INTERVIEW | Senegal’s Marseille contingent ready to fly the Phocéen flag high at AFCON

As Ismaïla Sarr (25), Iliman Ndiaye (23) and Pape Gueye (24) head off to represent Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in the Ivory Coast, they perpetuate a historical link between the African nation and their club, Olympique de Marseille.

Sarr and Gueye were part of the AFCON-winning side back in 2022, however, for Ndiaye, who switched Sheffield United for boyhood club Marseille in the summer, it is an AFCON debut that awaits him in January. “Obviously, it means a lot to represent my country, Senegal. It is a dream that is coming true to play in the AFCON. I can’t wait to get started,” Ndiaye told Get French Football News in an exclusive interview.

The three OM players are the latest of a long list of players to have also represented Senegal. They follow in the footsteps of Mamadou Niang, Bouna Sarr, Habib Beye, Abdoulaye Diallo, Souleymane Diawara, Boubacar Sarr, Sylvian N’Diaye and more recently, Bamba Dieng in representing both Les Phocéens and the Lions of Terranga.

Naturally, a strong link has therefore been forged between Marseille and Senegal. “There is a lot of pride in representing Olympique de Marseille in Africa because Marseille are really big in Africa. So to represent them for me is a very proud moment,” said Ndiaye.

The creation of OM Nation Dakar, one of the biggest Marseille supporters associations, which unites thousands under the OM flag. “Olympique de Marseille is like a religion to us,” said Serigne Sall Ndiaye, the association’s president. That fervency explains the hero’s welcome that Gueye received upon his return to Senegal in December. “Allez l’OM”, go Marseille in English, chanted the crowd as the midfielder arrived ahead of January’s AFCON.

It is a source of pride and joy to represent OM in Africa because there are lots of Olympique de Marseille supporters in Africa. We are going to bring Marseille everywhere we go. I am very proud,” Sarr told Get French Football News.

Ndiaye and Sarr happy at Marseille

Whilst Sarr and Ndiaye both expressed pride in representing Senegal at AFCON, there is also pride – and joy – in representing OM. “The emotions were high. Obviously, it is a childhood dream to play for Marseille,” said Ndiaye, who has said that he has since “put those emotions aside” in order to “focus” on his football with Les Phocéens.

I feel good. We are a family, a team. I feel really great here,” added Sarr, who has four goals and two assists since his summer move from Watford. Sarr, Ndiaye and Gueye al head to the Ivory Coast with renewed confidence thanks to an uptick in form at OM.

Gennaro Gattuso’s side are unbeaten in their last six games in Ligue 1 and have won three out of their last four, following a difficult start to the campaign. “I am happy for the team and for everyone. We are on a good run. We’ll try and continue that for the supporters as well. We have been expecting (a turnaround) for some time as well and we will be looking to keep it up,” said Sarr in mid-December.

However, the trio’s focus now turns to AFCON, where Senegal will be looking to retain their crown. “I must admit that it [won’t be] easy, but the first time wasn’t easy either! There are lots of teams like Morocco and the Ivory Coast that will want to win it as well, Algeria, Tunisia, and Cameroon as well. Everyone wants to win this AFCON. It won’t be easy, but we’re going there to do something,” said Sarr, who is expecting stiff competition.

Of course, we are going to come into it with the same intent and the same passion, I saw ‘we’ as I’m part of the team now, even though I wasn’t in the same AFCON-winning team, but we’ll come in with the same intent and passion as the last AFCON,” Ndiaye told Get French Football News.

He added, “Obviously, we, as a team, are a family, and when you’re a family, you help each other to perform to the best of your ability. I can’t wait to get there and get going.” Ndiaye, Sarr, Gueye, and the rest of the Lions of Terranga are hungry to retain their title.

GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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