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Olympique Marseille – Straight to the disaster

Marseille is one big construction site. The whole city is being kind of renovated and so is the Stade Vélodrome, one of the most atmospheric stadiums in France and Olympique Marseille’s pride and showpiece. However, due to the fitout for the European Championships in 2016, the Vélodrome is a bit, let’s say damaged and can “only” hold 43,000 fans. ‘Damaged’ is a term that perfectly fits to Olympique Marseille in general. Besides a sporting crisis (only 3 wins in the last 20 games of last season), the financial problems are much more important. Thus the Ligue 1’s most excentrical club is being particularly moody again. A round-up of a truly catastrophic situation.

C’est la crise

As already said, Marseille is going through a financial crisis. Debts amounting to roughly 65 million Euro, mainly accumulated during the estival transfer window 2010 when 41 million Euro were spend on César Azpilicueta and Loïc Rémy among others. Debts have increased by 20 million Euro due to Marseille’s horrible season. They have lost 10.8 million because of their bad placement: while OM still got 15.9 million of TV rights for finishing runner-up in 2010/2011, only 5.1 million have been transferred to the 10th of last season.

Didier Deschamps, Vincent Labrune and Margarita Louis-Dreyfus

However, Olympique is lacking 35,000,000 Euro to obtain the license for the new season from the LFP (Ligue de Football Professionnel). Even worse: Marseille have only few days left to find this money. Even though Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, Marseille’s majority shareholder, has come into Robert Louis-Dreyfus’ fortune and consequently Olympique Marseille, Standard Liège and most importantly lots of money due to her husband’s death from leukemia, she doesn’t want to spend too much money on the most popular French club. She’s actually ready to pay back the 20 million accumulated last season but has refused to pay those ominous and highly necessary 35 million Euros. Yet…

Recently it was rumored, Qatari investors were willing to take OM over (presumably the same who took PSG over), on the one hand to help them out of their financial problems and on the other hand to create concurrence for Paris Saint-Germain and consequently make the league more exciting. Only one day after this rumor had been started, Vincent Labrune (president) denied it but it still remains hot. In fact, in 2005, a member of the royal Qatari family sent a middleman to Paris to negotiate with Robert Louis-Dreyfus, back then still alive and OM’s president, over a possible takeover. An excessive offer of 200 million Euros wasn’t accepted because the club was actually not for sale. According to Labrune there has been “no proposition” in the last years.

 “Marseille is living beyond its means.”  (Vincent Labrune, president)

As Vincent Labrune is appointed president in 2011, he has already longly understood that OM can’t continue accumulating debts in order to remain successful. Marseille still had one of the three highest budgets in France (145 million Euro) but unlike before much less money was spend: only 11 million Euro. However, OM still had the second highest payroll: 92 million… The budget was adjusted with a view to the 5th spot what explains the extreme loss in the end of the season. Accordingly, Margarita Louis-Dreyfus was shocked that they would have the second highest payroll as 10th placed of the Ligue 1 and she ordered to cut down expenses.

Like Liège, like Marseille?

However, Labrune wants OM to still have one of the top budgets in France in the upcoming season(s) and is consequently looking for new sources of revenue. He’s got three options to do so: he either sells players, finds new shareholders or looks for advertising partners. He’ll surely exercise the first option, of which more later. The second possibility is pretty likely if you believe the media. But since Labrune has already vehemently denied this (too vehemently?) and Louis-Dreyfus isn’t ready to either spend more money or abandon power in accepting new shareholders.

Since Olympique Marseillais is a club being constantly in the focus of attention, French media never fail to be evocative of new conspiracy theories. The latest one, though, isn’t a new one. It was already rumored last summer that Margarita Louis-Dreyfus was tired of plowing money into Marseille. Instead of her beloved husband’s beloved Marseille, she sold Standard Liège, that she had inherited as well, for 40 million Euro.

Now French media are wildcatting same could happen to Marseille. At usual market terms OM would cost around 140 million Euro but it’s reported “MLD” was ready to go down to 120 million Euro in extremis. As already said, Qatari investors have knocked at her door but Russian ones are said to be interested, too. However, Margarita will only sell the club if she’s dead sure it’ll be in safe hands because she was almost pulled over the barrel by a Canadian businessman in 2007.

The Vélodrome, more than a stadium

The current look of the Vélodrome…

The Stade Vélodrome is OM’s pulsating core and Labrune’s main and most attractive aid to gain new partners. The Vélodrome will hold 67,000 spectators in the end of the building work and will be ready exactly two seasons upon the Euro’s in France. Lots of time in the world of football. Nevertheless Marseille have managed to avail themselves on that expansion. They offer guided tours through the stadium for 6 to 10 Euros and will offer seminars for business companies inside the Vélodrome from September 2012 on.

…and how it’s expected to look in 2014.

