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Page last updated at 06:41 GMT, Monday, 24 November 2008

Mears' unlikely year in Provence

Uefa Champions League, Group D: Liverpool v Marseille
Venue: Anfield Date: Wednesday 26 November Kick-off: 1945 GMT
Coverage: Live on Sky Sports, BBC Radio 5 Live and the BBC Sport website

By Aimee Lewis

Tyrone Mears
Injury has prevented Mears from making his Marseille debut
While many of us spent the weekend searching for the thermals to combat temperatures below freezing, Tyrone Mears was enjoying the Mediterranean sunshine.

"I've been training in a vest. The weather is unbelievable," says Mears, who, in one of the summer's most surprising transfers, joined Marseille on loan after a "freak" season with relegated Derby.

Just as the 25-year-old defender is about to reveal more about his "unbelievable" new life with France's most celebrated club, he is interrupted by a team-mate asking him to lunch.

The question is posed in French, but the Englishman abroad, who has been learning the language on his iPod, answers in his native tongue. While he understands "a bit" and makes the effort to speak French when he goes shopping, he admits he is not confident when it comes to chatting.

He apologises and reconvenes, chuckling: "They love their lunches, you get at least two hours for lunch.

"The players do a lot together, go bowling, go out for dinner, which is something I've not been used to at previous clubs because you usually have certain groups who stick together.

"It's a family club, which is really nice."

The friendly atmosphere has helped the former West Ham and Preston full-back cope with a cruciate knee ligament injury that has prevented him from making his first-team debut for the club.

"It has been frustrating," says Mears in a rather less ebullient tone.

"I've been out injured for two months. I joined a new club and I was dying to play. I watched the first game, was on the bench for the second and I was going to start the next game."

But Mears is not downbeat for too long, adding: "These things happen for a reason."

He is back training and is set to play in a behind-closed-doors match, but he will not feature in Wednesday's Champions League tie against Liverpool at Anfield, the scene of the Rams' 6-0 slaughter by Rafael Benitez's men last season.

Mears admits he was "embarrassed" after that defeat and while he says Marseille will have to "hope a miracle happens" if they are to beat the Merseysiders and keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the knock-out stages, he warns that a Liverpool victory is not a foregone conclusion.

Tyrone Mears and Fernando Torres
Marseille are a really good team and the coach is planning to go to Anfield to pick something up

Tyrone Mears
Liverpool have beaten Marseille twice since Mathieu Valbuena's brilliant 20-yard effort secured a famous Anfield victory for the French club in last season's competition.

The Premier League club's most recent win came in September, but that came courtesy of what Mears describes as "an individual mistake" and Marseille's slick passing at the Stade Velodrome had Liverpool on the ropes on numerous occasions.

In 21-year-old Hatem Ben Arfa, linked to a host of Premier League clubs in the summer before moving to the south of France from Lyon, Mears believes his club have a potential match-winner.

"He can stroll through a game and not do anything and then dance around players and score," says Mears of the skilful Frenchman.

"Marseille are a really good team and the coach (Eric Gerets) is planning to go to Anfield to pick something up. We've got some really good players who can change games."

Mears, however, will be continuing his rehabilitation in France with the aim of eventually donning the famous white and electric blue kit, following in the footsteps of Jean-Pierre Papin, Eric Cantona, Chris Waddle and Marcel Desailly.

"Everywhere you play there's a full house - every game is crazy because it's a big game for the other team if they're playing Marseille," says Mears of his new club, currently third in Ligue 1.

"The Marseille fans are unbelievable. There are crowds waiting for you at the airport and I've had to move 40 miles from Marseille because it's just crazy. It's probably worse than in England."

Mears may have finished on a winning side in the Premier League just twice in 30 starts - five for West Ham and 25 for Derby - but he is not short on confidence or ambition.

The next two years are going to be the most important of my career - it's make-or-break time for what I'm going to achieve

Tyrone Mears
"I want to play international football and also play for the best team I can. The dream would be one of the top four in England," he says.

"The next two years are going to be the most important of my career - it's make-or-break time for what I'm going to achieve."

Yet if ambition has had one drawback, it is that Mears has had to leave behind his wife Nadine, who is studying dentistry in Liverpool, and his two children Jaden, aged two, and seven-month-old Cassius.

"I'm only on loan so I thought it would be better for her to stay and finish her final year," says Mears.

"If I am here next season then they'll come over. It's tough and I do miss them a lot, but they understand why I have come to Marseille. It's really good for my career if I can come here and do well then who knows?"

Mears is undecided whether he will return to Derby or the Premier League, and it is unclear whether Paul Jewell will welcome him back to Pride Park after the Rams manager declared in August that the defender would never play for the club again after what the Championship side believed was an unauthorised trial with Marseille.

Mears says his summer disagreement with the Rams was a misunderstanding and, wherever his future lies, he believes he will be a better player for his Marseille sojourn.

"I can read the game better and I'm involved in heavy fitness sessions and working really hard," he says as he adapts to the intensive morning and early evening training sessions.

"It's a really professional set-up and the players don't drink alcohol, not even with their meals, and the club is really strict on diet.

"The players look after themselves a lot more, but that's because they have to.

"In England you put your body on the line, but here if you get injured and are out longer than three months the club don't pay your wages.

"About a month after I arrived, one of the players asked if I had insurance. I said no and he told me to get some. I didn't know anything about it when I signed."

And one other difference between the Premier League and Ligue 1?

"I asked about the Christmas night out but they didn't have it here so there will be no dressing up!"

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see also
Marseille 1-2 Liverpool
16 Sep 08 |  Europe
Liverpool 0-1 Marseille
03 Oct 07 |  Europe
Mears completes West Ham switch
06 Jul 06 |  West Ham
An Englishman abroad
05 Nov 08 |  Football

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