- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

PARIS (AP) - Marseille’s new American owner, Frank McCourt, is moving quickly to make the ailing club competitive again.

Three days after officially taking over, he hired highly rated coach Rudi Garcia in time for Sunday’s match against bitter rival Paris Saint-Germain.

McCourt has much work to do, with Marseille languishing in 12th place in the French league, while the baseball team McCourt used to own, the Los Angeles Dodgers, is two wins from reaching the World Series.

When he completed his takeover on Monday, McCourt pledged to act swiftly and proved true to his word - bringing in the French coach who led Lille to a French league and cup double five years ago. It was at Lille that Garcia helped develop the talent of a young Eden Hazard, now a star for Chelsea and Belgium.

As Roma coach, Garcia set an Italian top-flight record by opening the 2013-14 season with 10 straight wins.

Rudi has a lot of character and a lot of energy,” McCourt said. “We share the same vision for Marseille and an identical determination to put it into place.”

Hiring someone who was voted French coach of the year three times was a powerful statement, and a good way for McCourt to show fans he means business.

Such is PSG’s outright dominance that French football struggles to maintain a high interest level.

Frank McCourt’s arrival is a good thing,” PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said. “We need investors like him to raise the level of competition in the league.”

McCourt has pledged to invest 200 million euros ($220 million) over four years. He is looking for an experienced sporting director, and Marseille is linked with Andoni Zubizarreta, who previously held the role at Barcelona.

McCourt will be in the stands at Parc des Princes to watch Sunday night’s game.

Games between PSG and Marseille used to be the most passionate in French football, fueling hysterical support with a violent edge.

After fans were involved in heavy clashes around Marseille’s seaport in October 2009, away supporters were banned from attending the fixture for several years. The clampdown was relaxed recently to allow small numbers to travel, but only under strict police control.

Marseille’s meager ticket allocation of 500 for Sunday’s match was snubbed by the fans because PSG’s away section holds 2,000.

Sunday’s atmosphere will lack the deafening chants and vicious goading so commonplace before. One game at Parc des Princes got so hostile that riot police had to protect winger Fabrice Fiorese with shields when he was taking a corner.

Fiorese had left PSG to join Marseille in the summer of 2004, and the betrayal felt by PSG fans was reflected in the objects and insults raining down from the stands.

The edge in their intense rivalry has dimmed, however, due to Marseille’s slump. Since winning its ninth league title six years ago, it has won only the 2012 League Cup.

It still has something PSG craves, though.

Marseille is the only French side to win the European Cup, beating Italian powerhouse AC Milan 1-0 in 1993. PSG has reached only the semifinals.

But since being taken over by cash-rich Qatari owners QSI in June 2011, PSG has streaked ahead of Marseille. Heading into Sunday, PSG was in second place.

PSG secured its second straight domestic treble last season, winning the league by an astounding 31 points, and reaching a fourth straight Champions League quarterfinal.

Marseille finished a miserable 13th and failed to qualify for Europe. It was a turbulent season, with fans turning on players amid a chaotic merry-go-round of coaches.

Marcelo Bielsa, revered by fans but at odds with then-president Vincent Labrune, walked out one game into the season after saying he signed a new contract. He was hurriedly replaced by Michel, who clashed with Labrune and was fired near the end, and replaced by Franck Passi.

Marseille’s fans can be incredibly loyal or angry, depending on their perception of how the team is being run and performances on the pitch.

McCourt needs them on his side, in the same way the passionate and highly popular president Bernard Tapie did during the successful 1990s.

Hiring Garcia is one way of giving them strong early assurances.

“When I met Rudi, he told me right away that he wanted to win the Champions League,” McCourt said. “I knew he was the man for Marseille.”

The 63-year-old McCourt sold the Dodgers for $2 billion in 2012.

In October 2009, his wife Jamie McCourt filed for divorce and they reached a financial agreement in their divorce in late 2011. The deal came after the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy, setting the stage for the team’s sale.

He paid Jamie McCourt $131 million and other assets to resolve financial issues in the pair’s divorce. She sought to block the deal, but early last year a California appeals court refused to overturn the settlement.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide