The timid rays of sunlight that light up the town of Vila-real at the end of winter contrast with the big black cloud that hovered over Marseille at the beginning of autumn. If Olympique de Marseille is used to crises, this one was particularly violent. On September 20, coach Marcelino set sail far from the Old Port. The president, Pablo Longoria, was close to following him, denouncing threats from supporters. All these beautiful people will meet up this Thursday (9 p.m.), with the Europa League in the spotlight.

There is curiosity and a touch of concern among the observers. Marcelino will be poorly received, that’s for sure. The Spaniard, successor to Igor Tudor last summer, only managed seven matches for OM. Undefeated in Ligue 1 (2 wins, 3 draws), he didn’t leave a good mark on the game. He didn’t have time, perhaps. Above all, he experienced the great disillusionment of a preliminary round of the Champions League, against Panathinaikos, with an equalizing goal at home (90th 9) and a defeat on penalties.

“I am sorry for the supporters,” lamented Marcelino, like Longoria describing football as “cruel”. His words lost their gentleness, a month later, when he returned for L’Équipe to the reasons for his departure, brandishing “the absolutely reprehensible threats” of which the Olympian leaders were allegedly victims. “Certain radical supporters who want to permanently influence events prevent OM from being a big club,” denounced Marcelino.

And added, bitterly: “My very short experience makes me think that this is a club where creating a project is absolutely impossible.” Striker Amine Harit responded to him on TF1 last weekend. “We know it’s going to be hot, compared to the recent statements he may have made. Honestly, it gave us even more desire to have a big match on Thursday. They will all have to be ready because we are not going to give them an easy match.”

Asked at a press conference about his return to the Vélodrome, Marcelino, who bounced back at Villarreal in mid-November, acted as if nothing had happened. “When the stadium is full, it’s very beautiful. The atmosphere they (the supporters) create is worth living,” he said. Of the 67,000 places in the Marseille enclosure, 12,000 which correspond to the northern turn will serve a closed session, following a sanction from UEFA after the use of pyrotechnic devices in the previous round, against Shakhtar Donetsk.

OM negotiated so that 5,000 children from partner clubs would be invited and occupy the corner. Enough to reduce a little the hostility that awaits Marcelino, his last memory here remains a very sad draw (0-0) against Toulouse, which had earned whistles from the Vélodrome. “It’s something that suits me perfectly, you help the players during the match and, then, you express yourself, it’s normal,” accepted Marcelino in the columns of L’Équipe. Since then, OM has experienced highs and especially very lows with Gennaro Gattuso. Then an ongoing improvement under Jean-Louis Gasset, as evidenced by the last two victories in Ligue 1, against Montpellier (4-1) and Clermont (1-5).

Gasset who also defused any animosity towards Marcelino. “We never talk about it” in the locker room, he dismissed on the eve of the match. “We are playing against Villarreal. He’s a respectable person, his football is well organized, he has a method.” The Olympian coach thus followed in the footsteps of his player Quentin Merlin who had preceded him. “We don’t talk about it too much. We don’t play against Marcelino, we play against the Villarreal club. Marcelino, it’s not an extra motivation,” swore the left-back who arrived at the club last winter, thus contradicting his teammate Amine Harit.

Villarreal remains, like OM, a 5-1 success, against Granada in La Liga. Marcelino slightly raised the bar for the yellow submarine, undefeated for eight matches. And this despite a stomach virus which affected several players last weekend. Some of them went to the hospital for medical examinations. In Marseille, it is rather the virus of passion that we want to make the Spaniards feel on Thursday. And especially to Marcelino.