Luiz Gustavo: 'Marseille is a special place'
From Jairzinho, to Paulo César, Carlos Mozer or Sonny Anderson, Olympique de Marseille have a long history when it comes to Brazilian footballers...
These days, the man perpetuating the tradition is the midfield general Luiz Gustavo. Exceptional last year in his first season at the Vélodrome, the former Bayern Munich man emerged as a fan favourite and very much the driving force in Rudi Garcia's team.
At the Mediterranean club, the 31 year old stands out not only for his big hair and goatee, but also for his class, efficiency and application. Eighteen months in France's most football mad city have been more than enough for the Brazilian midfielder to become a cult hero.
"I think my attitude and my way of going about things speak to those around me," he told The Ligue 1 Show on beIN Sports.
"It's my nature to be easy-going and simple, I guess. I don't think too much about things. Only the big things in life really count for me: work and family, and that is my starting point, these are the things that really make the difference in my life. It helps me keep things simple, both on and off the pitch - the way I play, and the way I am. I keep things simple.
"Sometimes, that is through the way I dress, other times in my style of play, that's something that's in me and that will never change. I adapt easily, and I feel good when I'm in something that fits me well."
A UEFA Champions League winner and a World Cup semi-finalist, Luiz Gustavo commands the respect of the Marseille dressing room, so much so that the midfield general is often referred to in the media as 'le patron' - the boss.
"I don't really think that such nicknames add or take anything away from those qualities. Being called such names doesn't really affect me. Helping people is something that comes naturally to me, and if that means becoming a so-called leader then so be it."
Luiz Gustavo and Marseille look like a match made in heaven. The former Bayern man's stunning opener against Paris Saint-Germain in October last year helped him gain hero status. After barely six months with OM, the Brazilian was honoured on a giant banner by the Velodrome's south stand. Fans quickly came up with a song in his honour too.
Watch Luiz Gustavo score THAT goal against Paris
"It's something I wasn't expecting because the fans had already invented a chant for me! I thank God all the time for all these things. It's nice to be appreciated, and like I often say, I try to return the compliment in the only way I can, by giving my all on the pitch, by helping my team-mates and by representing OM as well as possible.
"Before I decided that I would move to Marseille, I wanted to know everything about where I was going, what OM represents, life in Marseille, the supporters...I was well prepared, I understood the club's philosophy, and what the fans expect from an OM player. That helped me win them over quickly!
'Earn the fans' respect'
"Before being lauded, you have to prove yourself. That's what I try to do every day when I go to work, at training and during matches. I try to put everything I have into things to earn the fans' respect. The respect of my team-mates too, so they see me as something of an example, somebody who can inspire them, somebody they want to copy in giving everything in their jobs, taking pride in their work and helping the club reach its objectives. That is what I hope anyway."
The 22nd Brazilian to represent OM, Luiz Gustavo believes there is a clear reason why no other nation outside France has provided more players for the nine-time champions.
"Marseille is a special place. It was before I arrived, is while I am here, and will no doubt stay that way when I'm gone. I will cherish the memories I have here because this place means a lot to me.
"I think it's because of the climate, the town, the club, the beach, the fans, and all those things that remind me of Brazil. It makes adaptation much quicker for a Brazilian arriving here if he manages to understand exactly what the club expects and what OM represents in France and in the world.
"People here fight daily for a common goal - a better life. That is something I really identify with and perhaps that is another reason I feel at home here."
Unhappy out of position?
Things seemed to be going smoothly for him in Marseille, but the first five months of this season have been more difficult. With the Brazilian often repositioned in an unnatural central defensive role, no team in the top half has conceded more goals than OM.
"When you begin a season this way, it's because of a combination of factors, factors that haven't yet been resolved and which are making us lose time in putting together a good run, and getting the stability we need in Ligue 1. But I'm confident that our tenacious hard work will enable us to turn the corner.
"Like I say all the time: I am here to help. Whether that's in defence, or in midfield, my real position. There's no doubt that my true position is in midfield, defensive midfield. That's where I have the most positive influence for the team, in the games, to help the club reach its principle objective, and that is winning matches.
"When our players return to their best physical form, it will improve things for the whole team. Every player will be able to play in their true position. When everyone is one hundred percent, we'll capitalise, I'm sure of it.
"Last season I played defensive midfield most the time, either with Max Lopez, with Morgan Sanson or with Franck Zambo Anguissa. I had to adapt to those three.
"When I played with Max, a player who likes to pass the ball and go forward, I would stay deep. I didn't need to see much of the ball. With Sanson, it was a bit different. He liked to spring forward, but often without the ball, he didn't always want short passes, so with Morgan I would see more of the ball. With Franck we shared the tasks 50-50.
"With Kevin (Strootman) it's the same situation. He has just arrived, and match after match we are trying to adapt, as quickly as possible. All we need is game time - that will enable us to develop a real understanding and we'll be able to help the team reach its full potential, playing as well as possible."
Determined to help straighten things out at OM and continue in the push for UEFA Champions League qualification, Luiz Gustavo has a general message for players who are not performing to the best of their ability.
"There is something that nowadays a lot of players don't understand, that they are blessed with this possibility, the talent that God has given us to play football. Out of all the kids, the people who dream, he chose each of us to play football, you know?
"That's something I value a huge amount. I don't accept that someone can waste this chance. I want to play, that's what matters to me deep down, to be able to play, to run out on to the pitch, to see the fans, to get one over my opponent, to be better than him.
"That is what motivates me, pushes me and makes me stronger. I'm missing that a bit at the moment, it's something that I simply can't accept, even if I'm 31. I believe that so long as I am able to do what is necessary to play as many games as possible in a season, then I'll do it."