Fletcher: 'The fans take to British players'
Scotland international Steven Fletcher is enjoying life with Olympique de Marseille since his winter arrival, but is finding the 'relaxed' attitude in training on the Mediterranean coast somewhat surprising.
After making five appearances (three starts, one goal) since his loan move from Sunderland was decided in the minutes before the winter transfer window shut, Steven Fletcher is very pleased with his move to France. His life has taken on a certain grandeur in comparison with how things were in the north of England, both in terms of his club and the view of the Mediterranean from his lounge room.
'I'd never seen anything like it'
"I never realised how big the club was until I went over," admitted Fletcher, currently on international duty with Scotland for friendlies against the Czech Republic and Denmark, to Herald Scotland. "You hear about it but don't realise how fanatical the support is. My first game was against PSG and I'd never seen anything like it in any derby games I’d ever played in. The clubs are so far away from each other but it's still the biggest game. Our bus was getting rocked before the game and I'm thinking to myself 'what's going on?'."
And it seems all the Fletchers are enjoying the change of climate.
"My kids are outside playing all day and back in Sunderland they couldn't really do that," smiled the now-bronzed Scot. "For them it's fantastic and, for me, I'm training at half ten and finished by half 12 so I can't really complain. I'm coming back home and as you can see I'm sitting in the sun most of the day."
Fletcher left for Scotland duties just after Marseille copped a humiliating 5-2 hiding at the hands of Rennes, a match during which the supporters vociferously targeted club president Vincent Labrune, and Fletcher admitted that there is a certain discrepancy between how hard the players and the fans work.
"Even at the training ground the fans are there. After a game we train the next day at 5pm and are finished by 7:30. But there are 30-40 fans there who invade the training ground with flares and allsorts," he explained. "I think the fans take to British players. As soon as you lose the ball you try and get it back. But I don't think they see that over there very often. I've seen that in training too: if a player loses the ball it's a case of 'you go and get it back for me!'. The players who have played in England appreciate that. Lassana Diarra is happy that I'm there to help him win it back."
So why are the southern giants - currently in 12th place and without a win at home since September - struggling so much?
"We have a lot of young players coming through with great talent, but they are young and struggling a bit with the pressure. It’s maybe good to have players like me with a bit of experience," offered Fletcher before explaining that there are certain extenuating circumstances - notably in the form of the club's traditional arch-rivals Paris Saint-Germain - that have fuelled the fans' ire. "Our fans want something to happen. They want us to be closer. Last season there was only four or five points in it. Now there is about 35 (38 in fact). That's a big difference and I think the fans are becoming very frustrated. They see PSG spending all this money and they worry their club are being left behind. But it is a good league, don't get me wrong, with great young players coming through and I think English Premier League teams are looking at a few of the young guys for that reason."
With seven matches left to play, Marseille - who are closer to the drop zone than they are to the top five - will now be looking to the Coupe de France, in which they have a semi-final against Ligue 2's Sochaux on April 20, as their best bet for a European place next season. A challenge for which the work ethic and fighting spirit of a certain Cot will certainly come in very handy…