Hanging high along the Avenue du Prado on the way to the Stade Vélodrome, banners fluttering in the wind serve proud reminders that Marseille is a European Capital of Culture this year. France's second city is relishing the chance to showcase its slick new architecture and strengthen ties with the rest of the continent – but is starting to get a little fed up of European visitors enjoying their stays quite so much.
In recent weeks, the Mediterranean metropolis has become something of a choice destination for travellers from overseas, particularly those seeking culture of the footballing kind. Olympique de Marseille always looked like they would be up against it in UEFA Champions League Group F, but last week's 2-1 home loss to SSC Napoli left Élie Baup's side with zero points, Arsenal FC having also made the most of their trip on matchday one before OM were routed 3-0 at Borussia Dortmund. With two away games to come, beginning at the Stadio San Paolo on 6 November, some of the more pessimistic journalists on the Marseille beat are wondering if they will get off the mark at all.
"It's not a terminal spiral, but it's a negative spiral," said midfielder Benoît Cheyrou after the Napoli match, one of few players willing to share his thoughts as glum face after glum face filed out of the Vélodrome. Scorer of his team's two goals in the competition this season – both late consolation efforts – André Ayew underlined the need to get back to work. "We have to stop with the blah, blah, blah," he lamented, only for Marseille to succumb 3-2 at home to Stade de Reims on Saturday, their fifth straight defeat in all competitions.
Having kicked off the campaign boasting of a coherent growth strategy modelled on Dortmund's – investment in the domestic league's brightest young talents, exploiting a large fanbase, and so on – the club Marseille most resemble at the moment are Marseille: the OM of March 2012, who slipped to seven consecutive reverses as the Didier Deschamps era creaked towards its conclusion.
The pressure gauges are inevitably flickering once again, with both Baup and his players in the spotlight, but OM president Vincent Labrune believes his side are still moving in the right direction. "We have a lot of talent at this club and everyone will stick together to put things right," he explained on Monday, reaffirming his faith in the club's vision. "We could either have invested in players who'd proven themselves and target the short term, or in youngsters to build for the long term."
It is a point even the most exasperated fans know has merits, Marseille not being able to compete with the financial muscle of Paris Saint-Germain FC and AS Monaco FC. Meanwhile, on the pitch, midfielder Gianelli Imbula has caught the eye since joining from EA Guingamp, and fellow summer signing Florian Thauvin shows signs of finding his feet after his fine goal against Reims.
Like their stadium, Marseille are a work in progress, but the question raised by their recent run is whether they can complete the job with the tools at their disposal. While the cranes looming behind the Tribune Jean Bouin make daily progress – and the renovated Vélodrome will be another fresh architectural delight in the city – Baup and his team need to lay foundations all over again. And stop being such generous hosts.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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