Success for the Olympique de Marseille coach has proved elusive in recent times. Alain Perrin looked to have discovered the secret when he guided the Mediterranean giants to second place in Ligue 1 in 2002/03, then strengthened the side by signing a powerful striker named Didier Drogba. However, a harrowing 4-2 defeat by Real Madrid CF in the UEFA Champions League in September 2003 sparked a sudden decline, and Perrin was ousted months later.
Although Marseille reached the UEFA Cup final that season, and Perrin found work with Al-Aïn in the United Arab Emirates and Portsmouth FC in England, neither truly recovered from that turbulent period until now. On Saturday, Marseille have the opportunity to end a 14-year trophy drought by lifting the Coupe de France, but standing in their way is an FC Sochaux-Montbéliard team rejuvenated since Perrin's arrival 12 months ago.
Having finished 15th last term, Sochaux were expected to struggle again, yet with two league games to play they remain in contention for European qualification on two fronts. "Even I wasn't expecting such a positive campaign," Perrin told uefa.com. "My first priority was to avoid relegation - I wasn't thinking about winning trophies." Steering Sochaux to their first cup triumph since 1933 would cap an exceptional year, though Perrin's seventh-placed outfit were issued a stern warning at Stade Vélodrome two weeks ago when Franck Ribéry, Samir Nasri and Djibril Cissé inspired an emphatic 4-2 victory for OM in fourth. Indeed, the coach has been so busy this week working out how to stop Marseille's in-form attack he has barely had time for sentimentality. "Coming up against one of my former teams changes nothing in terms of preparation," the 50-year-old said. "I have good memories of Marseille and it'll be nice to see some old friends, but this is a big day for Sochaux. We'll need to be at our best because Marseille are scoring freely and they have more big-match experience."
Yet the side from Franche-Comté have been punching above their weight all term. Paris Saint-Germain FC, FC Girondins de Bordeaux and Marseille were all victims early on as Perrin's resurgent team entered the winter break third in the standings. If the heady, championship-winning days of the 1930s seem a long way off, Les Lionceaux are unquestionably moving in the right direction. "Alain Perrin has struck a balance between bright, young talent and experienced players," enthused club president Jean-Claude Plessis. "He's a good man-manager and has succeeded in making the club more ambitious without losing the family atmosphere."
Sochaux may be grateful to the former ES Troyes Aube Champagne coach, yet the feeling is mutual. Considered one of France's leading tacticians after taking Troyes from amateur football to Ligue 1 and the UEFA Cup, Perrin's reputation suffered after those brief and unsuccessful stints with Al-Aïn and Portsmouth. However, any suggestion his powers were waning have been dispelled. "I've enjoyed coaching again in my homeland and not having to worry about the language barrier," he said. "I don't regret moving abroad but as a coach you always need some luck and not a lot went my way. If I'd enjoyed as much luck at Portsmouth as I've had at Sochaux, I might still be working in England." Sochaux fans will be hoping fortune shines favourably on Perrin again at the Stade de France.
This is an abridged version of an article that appears in this week's edition of the uefa.com Magazine. To read it in full, please click here.
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