Where did it all go wrong for Garcia and OM?
By D. Crossan
Olympique de Marseille have endured an incredibly difficult season. Ligue 1.com's David Crossan looks at where it went wrong for Rudi Garcia's side.
Coming into the 2018-2019 campaign there was optimism at Orange Vélodrome, tempered only by the club's inability to sign the big-name striker that the fans craved to see wear the famous shirt. OM had reached the Europa League final in 2017-2018 and the target for the second full season of the Champions Project under American owner Frank McCourt was to qualify for the Champions League.
Inspired by World Cup winner Florian Thauvin - the scorer of six goals in his first six outings of the season - OM began the season in decent enough form, collecting ten points from their opening five games. Thauvin's form papered over the cracks as in the long-run OM suffered from a lack of an alternative source of goals, at least until Mario Balotelli's belated signing the following January.
Strootman leads transfer flops
Kevin Strootman, brought in from Garcia's former club Roma as OM's second-most expensive signing ever behind Dimitri Payet, made an encouraging debut in the 3-2 win at Monaco in Week 4 but after that the Dutchman faltered, making him a contender for the transfer flop of the season. Towards the end of the campaign Strootman admitted: "I have had one bad year here and I have four years left to do better."
Serbian international winger Nemanja Radonjic, brought in from Red Star Belgrade, also failed to impress while centre-half Duje Caleta-Car, part of the Croatia squad that reached the World Cup final, laboured in his early matches before showing better form in 2019.
Caleta-Car was sent off in the 4-2 defeat at Olympique Lyonnais in Week 6 and the defence proved a problem area for Garcia and OM throughout the season, as did the concession of penalties and the collecting of red cards. OM conceded a half-century of goals as World Cup winner Adil Rami struggled for form and fitness and too many players were off their game, including Rami's fellow France squad member Steve Mandanda, the goalkeeper.
Experienced players off their game, Balotelli leads revival
Brazilian Luiz Gustavo, like Rami, had been outstanding in 2017-2018 but the former Bayern Munich man's second season did not go according to plan. Frequently used at centre-half, Luiz Gustavo didn't start a game between Week 23 and Week 32 as Garcia left a glut of experienced players - including club captain Dimitri Payet - on the bench.
OM's form revived with the arrival of Balotelli whose goals and exuberant celebrations - featuring an on-pitch selfie and an impromptu game of paper-scissors-stone - put a smile back on the faces of followers. A run of 16 points from 18 games had OM fourth in the table and challenging for a Champions League finish. Then followed a customary loss at Paris Saint-Germain in Week 29 and the letting slip of a two-goal lead at home to Angers. OM never recovered and with PSG's Coupe de France final loss to Rennes meaning only the top four qualified for Europe through the league, the continental dream was over.
Garcia chopped and changed his personnel and tactics to no avail and OM had a disastrous season in the Cup competitions. Outclassed in the Europa League, they fell at home to eventual winners Strasbourg on penalties in the Coupe de la Ligue round of 16 and were humiliated by fourth-tier Andrézieux in the Coupe de France round of 64.
Garcia signed a contract extension through to 2021 in October 2018 but the poor results determined his fate and prior to the last game of the season the man who led LOSC to the 2011 league title announced his departure: "I have decided to leave. I proposed this solution to the president and he accepted it. If I just listened to my determination and my character then I would stay. But I listened to common sense and reason and I think that it's good to stop the adventure here… Over two-and-a-half years I have been part of the first act of the project. For the good of the project I think it's good that we part ways now, that I leave now."