Balo’s got nothing on Marseille’s maddest b*stards of the recent past

You get the feeling Mario will fit right in at OM…

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Mario Balotelli has signed for Olympique de Marseille, France’s biggest and – often – most unhinged club. All things considered, it’s a match made in heaven.

At this stage, everyone’s probably a little tired of the cult of Balotelli. Or at least reading about it – there are only so many “Top Five Mental Mario Moments!” articles you can stand, after all.

But, well, with his short move along the French Riviera from Nice to Marseille things just took a rather interesting turn for Balotelli.

OM, at times, is a bit of a basket case. If there’s any club that can handle Mario, it’s this one. They’re no strangers to controversy on or off the pitch at the Vélodrome, so a bit of harmless Balotellismo won’t trouble them unduly.

Besides, the Italian forward is basically an ascetic monk in comparison to some of the characters who’ve plied their trade at OM in the past. Here are just a few…

Eric Cantona

“When I was a little boy, what made me dream was the Stade-Vélodrome. And this love will never leave me,” Cantona told L’Équipe in 1994.

Sadly, he had to begin his professional career elsewhere, as OM didn’t fancy him as a youth. Cantona, born in Marseille, left for Auxerre aged 15 after his hometown club passed up the chance to sign him. They eventually realised their mistake and brought him back as a 22-year-old.

Unfortunately, the occasionally fickle and always vociferous OM crowd were soon on his back after some poor early form. Due to his performance levels, he was “rested” by the national team for a friendly, and promptly retired – temporarily, it would turn out – from international football, comparing his situation to Mickey Rourke being left off the Oscars shortlist.

A few months later during a charity friendly in Moscow, he threw a strop after being subbed by OM coach Gérard Gili before going AWOL. He was packed off on loan a couple of times before a brief renaissance at OM in 1990-91. By 1992, he’d shipped off to England, where a much quieter and less controversial career awaited him.

Bernard Tapie

In 1985 the mayor of Marseille begged politician and businessman Bernard Tapie to take charge of the then-bedraggled OM and Tapie, ever the opportunist, agreed.

By 1989, Tapie had become a member of parliament and was seemingly an unstoppable force – as had the team he bankrolled. At OM, Tapie had simply decided to spend vast sums of money on buying the best players on which he and his set of agents could get their hands. They’d even tried to sign Diego Maradona from Napoli, but failed.

OM became a juggernaut, winning the league four times in a row from 1989 to 1992, with a French Cup and a Champions League thrown in for good measure. The only problem was: Tapie was as crooked as a Himalayan skyline.

In the spring of 1993, a match-fixing scandal emerged after a game against Valenciennes and OM were stripped of their 1992-93 league title and relegated. More allegations emerged later, and for Tapie the whole affair was just the beginning of many years of controversy.

Samir Nasri

Samir Nasri is a man capable of wonderful feats on a football pitch, yet one who generally contrives to be about as popular as haemorrhoids. Even – or, perhaps, especially – among supporters of the clubs for whom he played.

On balance, that’s probably not the case at OM. His 2008 move to the Emirates didn’t endear him to many OM supporters, but there certainly isn’t anywhere near the same disdain – if any – for him at the Vélodrome as there is at several of his subsequent clubs, not least Arsenal.

Which is understandable. Nasri grew up in the city’s suburbs and burst onto the scene for his hometown club, rapidly drawing interest from elsewhere. He’s very much one of OM’s own, and was regularly linked with a return. For the most part, Nasri’s madness was seen elsewhere.

Who can forget, for example, the absolutely magical Drip Doctors episode? Or him being called “an idiot” by Emmanuel Frimpong? Or that time he challenged a journalist to a fight after France went out of Euro 2012? Or that time he managed to get himself sent off despite being scythed down by Seb Bassong? Or even that time after he retired from international duty (aged 27) when his girlfriend launched into a Twitter tirade against Didier Deschamps?

Some man for one man.

Franck Ribéry

Franck’s been in the news recently, in case you missed it:

Fair enough. It’s just a steak at the end of the day. What’s wrong with that?

Well, quite a lot according to the people of social media. Ribéry’s culinary excess drew much ire from begrudgers across the planet – and particularly at home in France. But, of course, you can trust Franck to take it all with, ahem, a pinch of salt.

Oh:

Let’s begin with the envious, the angry, born surely because of a broken condom,” he tweeted two days after his visit to Salt Bae’s restaurant. “F*ck your mothers, your grandmothers and even your family tree. I owe you nothing.”

Well now. That seems a little over the top, but to be fair so was the criticism of him for simply eating a steak.

It has to be said, though, Ribéry has a bit of a darker past beyond this. In 2010, he was questioned by French police for solicitation of an underage prostitute, an incident that casts a shadow over his career.

Hatem “Bust-up” Ben Arfa

Here’s how a Deadspin article from December deals with the current state of HBA’s career:

“It was three years ago that Hatem Ben Arfa, the supremely talented and infamously knuckleheaded French attacker, was in the midst of a career resurrection. Since then, Ben Arfa’s seen his career buried once again by the sh*theadedness that has all too often overshadowed his immense gifts.”

Well, quite. Back in 2008, Ben Arfa really laid down a marker for what was to come when he forced through a transfer from Lyon to rivals Marseille, including what would become a trademark not-showing-up-for-training move. He later accused Lyon of lacking class.

About a fortnight into his OM career, he’d been involved in a training ground scrap with Djibril Cisse. Not long after, there was another bust-up, this time with Modeste M’Bami in the warmup for a Champions League match, followed by a refusal to come off the bench during a tie against PSG.

The next season, he missed another training session and was fined, before later having – shock – a bust-up with Didi Deschamps.

Still, Ben Arfa was sheer class as a player and he duly earned a big move to, er… Newcastle. (After, of course, the obligatory training no-shows). Unfortunately, he broke his leg not long into his Magpies career, yet still managed to show occasional flashes of brilliance.

Then, in December 2014, he simply decided he’d had enough of England and left. Steve Bruce, manager of Hull City, where he was on loan, said he had no idea where Ben Arfa was. A year later, he pitched up at Nice where he had an exceptional season, and a big move to PSG followed.

Which worked out well:

Marseille are currently 200/1 to win Ligue 1 in 2018-19