Champions Marseille facing early season crisis

PARIS - Champions Olympique Marseille already have a crisis on their hands before they host Lorient in their third Ligue 1 game of the season on Saturday.

Marseille, whose defence has been plagued by injuries with Souleymane Diawara and Stephane Mbia among those sidelined, have already lost their first two league games this season at home to promoted Caen and away at modest Valenciennes.

They also face mounting off-field problems with arguments between the board, the staff and the players over transfers.

"This is a difficult situation," coach Didier Deschamps told daily L'Equipe this week. "We don't need to be friends to work together in the best interest of Marseille but differences of opinion create tensions that players can feel."

Deschamps is worried he may have to make do with a depleted team for the whole season.

He did not want to let captain Mamadou Niang, last season's Ligue 1 top scorer with 18 goals, join Fenerbahce but the board let the Senegal striker move to Turkey earlier this week.

The coach is also caught in a tense standoff with France forward Hatem Ben Arfa, who refuses to train because he wants a move to Newcastle United and has a difficult relationship with Deschamps and club president Jean-Claude Dassier.


Niang's sudden departure and the Ben Arfa row have left the club in complete disarray.

Marseille are desperately trying to sign a big-name forward but their efforts to lure Sevilla's Brazil striker Luis Fabiano have failed.

Media reports suggest Marseille are now chasing France striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, whose Toulouse side are asking for a hefty 18 million euros.

"It's getting urgent now because we're nearing August 31 and other clubs know that," Deschamps told his club's website, referring to the end of the transfer window.

Marseille can take comfort from the fact that fellow title favourites Girondins Bordeaux and Olympique Lyon have not done much better in their first two games.

Bordeaux, the 2009 champions, also lost both matches and new coach Jean Tigana feels his players are still psychologically hurt by their poor run at the end of the last campaign.

"Bordeaux haven't got rid of their bad habits of last season. I wasn't there at the time but I've inherited a difficult situation," Tigana, who succeeded new France coach Laurent Blanc, told reporters.

"This is a psychological problem," he added.

Bordeaux visit in-form Paris Saint-Germain, who took four points from their two first games, on Sunday.

Lyon, who won seven Ligue 1 crowns in a row between 2002 and 2008, have only one point after a 0-0 draw at home to Monaco and a 3-2 defeat at Caen.

They will be without captain Cris when they host Stade Brest on Saturday. The Brazilian defender is out for a month with a thigh injury.

Caen visit Montpellier on Sunday while Toulouse, the only other team with six points from two games, host promoted Arles-Avignon on Saturday.