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It is little wonder Loïc Rémy is playing with a smile these days. The 23-year-old's career was hanging in the balance in August when tests showed he was suffering from a heart defect. His €15m transfer from OGC Nice to Olympique de Marseille was held up as he underwent further examinations, before finally getting the green light from medical experts.
"The doctors told me I had little chance of playing again, so of course that puts doubts in your mind," Rémy recalled. "But it was a great relief when they announced the good news. Now I take each day as it comes because you never know what might happen tomorrow."
The French international has been performing with the hunger and determination of a man who knows he has been given a second chance. He opened his goalscoring account for Les Bleus against Romania last month, and in recent weeks has hit Ligue 1 winners against AS Nancy-Lorraine and LOSC Lille Métropole – with Rémy's dynamic right-wing displays forcing Marseille coach Didier Deschamps to remodel his team by switching Mathieu Valbuena to the left.
"I'm lucky to be playing here and to have the opportunity to work with so many great talents," he said. "Guys like Lucho González and Gabriel Heinze have lots of experience and have won things. It's very rewarding to play alongside people like that. Now it's up to me to reach their standard."
The Olympique Lyonnais youth product attracted interest from Premier League clubs after scoring a combined 25 Ligue 1 goals in his first two seasons at Nice, but did not hesitate when the French champions came knocking. "I wanted to join a club playing at the highest level in Europe and Marseille were the first to welcome me," Rémy explained. "There were [contacts from] some foreign clubs but I'm glad to have chosen this path. It's a good transition. I can learn more here and play abroad in the future."
Rémy, like OM, has taken time to find his feet in Europe this term. After losing to FC Spartak Moskva and Chelsea FC, the Mediterranean outfit secured an unconvincing 1-0 success over MŠK Žilina before hitting their stride in dramatic fashion in the return fixture. Rémy registered his first UEFA Champions League goal as OM recorded the competition's biggest away win, running out 7-0 victors in Slovakia. "It's always nice to win with a big score and to make history," Rémy said. "We hadn't had a great start and knew we needed something to stay in contention. That's all we focused on. Winning like that will give us more belief."
Deschamps' men will need that confidence when they visit Moscow to play Spartak on Tuesday, in a game Rémy says is "like a final". A third straight Group F triumph would take the former competition winners to the brink of the last 16, although the forward acknowledges the difficulty of the task. "It's the biggest match of the season," Rémy stressed. "We can't afford to make any mistakes. They'll be fully prepared and they'll play a tight game. It'll be up to us to capitalise on every opportunity we get."
Spartak, whose league campaign concludes on Sunday, should have no excuses according to midfielder Ibson. "Even though our season is coming to an end we don't feel tired," he said. "In Brazil, where I come from, we play at least 60 games a season. The team should be ready 100%, even 200%, for the most important game of the season. We have to give our maximum. I hope we will not fail in front of our own fans – they deserve the win they expect from us."
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