Guendouzi done and Saliba on the way: Marseille making statement signings as Ligue 1 crumbles around them

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It was only six months ago that Marseille fans marched outside of the club’s La Commanderie training centre and rioted to such an extent that the grounds were set alight and hundreds of thousands of euros worth of damage was reportedly done.

This was one of the darkest days in the chequered history of OM, but it was also one that set events in motion that have led to a promising new dawn ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

While Paris Saint-Germain have been making waves in the transfer window by adding the likes of Achraf Hakimi and Georginio Wijnaldum, with more big names to come, Marseille have been working feverishly away to put together a promising summer of their own.

On Tuesday, a deal was completed to sign Arsenal midfielder Matteo Guendouzi on loan. His mercurial personality and almost impossible will to win should match that of head coach Jorge Sampaoli in the dugout, making for a combustible but thrilling combination.

The young Frenchman has followed Cengiz Under to the club on a temporary move, with Gunners team-mate William Saliba expected to follow in the days ahead.

Additionally, OM have also captured Brazil Under-23 international midfielder Gerson from Flamengo, paying a princely fee for the 24-year-old, thought to be around the €25 million (£21.5m/$29.5m) mark. Dortmund’s Leonardo Balerdi has been signed for €11m (£9.4m/$13m), while young American attacker Konrad de la Fuente has also been added from Barcelona.

This window does not bear the hallmarks of a club that has typically struggled to buy well in recent years, and particularly in a period that has seen Ligue 1 clubs struggle due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is a problem exacerbated by collapse of the Mediapro television deal last term.

Indeed, many sides are ailing, fighting for their very survival. Bordeaux, who are presently in administration but should be sold to a group backed by former Lille owner Gerard Lopez, and Angers both face the possibility of administrative relegation because of their financial issues.

Matteo Guendouzi Marseille Ligue 1 GFX

Both are expected to prove their financial health and avoid this penalty, but this has nevertheless been a dramatic warning shot given that Bordeaux are one of France’s most historic clubs, having won six league titles and been in the Champions League quarter-finals little over a decade ago.

Starker still has been the difficult start to the summer that Lille, who so spectacularly beat PSG to the title just a matter of weeks ago, have endured.

The evidence of the frailty of the defending champions was highlighted as they began pre-season without a coach following the departure of Christophe Galtier to Nice, a first-choice goalkeeper after the sale of Mike Maignan to AC Milan or even a captain as Jose Fonte’s deal had expired.

Jocelyn Gourvennec’s appointment as head coach has been met with a stunned reaction from supporters, stupefied that a coach who has been out of the game for two years and who has only ever been in charge of Guingamp and Bordeaux has been tasked with leading their title defence. It is seen as the sign of a club foundering.

Marseille, meanwhile, have been steadily strengthening with an impressive calibre of player. This is despite losses confirmed at €97.8m (£84m/$115m) for the 2019-20 season.

Sporting director Pablo Longoria’s ambitious plans to support head coach Jorge Sampaoli have won acclaim from the OM support, but equally they have been subject to scrutiny from the DNGC, Ligue 1’s financial watchdog, which has warned the club about overspending both in terms of transfers and in wages.

Jorge Sampaoli Marseille Ligue 1 GFX

“I’m happy with the types of measures that are used by the DNCG,” Longoria, a former Newcastle scout who has worked with clubs such as Juventus and Valencia in the past, said at Guendouzi’s presentation on Wednesday.

“There must be limits to the way teams are constructed in France.”

Crucially, Longoria also stressed that Marseille’s flexibility in the market has come about thanks to the number of players they have seen depart.

Florian Thauvin is the highest profile of these, with the former Newcastle winger leaving for Tigres in Mexico. Meanwhile, Valere Germain was on a lofty salary after moving from Monaco, where he was a member of the side that won Ligue 1 in 2016-17, while the big-earning Kevin Strootman has been shunted out on loan to Cagliari.

“We can continue to recruit because we didn’t have many players under contract. This is what has allowed us to continue our signing policy,” the executive continued, confirming that Spain goalkeeper Pau Lopez should arrive imminently from Roma.

Marseille, though, will also inevitably sell. While there is still a degree of uncertainty over the future of the prolific Arkadiusz Milik, who has been monitored by Juventus, Croatia international centre-back Duje Caleta-Car and France Under-21 star Boubacar Kamara are both expected to leave this summer for sizeable fees.

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“We’re waiting on the situation in the transfer market but OM will not sell players below their market value,” Longoria said.

Of course, there may be an element of speculation in these moves. Marseille gained sufficient momentum under Sampaoli towards the end of last term to suggest that they can afford some confidence for the upcoming season.

While much of Ligue 1 crumbles around them, Marseille are attempting to buck the trend by building solid foundations that could make them Champions League regulars for the years ahead. It is a risky but exciting tactic, which they cannot afford to go up in flames.