Frank McCourt likes being in the spotlight. Olympique Marseille's new owner likes to show off a bit, too, and likes the sound of his own voice. So last week, the American couldn't help himself before the Classique between Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain. He either appeared in the media personally or put forward people from his team, such as club chairman Jacques-Henri Eyraud or sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, to remind everybody how great their project was and how they couldn't wait to face PSG and show the world that they're already closing the gap on the French champions.
Marseille wanted to send a message; they failed miserably. In front of a record crowd of 65,252, l'OM were humiliated 5-1 on Sunday evening. It was their worst home defeat since 1953 (a 4-0 rout vs. Nimes) and the first time ever that they'd conceded five goals at the Stade Velodrome against PSG. Everything, from their recruitment in January to their communication the week before the game, was wrong, and now even the choice of Rudi Garcia as manager is facing fresh scrutiny.
Marseille vs. PSG was McCourt's biggest game since his takeover of the French club. In many ways, it was also his first big chance to see how far his team has come since October, when he bought the club off Margarita Louis-Dreyfus for around €40 million. McCourt, the former L.A. Dodgers owner, was full of hubris at the time of the sale. He labelled his project in Marseille as the "OM Champions Project" because, as he said straightaway, he wants to "compete with PSG every year to win the French league" and also wants to "win the Champions League."
Before all of that, however, Marseille will have to try to beat PSG, or even come closer than they did Sunday.
"I want PSG to be worried and to wonder if they will ever be able to beat us again," says McCourt every now and then. Sunday's embarrassment was a personal humiliation for him, too, having tried to make OM fans and football fans in general believe that this Marseille team, currently seventh in Ligue 1, was capable of such a win.
Marseille's last victory against the Parisians was in November 2011. Since then, Marseille have lost 12 and drawn two vs. PSG. But the worst for McCourt, whose knowledge of football appears to be fairly limited, was surely to realise on Sunday how much his club failed in the January transfer window.
Their main deficiencies were easy to identify: Marseille desperately needed some proper defenders, especially a quality centre-back. They also sought some cover for their main striker and captain, Bafetimbi Gomis, because the team was so dependent on him. Instead, Zubizarreta and Eyraud got Dimitri Payet for around €30m just 18 months after selling him for €15m.
Signing another winger, even of Payet's calibre, was not a priority, yet Marseille spent a lot of time and money chasing him and bringing him home. It was a wonderful present for the fans, and McCourt was very much aware that it was a great way to get the fans in his pocket. Morgan Sanson, Patrice Evra and Gregory Sertic were also recruited, but there was no striker and no centre-half.
As a big French agent told ESPN FC, Marseille's recruitment "was a smokescreen that papered over the cracks but didn't sort out the needs of the squad."
Payet has scored one deflected goal in six matches. Evra, 35, has been dreadful. Sanson has been inconsistent, and Sertic has been played out of position. In the meantime, the defence has been leaking goals, and you guessed it: Gomis got injured with no proper striker to replace him. Rome wasn't built in a day, obviously, but January was a pretty bad start to Marseille's big rebuild.
It also makes you wonder how much of a role Garcia, the new manager, has played in all of this. Previous manager Franck Passi averaged 1.33 points per game in his nine games on the OM bench. Since replacing him, Garcia is averaging 1.5 points per game (27 points in 18 Ligue 1 matches), which is not much better. More importantly, Garcia keeps making tactical mistakes: His side also got battered twice by Monaco (4-1 at home, 4-0 away) and in the league have beaten only Rennes, Guingamp, Montpellier, Bastia, Lille, Dijon, Nancy and Caen. So far, Garcia has not been good enough.
Sunday's defeat to PSG was a night to forget for Marseille, McCourt, Garcia, the players and the fans alike. Unfortunately, this season there haven't been many nights to remember.