Deschamps turns OM from romantic to pragmatic

PARIS - Olympique Marseille may not be the romantic side they were last season but with former World Cup winner Didier Deschamps at the helm, they did what really mattered this year - win their first league title in 18 years.

Not exactly the kind of coach to hug and pamper his players, Deschamps brought something else to the Provence side, who lost out on the title last season despite leading the standings with three games left.

Deschamps built a side in his own image: hardworking and impervious to pressure.

But instead of wiping everything out when he replaced the departing Eric Gerets, a hugely popular figure in Marseille, Deschamps convinced key players to stay at the club.

After Mamadou Niang hinted he could leave the club after Gerets's departure, Deschamps was quick to meet with the Senegal striker and even made him his captain.

"You cannot predict the future, but I think my future is with Marseille," said Niang.

Deschamps brought in experienced players used to winning trophies, such as Lucho Gonzalez, who won four Portuguese league titles with Porto and the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics.

Lucho's control of the midfield proved a salient weapon thorughout, with the Argentine setting up 11 goals in Ligue 1.

Another Argentine, Gabriel Heinze, joined from Real Madrid and made clear he was there for silverware.

"I came because I wanted to win titles and Deschamps convinced me it would be the case," the defender said.


On the pitch, Marseille's defence was only second best to AJ Auxerre's but they conceded fewer goals after Stephane Mbia was moved from midfield to central defence alongside Souleymane Diawara.

It did not exactly please Mbia, but Deschamps made clear the team would always matter more than the individuals.

"It's my choice. He can also be a starter... on the bench. I get his point, I was a player myself.

"But I know players who would prefer to play in central defence and would actually be right backs," he said in an obvious reference to his former France team-mate Lilian Thuram, a centre-back in club football and an outstanding full-back for France.

"He is playing this little game with you, the media. But he does not play it with me."

French international Hatem Ben Arfa was 'disciplined' in November after a bust-up with Deschamps whom he told he was "breaking his balls".

"He has talent but he only expresses it sparingly," said Deschamps, who left Ben Arfa, one of the most talented French players, on the bench for most of the season.

As a player, Deschamps was not exactly brimming with delicate turns and dribbling skills.

But he won the 1998 World Cup, the 2000 European Championship, two Champions League trophies, as well as three Serie A titles, a European Super Cup and an Intercontinental Cup.


After hanging up his boots with Valencia, Deschamps started his coaching career in 2001 at Monaco, leading the club from the principality to a League Cup title in 2003.

The following season, he took Monaco to the Champions League final, losing 3-0 to Porto after knocking out Real Madrid and Chelsea.

He resigned in 2005 because of disagreements with the club's president and joined Juventus in 2006 after the Italian club were relegated to Serie B following a matchfixing scandal.

Under the former world champion, Juve were promoted at the end of the season, clinching the Serie B title.

Often cited as a possible replacement for France coach Raymond Domenech, Deschamps joined Marseille last summer, a club desperate to end a 17-year title drought.

Since Deschamps lifted the Champions League trophy as OM's captain in 1993, Marseille had won nothing.

Following a strong start to the season, Marseille won the League Cup with a 3-1 win against Girondins Bordeaux, triggering wild celebrations in the soccer-mad port city.

Midfielder Mathieu Valbuena, Gerets's favourite last season who had fallen out with Deschamps in December, played a pivotal role in that game.

"I have never had anything to reproach him apart from his lapses in December. He is a hard worker; he loves football and he works," said Deschamps, who can count on owner Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, the widow of Robert who died last summer, to build an even stronger team for next season.

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