EXCLUSIVE | ‘Marseille and Europe is a true love story’ – Ismaila Sarr looking to ‘honour OM’s glorious history’

“It’s true that the season hasn’t always been easy – I can’t lie about that,” Ismaila Sarr (26) tells Get French Football News. However, despite a turbulent domestic campaign, there is a weight of history behind Olympique de Marseille when it comes to European competition.

Historically, Marseille, the 1993 UEFA Champions League winners, have been France’s representative on the continent having reached the quarter-finals of European competition in 1990, 1991, 1993 and 1999 and reached the semi-finals on eight of those occasions; some things never change, even if France’s European prowess has been diversified of late. OM have made at least the quarter-final stages of European competition on 10 occasions, including this season. 

“OM and European competitions is a true love story – everyone knows it! It’s the ninth semi-final for the club in Europe, which is huge,” says Sarr, who wants to “honour OM’s glorious history.” On an individual level, it hasn’t been all plain sailing for Sarr in his debut season with Les Phocéens. 

For Sarr & Marseille – a season ‘of highs and lows’

The former FC Metz and Stade Rennais winger made his return to Ligue 1, joining from Watford, and has made 11 goal contributions (five goals, six assists) in 32 appearances. “I have had highs and lows. The season is far from over and I can’t make a full report on my season yet, but I know I can and should do better. I’m trying to help the team as much as possible through my play style, by making the difference with my speed and incision most notably, but football isn’t all about stats,” Sarr points out. Indeed, as Luis Enrique alluded to when he referred to Ousmane Dembélé as the “most destabilising player in the world”, Sarr also falls into the category of players who make their impact on the game in less obvious ways than through goals and assists.

It has been a season marked – in phases – by a collective struggle at OM and, on an individual basis, by injuries. However, Sarr made a timely return from his latest injury to feature against Atalanta in the first leg of Marseille’s Europa League semi-final. It was an occasion that he will not forget. 

“I can confirm that the atmosphere was the best that I have experienced in my whole career. When I saw the atmosphere that our fans created against Benfica and Atalanta … the Vélodrome was on fire! It gives us even more desire to fight like dogs on the pitch and make them proud,” Sarr tells Get French Football News in an exclusive interview.

A 1-1 draw at the Vélodrome last week sees Marseille head to Bergamo on Thursday with a shot at reaching another European final – a scenario that felt so improbable when Jean-Louis Gasset took over from Gennaro Gattuso on an interim basis in February. 

Sarr applauds Gasset’s impact

Sarr recognises the impact that Gasset has had on OM’s season – and on him. “Gasset’s arrival did us a huge amount of good, especially for me. He has brought his calmness, his experience and his confidence. Naturally, that’s good for us mentally and when you’re feeling good mentally, it’s easier to perform on the pitch,” he began. 

“On a personal level, he doesn’t let up on me: he always speaks to me, advises me and pulls me back in line sometimes too. He is always supporting me and that pushes me to give the best version of myself. You want to give everything to a manager like that,” added Sarr, who, when available, has been a regular starter under Gasset. 

He will be looking to repay that faith on Thursday night, by making the difference against Atalanta. “We are in a Europa League semi-final and if we’re here, it’s not by chance, it’s because we deserve it. We are excited by the prospect of playing in the final and securing another European qualification for the people of Marseille,” said Sarr. 

Chancel Mbemba, Marseille’s goal-scorer in the first leg, has promised an intense performance on Thursday evening. “We’re going to war there,” he said. “My teammates and I are determined to fight,” added Sarr, who says OM are “prepared” for what is to come in Bergamo. Sarr and Marseille are not only fighting for their place in the history books but fighting to save their season.

GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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