There was a clamour for a new wave of French managers this summer and they all offered great promise. Zinedine Zidane, who decided against a job in France, Willy Sagnol, who took the job he was offered at Bordeaux, and Claude Makélélé, who would join Bastia to a lot of fanfare. So why did it go all pear-shaped so quickly and was his dismissal from the managerial post come too soon?
When Claude Makélélé was sold and David Beckham was signed for Real Madrid, the great Zinedine Zidane said: “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?” It was synonymous with the hard-working, under the radar midfielder that was so successful in England that they named the anchor man position after the Frenchman.
Regularly unheralded but well respected by everyone in the game, Makélélé looked like the perfect candidate for a football management role. With his understated style and the way he understood the game from where he played, if he could put all the pieces together he could perhaps become one of the best.
He got off to a very good start with his Bastia side pulling off an enthralling come-from-behind 3-3 draw against Marseille in Marcelo Bielsa’s first game. They went ahead early but were pegged back quickly and at 3-1 down, many thought the result was a foregone conclusion but his side battled back, earning themselves a point and even had time to steal it at the end if they had a little more left in the tank.
In fact, his first five games in charge were relatively successful. A 2-0 loss to PSG was overshadowed by Brandão’s moment of madness but other than that they went unbeaten, beating Toulouse whilst getting 1-1 draws against RC Lens and fast-starters Bordeaux. There were positives to take, they’d taken the lead against Willy Sagnol’s side but again faded whilst they managed to recover against Lens to earn them a point.
It was a run of five defeats in seven league games that would seal Makélélé’s fate and would leave the club in the relegation zone. Defeats to Lille and Monaco were excusable, both are decent sides that should be beating the likes of the Corsican side but losses to Metz, Lorient and especially Guingamp felt like monumental blows even early on in the season.
They picked up a win and a draw in that run, beating Nice away and taking a 0-0 draw from surprise package Nantes but in the end, it wasn’t enough. After the 1-0 loss to Guingamp, Makélélé was relieved of his duties as manager of the Corsican side, with them stating that he hadn’t done enough to change the team in his time in charge.
Errors were made, pushing away Gadji Tallo backfired spectacularly when the Roma loanee scored twice against Montpellier in the first game without the 41-year-old in charge whilst the issues in front of goal were clear to see. During his time in the hot-seat, Bastia managed to score more than one goal in a game just twice, once in the first game of the season and once against second-tier side Auxerre in the Coupe de la Ligue. It was a fundamental flaw in his team that he couldn’t seem to rectify and with sides coming in knowing if they scored they’d get at least a point, it put his side under immense pressure.
However, Makélélé also had to deal with other issues that would cripple his options. They lost Wahbi Khazri to Bordeaux, one of their best attacking outlets, along with the retirement of Mickael Landreau who would have been a leader within the dressing room. Key forwards were missing, Drjibril Cisse with injury and big signing Brandao through his own stupidity so Makélélé was short-changed in his attacking options early on.
I think on reflection, it’s hard to see why any team would sack a manager after just 12 league games unless the start was so dramatically poor that there was a fear the team might never recover. That didn’t look like it was the case here, Makélélé must have had the respect of the dressing room and with a few easier games down the road, their situation could have been improved rapidly but he would be stripped of that chance.
In all honesty, it’s difficult not to see another club taking a chance with Claude Makélélé as their boss. He might have to start lower than he would have wanted but much like his playing career, understated brilliance is something he excels in executing. When that opportunity shows itself, hopefully such a genius on the pitch can covert that supreme knowledge into a genius on the touchline.