Still, for the world of football, the same rules apply as for the world of business: time is money. The guided tours can’t by far balance the deficit from one whole stand being constantly closed for some months. That’s why OM loses 10 million Euro a year, and the extension by itself already costs 267 million Euro. A part of this horrendous, highest price among all stadiums for France 2016 is stemmed by some investors, and mainly the city of Marseille. Having said this, the latter aren’t debt-free at all either; the Southern-French city actually has the highest jobless rate in France (reportedly more than 50%; fifty!) and hosting the Euro’s won’t improve the situation lots…

A manager everybody and nobody wants to sack

Didier Deschamps obtained a special status in Marseille only one year after he took OM over. He actually led them to their first title(s) in 17 years and won the league as well as the Coupe de la Ligue and the French super cup in 2010. In the following two years would follow three more title but the last one, a third Coupe de la Ligue in a row (record) didn’t save him from lots of criticism, mainly by the fans and the media. A possible qualification for the Europa League couldn’t make up for an awful run of 13 matches in a row without a win. This never before seen barren run cost Marseille the Europa League that they were almost certain to reach after an absolutely fantastic season in the middle of the season after an horrible start in the season.

However, the Africa Cup clearly showed that “DD” was lacking depth in the squad and after the win in the round of 16 (CL) against Inter at home, the manager and his players lost the fans’ trust. Banners were shown on the stands, telling especially Deschamps to “fuck off” what the world champion of 1998 can’t forgive. Besides an awkward relation to the fans, Deschamps has also had a rumpus with José Anigo, former sports director and a legend in Marseille. The final rupture between the two most important men of the club (back then) happened on October 22nd after a win against Ajaccio when Anigo blamed Deschamps to look for scapegoats after each bad game…

The actual rupture took place some months before when Deschamps signed a new contract until 2014 that didn’t only bring him monthly wages of 300,000 Euro but also the exclusive control of the professional football at OM. Consequently Anigo was asked to avoid this department. Anigo, who has hired four managers since he was appointed sports director in 2005, is hated by Deschamps’ agent Jean-Pierre Bernès and consequently by his client as well and the two men don’t even greet each other anymore. It’s also rumored that the selling of Mamadou Niang and Hatem Ben Arfa in summer 2010 against Deschamps‘ veto is one of the reasons for their dispute. Not to forget, though, that Marseille had its most successful year in 2010 when both changed their spots and actually worked together…

The exclusive control guaranteed by the new working paper allowed Deschamps to buy three players he absolutely wanted. Downside of the story: two of these three signings have been marked as flops (Alou Diarra, €5m and Jérémy Morel, €2.5m) while the third one, Nicolas Nkoulou (€3.5m) has become one of the most wanted central backs in Europe… Nevertheless the board hasn’t forgotten Alou Diarra’s and Morel’s failure and the bad season hasn’t given Deschamps leverage either. While Deschamps still won 2.05 points a match in his first year at Marseille and 1.79 in his second season, OM only gained 1.30 points per game last season…

Still, a sacking of Deschamps, clearly desired by most people in the club, isn’t very likely since his indemnity is horrendous (7 million Euro) and no-one wants to be the one at the origin of a rupture. Interested clubs, though, have to pay 3.5 million Euro if they want “DD” to take them over but almost every club said to be interested has appointed a new manager yet… Valencia have hired Mauricio Pellegrino instead of Unai Emery, Inter have confirmed Andrea Stramaccioni as manager for the next three years, Roberto Di Matteo is likely to remain on the Stamford Bridge’s sideline and Liverpool have appointed Brandon Rodgers new manager. There are still two vacant posts in Rom but AS as well as Lazio are said to prefer Italian managers. So, in all probability, Didier Deschamps will still be in Marseille next season…

A whole squad for sale

Who will be left in the end of the transfer window?

As mentioned above, Marseille have to sell players to register some income. However, they don’t only sell one or two precious players but immediately almost their whole squad! Except of Nicolas Nkouou and “to some extend” André Ayew, every Marseillais has been put on the transfer list. Among those are some absolutely great footballers such as Steve Mandanda (goal keeper), Stéphane Mbia (central back), César Azpilicueta (full-back), Mathieu Valbuena (offensive midfielder) and Loïc Rémy (forward) who is also the most valuable and desired player: he has a release clause of 25 million Euro.

What might sound like a shopping paradise for other clubs could actually end up in some tough bargaining, though. Marseille won’t surely sell their players below value and many of their top stars, such as Valbuena and Rémy, have already declared they want to stay at the Côte d’Azure. An offer from Locomotive Moscow for Valbuena has been rejected recently and Rémy said he felt he hadn’t accomplished his task in Marseille and that’s why he wanted to stay for another season. OM do have quite a lot of average players in their squad who will be difficult to transfer…

Olympique de Marseille is on a knife-edge. Either they sell their players and improve their financial balance a lot but will struggle for years in the Ligue 1 or they keep their players and risk not to obtain the license from the LFP. Even worse: OM has neglected the youth academy for several years and only started investing in it few years ago what explains that not many players have made it to the first team yet. This situation is not very likely to improve in the following years; as we all know it takes some time to develop domestic super stars.

Rien ne va plus. Things do not look good in Marseille. Time is slipping away and nothing seems to be working anymore and the whole club needs to make more than an effort to recover and become the old powerhouse again. One of the most important questions will be how long the board can keep its nerves otherwise Marseille won’t be “straight to the goal” (club motto) anymore but rather straight to the disaster…

Thanks a lot for reading this article, I do hope you enjoyed it and will rate it with the stars below the article. Comments are always welcome too and you’re invited to follow me on Twitter:)

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