had strengthened? Could he lead the club back into a Champions League position? Could he guide his team to victory in the Europa League?

Based on the fact that some Marseille fans saw Baup’s appointment as less than inspiring, perhaps not. Yet maybe the lack of expectations surrounding the club is exactly what Baup needed to help revive the team and start the 2012/13 campaign off in a positive manner. Marseille have always been laden with expectation but with the majority of attention on big-spending PSG this season, l'OM have thrived without the glare of the media attention on them.

Baup is back: at his new Velodrome home

The club’s 100% success rate so far has in part been aided by the return to form of striker André-Pierre Gignac, who has scored three goals in five matches – including the winner against defending champions Montpellier.

And with Gignac scoring, a positive team spirit and a sense of unity in the dressing room, in addition to a distinct lack of expectation surrounding the club so far and Baup at the helm, Marseille are flourishing.

“We haven't talked about the five wins," Baup said following Marseille’s 1-0 win against Nancy. "We're aware that we're picking up points which are going to be useful for us later on."

And perhaps that is exactly the mentality the southerners need to have if they want to emulate the success of Baup’s Bordeaux side 14 years ago and attempt to win – or at least successfully challenge for – the Ligue 1 title this term.

Vaishali Bhardwaj is a European sports journalist, shortlisted for the Football Media Award at the 2012 Asian Football Awards.