Matteo Guendouzi Marseille
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Guendouzi revelling in fresh start with Marseille

Publish on 22/10/2021 at 02:37 - A. SCOTT

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Unwanted at Arsenal, Mattéo Guendouzi has kick-started his career on loan at Olympique de Marseille and will have a key role to play for Jorge Sampaoli’s side in Sunday’s Classique against Paris Saint-Germain.

Guendouzi was the standout player in OM’s 4-1 destruction of FC Lorient at the Orange Vélodrome last weekend alongside his captain Dimitri Payet. The marauding midfielder scored a remarkable headed goal, provided an assist for Boubacar Kamara’s earlier equaliser, and then forced the late own goal that sealed the victory against his former club.

Loving life

His performance was confirmation of an impressive start to the season for the 22-year-old, who arrived on loan from Arsenal in July after spending the last campaign farmed out by the London club to Hertha Berlin in the German Bundesliga. He is clearly loving life in Marseille.

“OM are the biggest French club. They have won the Champions League. They have a great history. They have the most fervent support in France, maybe even on the whole continent,” he said in a recent interview with Onze Mondial magazine. “I like playing in a full stadium and feeling the love of the supporters for the club. That is what I have found here and I have not enjoyed myself this much anywhere else since the start of my career.”

Guendouzi had featured in all of Marseille’s games this season prior to Thursday’s UEFA Europa League clash with Lazio in Italy. Before facing Lorient, he had already got off the mark for the campaign with a goal in a 3-1 win over AS Saint-Etienne. He has completed more than 91 percent of his passes, a figure that underlines his consistency.

Instantly recognisable with his flowing locks, Guendouzi’s performances under Sampaoli have brought him back into the France fold. He was a late addition to the squad for the programme of World Cup qualifiers at the beginning of September and then earned a place in Didier Deschamps’ squad for the UEFA Nations League finals in Italy earlier this month, although he did not manage to win his first cap.

PSG past

Nevertheless, that is recognition for the performances of Guendouzi in Sampaoli’s unorthodox Marseille system. Often depicted as a 3-3-3-1, the Argentine’s tactical set-up allows Guendouzi to get forward into the final third to create chances and pose a goal threat, while Kamara and Valentin Rongier protect the defence. Yet, according to Opta, Guendouzi also notably recovered more balls (12) than any other Marseille player. Spectators were left with the impression that Guendouzi was everywhere.

Sunday’s Classique will be a special occasion for Guendouzi, who was born in Poissy in the western Paris suburbs and started out in the PSG youth set-up. He has admitted in the past that PSG were “the club of his heart” as a youngster but he opted to leave for Lorient aged 15 in the belief he was more likely to break into the first team in Brittany.

“I really had to go. Paris were more interested in signing big-name international stars. It looked like it was going to be difficult for the young players to break through,” he said in an interview with L’Equipe in 2018. It was a successful bet, as Guendouzi made his Ligue 1 bow against FC Nantes in October 2016 at the age of just 17.

Combative streak

Signed by Arsenal in 2018, Guendouzi - who has Moroccan roots through his father - was a regular under Unai Emery in north London in 2018-19, earning a first call-up to the France squad in the process, and continued to feature prominently in the following season until the arrival of Mikel Arteta as coach.

Pushed to the fringes of the Gunners team, a clash with compatriot Neal Maupay during a game against Brighton and Hove Albion in June 2020 led to him being frozen out altogether. He has not played for Arsenal since, but he did play 24 times in the Bundesliga last season and he also featured for Les Bleuets at the Under-21 Euro last spring.

Arteta is not the first coach to have found Guendouzi challenging to deal with - Mickaël Landreau, his coach at Lorient, once told Canal Plus that he was “really annoying, very hard to manage. But he is a fighter, he never gives up. He has an oversized ego, but you need them.”

As long as Guendouzi - who practised karate in his childhood - can channel his combative streak in the right way, Sampaoli and Marseille stand to gain enormously. The signs so far are promising. Look out for him against PSG.

>> PLAYER PROFILE: Matteo Guendouzi