23 Oct 2021, 11:21

Messi in Marseille: Classic French rivalry has Argentine accent

  MARSEILLE, Oct 23, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - The experience of a football match in

Argentina is almost unmatched for the raw passion of the crowd, the spectacle
in the stands often more eye-catching than events on the pitch.

  Yet if there is one place in Europe that can match it then it might be the
Velodrome in Marseille, where fiery Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli now prowls
the touchline while up to 65,000 supporters generate a spine-tingling

  That can be the case for any game, but when Paris Saint-Germain come to
town it is very special indeed.

  They love their football in the French Mediterranean port city, but they
always hated PSG, even before Qatar bought the capital club in 2011.

  "Le Classique" -- as it is sometimes known -- is the biggest fixture in
French football, and on Sunday it will have a distinctly Argentinian flavour.

  This will be Sampaoli's first match against PSG as Marseille coach. In the
away dugout will be his compatriot Mauricio Pochettino. In the away team will
be Lionel Messi, getting his first taste of France's biggest grudge match.

  Messi was the hero of so many Clasicos for Barcelona against Real Madrid
and is the all-time top scorer in the history of that fixture.

  He will be conspicuous by his absence when the Spanish giants go head to
head on Sunday afternoon.

  Instead he will take to the field at the Velodrome a few hours later,
ensuring possibly greater interest globally than ever before in a Marseille-
PSG game.

  Table-toppers PSG are overwhelming favourites. They have lost just once to
OM in 10 years.

  - An obsession -

  PSG now totally dominate French football, but once Marseille were the
country's pre-eminent club, and they remain the only French winners of the
Champions League, in 1993.

  They have a proud history, and in Sampaoli they have a man capable of
giving new hope to a city obsessed with "l'OM".

  "It is the kind of club I like. Clubs like Marseille and Galatasaray who
have that support, the clamour of the people that means the city explodes if
you win something," he once told the magazine So Foot.

  Sampaoli, 61, was born in Casilda, an hour outside Messi's home city of

  Like Messi, Sampaoli played in the youth ranks at Newell's Old Boys. While
Messi left for Barcelona aged 13, Sampaoli's playing career was halted by
injury before it properly began.

  There are parallels between Sampaoli and Marcelo Bielsa, who became a cult
hero in charge of Marseille in 2014-15 and who managed Pochettino at
Newell's, the pair reaching the Copa Libertadores final in 1992.

  Sampaoli, like Bielsa before him, can be seen pacing nervously up and down
his technical area during games at the Velodrome. In contrast Pochettino
usually cuts a cooler figure.

  While Messi has spent his entire career in Europe, Sampaoli made his name
coaching outside Argentina and led Chile to victory in the 2015 Copa America,
beating Messi's Argentina on penalties in the final.

  Sampaoli then led Argentina to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but it was a
disastrous campaign.

  Messi helped secure a victory over Nigeria that rescued qualification for
the last 16, but there they were torn apart by Kylian Mbappe and France, and
Sampaoli departed.

  - 'Massive gulf' -

  Now they find themselves in opposing camps in Ligue 1 after Messi's move to
Paris in August.

  "It is good to have Leo here. Everyone will want to watch the French
league, but in reality it also creates a huge difference in power," Sampaoli
said at the time.

  "With the massive gulf in financial power between PSG and the rest, and
with the quality of players they have, now they have added the best player in
the world."

  The Messi factor means the celebrations in Marseille will be quite
something if they can get the better of PSG.

  Pochettino, who hails from the same province of Santa Fe as Sampaoli and
Messi, will have Mbappe in his line-up and will hope to have Neymar back from

  He may also find a place for Angel Di Maria, who started his career at
Rosario Central, the city rivals of Newell's, and Mauro Icardi. Both were
born in Rosario.

  All of them are familiar with the passion for the game that will make
Sunday at the Velodrome such a spectacle.


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