Deschamps and Marseille happy to win the cup nobody wanted

RESULTS Sat Mar 27 Lyon 2-0 Grenoble Sun Mar 28 Le Mans 1-3 Rennes, Lorient 4-0 Saint-Étienne, Toulouse 0-2 Nice, PSG 3-0 Boulogne, Nancy 5-1 Lens, Lille 4-1 Montpellier

As if wearing a skanky T-shirt on which was written the cringe-inducing slogan ‘been there, done that and all I got was this lousy trophy’, Bordeaux manager Laurent Blanc treated this weekend’s League Cup final against Marseille with the kind of disdain that left no one under the illusion that he considered it to be a major inconvenience.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Blanc gave such a master class in the art of escapology that it would have even left the legendary Harry Houdini clapping and shouting: “Bravo, Bravo!”

The Great Blanc, as he is known in the magic circle, somehow managed to extricate himself from even broaching the subject of the League Cup for a staggering 20 minutes.

“It’s always a pleasure to play a final,” Blanc said, checking his watch and doing his best not to roll his eyes. “The only problem is that we have a big match, which is very important for the club, the staff and the players, coming up against Lyon.”

"Well, I can think of one competition I care about more than the League Cup..."

After winning the League Cup three times in the last seven years, it’s no exaggeration to say that Bordeaux no longer take the competition all that seriously, nor does it figure as high as before on their list of priorities, not with a Champions League quarter-final coming up against Lyon on Tuesday anyway.

But if we’re honest, it’s not as if they have to do much to win it either. The current format sees last year’s top four in Ligue 1 automatically receive a bye to the last 16 of the competition, and if that isn’t enough of an advantage they are also kept apart until the semi-finals.

Meanwhile, Marouane Chamakh, Bordeaux’s headstrong striker, was sat alongside Blanc with the relaxed demeanour of a Bond villain stroking a League Cup shaped cat.

After laughing deeply for around two minutes, he put his little finger to his lips and asked: “What other competition allows you to win a trophy after playing just five matches?”

Chamakh then had his ‘No Mr Bond, I want you to die’ moment, showing all the hubris of a much taller and Moroccan Napoleon Bonaparte whose ability with his head had led to the prospect of a move to Arsenal and not exile to Elba. “It’s not the League Cup,” he quipped. “It’s the Bordeaux Cup.” 

It’s also unsurprising that Bordeaux’s all too nonchalant attitude started rubbing people up the wrong way. In fact, when Blanc didn’t exactly discourage the idea of playing a B team, Rennes manager Frédéric Antonetti practically started slapping his head and blowing a raspberry. “They want to cancel the League Cup, I think it’s bullsh*t,” he raged.   

Lyon were also understandably seething after Bordeaux succeeded in getting their rival’s Ligue 1 match against Grenoble on Friday moved to the following day so that both teams would now have the same amount of time to prepare for Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final.

“Don’t talk to me about fairness when you know how things go, when Blanc directly calls the League president to try and influence him,” Claude Puel said, all the while shaking his fist in Bordeaux’s general direction.  

But what about Marseille in all this? After all they were finalists too. And they actually wanted to win the Cup of no one cares.

"I was the World Cup winning captain", "No, I was!"

When asked how he would approach his first final with L’OM, Didier Deschamps produced a wry smile and said: “But it’s not my first final with them…”

Lest we forget, Deschamps actually captained the last Marseille side to win any silverware 17 years ago, something not lost on the French media.

The question he now had to answer was a simple one: Could he coach the next one? “I have not come here today to have a walk-on part,” sneered French football’s answer to Clint Eastwood. “I have come for the victory.”      

There is a sense with Deschamps that his desire to win is so strong that even when play-fighting with his children at home he’d be looking for a knock out punch and then for his adoring wife to lift his arm in victory before the rapturous applause of the household furniture.

This is a man who has been to 16 major finals, winning the World Cup, the European Championship and the Champions League. That’s why Deschamps said: “I don’t see Bordeaux coming to the Stade de France just to be tourists.”

The very notion of playing a final as if it were merely jumpers for goalposts down the local park was an insult to him.

And with only three points now separating Bordeaux and Marseille in Ligue 1, it wasn’t lost on Deschamps that this final might be a title decider, or at the very least a psychological launch pad to bigger and better things for a club starved of success.    Sooner or later, Blanc also realised as much, fielding close to a full strength team, including Gourcuff and Chamakh, in recognition that a) Marseille meant business b) they would pose a bigger threat than last year’s finalists, Ligue 2 side Vannes, and c) public pressure now demanded that Bordeaux show the competition some respect.  

And right from the start les Girondins befitted their status as French champions and holders, dominating possession for most of the first half.

Diawara cared about the League Cup, evidently

When Marseille’s captain and top scorer Mamadou Niang went off injured just after the interval, the momentum appeared to swing even further in Bordeaux’s favour.

That was until Deschamps brought on Mathieu ‘Mad Dog’ Valbuena, the attacking midfielder who had come up through Bordeaux’s youth ranks only to be cut after being deemed not good enough for a professional contract.

Obviously feeling he had something to prove, Valbuena made an instant impact, winning the corner from which Marseille took the lead.

Souleymane Diawara, L’OM’s towering centre-back who left Bordeaux in the summer, got in front of his marker and powered a header beyond Ulrich Rame just after the hour-mark before pointedly kissing the Marseille badge.

From then on, it was one-way traffic. Seven minutes later Hatem Ben Arfa found Valbuena in the box who showed absolutely no hesitation in doubling his side’s lead.

The knock out blow came in the 77th minute when that man again - Valbuena - lashed in a free-kick, which deflected off Mathieu Chalmé, making it 3-0.

Bordeaux did eventually get a consolation goal through Ludovic Sané, but Marseille’s 6149-day wait for silverware was over.

Mandanda won the 'biggest egg-cup' competition at the Marseille village fate

The Cup of no one cares clearly mattered a great deal to L’OM. It was particularly charged with emotion because Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the club’s patron who had spent millions of pounds rebuilding the club after Marseille’s return to Ligue 1 in 1997 following the incredible corruption scandal that saw them relegated, hadn’t lived to see them win anything under his presidency.  

He tragically died in July last year after a long battle with leukemia.

“This is the most beautiful homage possible to him and his wife and children who were in the stadium to see it,” Deschamps smiled. “It’s a feeling of immense joy for everybody, above all the players.”

DD had done it again. And just as on July 12, 1998 when he was suspended for the World Cup final against Brazil at the Stade de France, Blanc had to watch from the sidelines as Deschamps lifted yet another trophy.

More from The French Connection

France: News * Stats Features * News * Interviews * HomeInteract: TwitterFacebook * Forum