Marseille hopeful despite death & departures

PARIS - Olympique Marseille have been rocked by death and departures during the close season, but they kick off the Ligue 1 campaign this weekend full of hope that their man with the Midas touch can lead them to a golden year. After finishing runners-up to Girondins Bordeaux last season, Marseille lost owner Robert Louis-Dreyfus to leukaemia, much-loved coach Eric Gerets to Saudi club Al Hilal, and club captain Lorik Cana to the English Premier league's Sunderland. They also parted ways with chairman Pape Diouf, who left in June after what Louis-Dreyfus called "differences of opinion." While they could be forgiven for looking at the season ahead with trepidation, Marseille are in fact in fine fettle thanks to the return of Didier Deschamps, famous for turning everything he touches into gold. The man who wore the captain's armband when Marseille won the Champions League in 1993, their last trophy to date, and when France lifted the World Cup in 1998, has taken up the coaching reins and attracted some spectacular reinforcements. Deschamps, who coached AS Monaco to the 2003/04 Champions League final and secured Juventus' return to the Italian top flight after winning Serie B in 2006/07, has persuaded defender Gabriel Heinze and midfielder Lucho Gonzalez to join from Real Madrid and Porto. Former Spain striker Fernando Morientes has also agreed to link up with Deschamps again -- Morientes played under the Frenchman at Monaco when they reached the Champions League final. "Our goal is clearly to go one better than last season," new Chairman Jean-Claude Dassier told reporters. "There is no crisis at Marseille, and if there ever was one, it's over. We have a new staff determined to build the best possible side." While Marseille lived through a turbulent close season, champions Bordeaux quietly managed to retain their best players, starting with Yoann Gourcuff. The France playmaker was on loan from AC Milan but has now signed a four-year deal. Olympique Lyon, who had won seven titles in a row before finishing third last season, have lost arguably their top two players in Karim Benzema and midfielder Juninho. Lyon have brought in forward Bafetimbi Gomis and Brazilian midfielder Michel Bastos as replacements but they will have a tough time filling their predecessors' shoes. "It will be a tough championship," Lyon coach Claude Puel told Reuters. "Bordeaux have not changed and Marseille have recruited several powerful and talented players. I hope we will be able to win the title back but it will be a big challenge." Marseille and Lyon start their campaigns by visiting Grenoble and Le Mans respectively on Saturday. Bordeaux will welcome Lens the following day.