'Lost himself and his football' - what happened to Bayern Munich's Michael Cuisance at Marseille after Leeds United move collapsed
The video put out on Michael Cuisance’s Instagram account was the usual slick, glossy affair that heralds the end of a season or a transfer move for a player.
The private jet, the aerial drone shots, the medical, which we’ll come back to, the signing of a contract, the posing for photos, it was all there. But other than two goals, the only two he scored for Olympique Marseille, the video was light on actual match action.
If anything, the video was representative of how things went for the Bayern Munich midfielder after the chance to spend the season in the Premier League with Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United was taken from him.
The excitement, fanfare and a sense of luxury and quality gave way to a reality that looked a lot different and a season that was light on success, at least from a purely individual point of view for Cuisance.
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Marseille finished fifth in Ligue 1, 16 points behind fourth-placed Lyon, to qualify for the Europa League and the likelihood is that when they fly the French flag in Europe, Cuisance will not be part of it.
It was not an easy or simple season by any means, for the club or the 21-year-old loanee from Bayern Munich.
At the start of March former Argentine and Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli, a man described as a disciple of ex-Marseille boss Bielsa, was brought in to replace Andre Villas-Boas who had been suspended the month before in a row over the signing of Celtic’s Olivier Ntcham.
Villas-Boas had led the club to second place in Ligue 1 in the 2019/20 season but they sat ninth when he was suspended, already out of the Champions League.
Just two defeats in 11 games under Sampaoli helped rescue the season somewhat and, at first, it looked as if Cuisance was to be rescued from his frustration.
He scored as a late substitute to hand his new manager victory in his first game in charge, and did the same in the next game, finding the net to help OM beat Brest 3-1.
The promise of an end-of-season flourish was quickly snuffed out, however. Two more substitute appearances and one start was all Cuisance was given before he sat on the bench for three games and then left Sampaoli’s group for the final two fixtures. The manager wanted to focus on players who would be part of his 2021/22 project and Cuisance, plainly, will not be.
In an interview given just after Sampaoli’s arrival, Cuisance admitted he had been lacking in confidence, although insisted he never doubted his qualities. OM fans felt they never really got to see those qualities to any real degree.
“It was a disappointment,” said Pierre-Etienne Minonzio of l’Equipe.
“When he arrived, there was so much expectation around him, especially as everybody knew Bielsa wanted him. But overall he was really not that good.
“I remember he played very well against Nantes in November but it was more like a, let’s say, isolated sparkle. Marseille were supposed to pay €18m to keep him but, as he does not seem worth it all, he came back to Munich.”
Football Club de Marseille journalist Mourad Aerts saw a young player who not only lost a move to Leeds, but lost himself.
“It went miserably,” he said.
“The fans here had a lot of expectations regarding this supposed promising French talent from the European champions.
“His first games were okay, no more, he had one really good game against Nantes and then he went from being neutral to really bad.
“He gave the feeling of having lost himself and his football.”
Aerts believes Villas-Boas tried to find a place in his system and then persisted with the struggling youngster, before losing his job.
“He still believed in him, he was waiting for Cuisance to gain back his confidence,” said Aerts.
“But he left before that happened. Then came Sampaoli with a system in which Cuisance didn’t really have a place. He came off the bench at first and even scored two goals. But he didn’t create much more in the following game.
“Sampaoli explained as well that for the last games, he wanted to play players on whom he could still count next season. I’m not sure Cuisance is one of them.”
How Cuisance came to be back in his native France in the first place, having flown into Leeds on October 1, 2020 to seal a £20m move to Elland Road, is a matter in some dispute.
Reports emerged on the night that his medical had thrown up an issue the Whites felt was insurmountable.
A week later when he signed for OM, he denied failing a medical and was backed by Marseille head of football Pablo Longoria.
“We did not find any issues with his medical, everything was done properly,” he said.
“He is completely available, at 100 per cent.”
Regardless, Leeds didn’t sign him and Marseille did.
The versatility that made him appear such a good option for Leeds allowed him to spend half his Marseille game time in central midfield and the other half in a more advanced role, yet he mastered neither position.
What might have happened had he completed that move and remained fit enough to develop under Bielsa, most likely competing with Mateusz Klich for a spot in a team that remained far more settled than OM last season, is anyone’s guess.
In Ligue 1, he showed some signs of the characteristics Leeds liked, putting together a huge volume of pressures on his opponents and getting stuck into tackles.
On the ball, compared on data site FBref.com to attacking midfielders and wingers, he made a lot of passes but looked shy of impact high up the pitch and average when it came to dribbling forward.
Compared to central midfielders, his dribbling ability was shown in a much better light and he appeared far more active in attacking areas. Had he been allowed to settle in the number eight role, driving forward from deep, it might have turned out a little differently.
What he was undeniably incapable of doing was turning involvement into danger with any real regularity.
He had nine shots all season, a third of which were on target and, to his credit, two of which went in, but of the nine chances he created, none were regarded as big chances.
It was not the season he wanted.
The move to Leeds that he wanted didn’t happen and, latterly, the permanent transfer to Marseille didn’t either. Reports in Germany say he’s a potential summer sale for Bayern Munich, although others suggest he’s keen to give it another shot at the Allianz Arena.
He cannot be regarded as the one who got away because, ultimately, Leeds coped just fine without signing a central midfielder but, from the moment he was put back on a plane to Germany, the 2020/21 season got away from him.
Wherever he finds himself in 2021/22, the task is to really find himself.