The following article is extracted from Get French Football News’s 200,000 word guide to the world of French football, The Get French Football News 100 which focuses on ranking individuals’ performances over the course of 2015 as a calendar year. To download the whole guide, click here.
The following piece was written in December 2015 and published on the 1st January 2016. Steve Mandanda ranked 49th in the 2014 edition and ranked 64th in our index out of French football’s 100 best players in this year’s Get French Football News 100.
2015 presented Steve Mandanda with yet another mixed twelve months, but one that certainly failed to vindicate the veteran netminder’s performances over the course of the calendar year.
The 30-year-old was again an imposing figure in the Marseille net, but has unfortunately found things more than difficult since the beginning of 2015 as his side have fallen from the top of the table to middle of the road mediocrity in the space of 12 months.
Club captain Mandanda was left stranded by then manager Marcelo Biesla’s decision to leave the club following OM’s first game, and has, along with the rest of the Phocéens, had to pick himself back up.
Also crucially for the custodian, now in his 9th season on the Mediterranean coast, a number of key players who were close to the Zaire-born number 1, such as André-Pierre Gignac and the Ayew brothers, departed over the summer without any meaningful replacements being brought in.
The year was all set to be a big one for Mandanda; his side were top of the table at the turn of the year, and with only 18 months until EURO 2016 was to be held in his own country, the pressure was on to stake a claim in the side following a good year in goal for Les Blues, despite not taking to the field in the 2014 World Cup.
OM’s form in 2015 began to crumble however with successive away defeats to relegation battling Montpellier and neighbours Nice, which shunted Bielsa’s men off the top spot. However Mandanda himself was still turning in some top performances, almost becoming a weekly feature on the top saves highlight reel.
The goalkeeper appeared to be getting only stronger, with his fantastic positioning, sharp reflexes, bravery and agility rescuing what was in truth a substandard Marseille defence.
Mandanda’s control of his area and distribution helped turn defence into attack to spark off Marseille’s occasional counters, and his ability with the ball at his feet fitted in perfectly with Biesla’s philosophy of passing football.
Marseille were not at the level of the progressing Lyon and Paris Saint Germain, and their long-anticipated title challenge had ran out of steam by April.
However for Mandanda there still lay opportunity in the form of games for the national team. Unfortunately the goalkeeper failed to impress in his first opportunity of 2015, in one of his rare poor performances of the season as France went down 3-1 to Brazil in Saint-Denis.
Despite pulling off a number of excellent saves in the opening moments the ever-reliable 30-year-old was arguably responsible for the first two Seleção’s goals; the first escaped through his sprawled legs into the back of the net, the second he probably should have done better to cover at the near post.
It was a blow for Mandanda but with Hugo Lloris’ wrist fracture in August he was given the chance to represent France again in November by coach Didier Deschamps, putting in a solid performance as Les Bleus overcame Denmark 2-1 in Copenhagen.
It has been a frustrating year on the whole for Mandanda however, who continues to excel for his club but coming up short for his country. The Marseille captain must find a way to take Tottenham goalkeeper Lloris’ place ahead of next summer if he is finally to be first choice goalkeeper for France in a major tournament. On the wrong side of 30 now, time is beginning to run out.
On the domestic front a poor off-season for OM in the transfer market saw the loss of Gignac, André Ayew and Mathieu Valbuena amongst others, and following OM’s defeat to Caen, manager Marcelo Bielsa sensationally walked out on the club after just over 12 months. Club captain Mandanda was forced to face the cameras following the decision, which many learned via social media, and showed his importance as a leader off the pitch:
“It is a massive shock. At Thursday’s press conference he was positive, today it’s come as a massive blow. He’s someone whose really important for the club, for the team. We’re very disappointed but respect the decision and we will carry on.”
OM began with one of their worst ever starts in the league, and were hovering above the relegation places. Impressive draws against Lyon (amid much fanfare) and away to PSG have shown what Le Phocèens are capable of, but an appalling home record (two wins in their first 10 home games) sees OM languishing in the middle of the table.
Within those have been some outstanding performances from Marseille’s “trusty” Steve however, in which the fan-favourite rescued his side. Some excellent stops away in that draw at the Parc de Princes enabled Mandanda to showed his worth in the big games, while crucial stops in games such as the away affair at Toulouse have secured much needed points for his side.
Now, with Marseille in the knockout stages of the Europa League, Mandanda’s leadership will be more crucial than ever, should he resist the temptation of a Premier League relegation battle. Marseille will not stand in the way of their heroic servant should he decide to leave in January, with his contract up at the end of the season in the event of Champions League non-qualification.