Depending on your knowledge of French football, you've probably never heard of José Anigo, the current Marseille manager. Anigo is a unique character in football. You could write a book about his eventful life; Hollywood would love it.
Until this season, Anigo was part of Marseille's glorious history and part of the folklore of a club that is like no other in France.
Anigo is Marseille born and bred. He grew up on a tough council estate, went to the club's academy and played as a pro there for eight years (1979-87). Not hugely talented but a solid defender, he was part of the team that got promoted back to the top flight in 1984 with a lot of youngsters ("les minots," or "little ones").
From there, Anigo directed the club's youth academy before becoming sports director and deputising as head coach now and again in 2002, 2004 and 2007. He did reach the 2004 UEFA Cup final, though his Marseille side featuring Fabien Barthez, Mathieu Flamini and Didier Drogba lost against Valencia.
Since he was appointed sports director in 2005, the team won the league (2010) and the League Cup three times (2010-12). In terms of recruitment, he enjoyed some transfer coups in signing playmaker Mathieu Valbuena, goalkeeper Steve Mandanda and defender Nicolas N'Koulou but also endured some modest failures like Modou Sougou, Jeremy Morel and Foued Kadir.
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Anigo is outspoken and charismatic with a reportedly strong temper. He's had a difficult year; in September, his son Adrien, who was 30 and had previously served a jail term for robbery, was killed, shot dead while parking his car by two men on a motorbike.
Difficulties are never far from José Anigo and never far from l'OM, but it has been a while since they have been as intense as they are at the moment.
Last season, Marseille overachieved, finishing second in Ligue 1 under Elie Baup, but the current campaign has been a disaster. Baup was sacked at the start of December with Anigo replacing him. They were knocked out of the Champions League with zero points and sit sixth in the table after losing 10 games already (out of 30), including six at home -- the latest one on Saturday against Rennes. They have lost three and drawn one in their last four league matches.
Marseille are only four points ahead of Bastia in 10th and sit 29 points behind leader and archrival PSG. Since Anigo came in, the team has lost more games (seven) than it has won (six).
Indeed, this season is a low point for Marseille. Their plan of becoming the French Borussia Dortmund -- I know, it sounded ridiculous from the start -- is already a distant memory. To follow in the German team's footsteps, Anigo $amp; Co. recruited some promising young players in the summer, Florian Thauvin, Gianelli Imbula, Mario Lemina and Benjamin Mendy, with the idea of lining them up with more experienced players already at the club to serve as mentors. They are also looking for the "new Jurgen Klopp" but can't find him, counting instead on the support of their beloved fans, though even that is waning.
As such, the atmosphere inside and around the club has been very heavy. First of all, there has been friction reported between younger and older players in the squad. The new generation recruited by Anigo is impatient and cocky, lacks respect and doesn't understand the limited playing time. What did Lemina, a U-20 World Cup winner with France last summer, do when he learned that he was not starting earlier this season? He went wild and broke a door!
The older players don't understand the mentality of the newcomers. There is seemingly a massive gap between the two factions, and the dressing room is divided. Arguments between the two camps are regular, and in the last league game, a 1-0 home defeat vs. relegation-threatened Rennes, the only young star to feature was Thauvin, who was poor and subbed off after 70 minutes.
There are also tensions with the supporters. Some of them wrote an open letter to the players in January asking other fans to make the players' lives "hell everywhere they go, even at the bakery." Key players like Valbuena, Andre Ayew, N'Koulou and, to a lesser degree, Mandanda have not delivered either. Valbuena and Ayew have scored just four league goals between them in 2013-14.
Even reducing the tickets to 10 euros hasn't enabled the club to fill its 48,370-seat stadium. The crisis is so bad that Marseille is seventh in Ligue 1 for attendance, lagging behind smaller sides like Lorient, Bastia and even Guingamp.
Up to this point, Anigo had been a favourite with the fans, viewed as "one of them." Yet some supporters still haven't forgiven him for his open (and too often public) war with Didier Deschamps. Those two never got on. In November 2011, Anigo was fined by the club for publicly criticizing Deschamps, saying he had to stop whining and saying it was everybody else's fault.
As for the "war" between Anigo and Deschamps, Anigo won in the summer of 2012 when Deschamps stepped down as head coach.
Anigo's choices as sports director (hiring Baup, signing precocious youth talents Imbula and Thauvin) were deemed to be wrong by critics at the time and now, and those who used to be his strongest allies have turned again him. "Anigo, get out" declared one of the banners during Saturday's home defeat. They booed him too. Though he reportedly gave thought to resigning, Anigo has since decided to stay until the end of the season as planned.
The embattled manager has also found a good reason why Marseille are not performing well under him. "This season we have missed Joey Barton. Not only on the pitch. When he is here, he gets all the attention so we can get some peace. I am an orphan of Joey," he declared last week in a routine news conference.
Known more in England for his destructive tendencies, Barton took a lot of pressure off the squad last season. Most importantly, he led by example. You could rely on him, he was a leader, and he brought spirit to the side even though he played less in the second half of the season. Most of the fans' criticism this term is that the players don't show passion and love for their shirt, something Barton did.
You can see Anigo's Barton reference as a tactical move, a comment designed to show the fans that he agrees with them. But to me, Anigo sounds desperate. The club is the same.
On Saturday, Marseille travel to Sochaux, 19th in the table but currently enjoying a four-game home win streak without conceding a goal. I didn't think I would ever say this, but considering the state of the Marseille team, Sochaux are clear favourites!