Cautious Optimism in the New Chapter of Marseille’s History

McCourt OM

It happened. And this time, it was not a hoax. Olympique de Marseille, following years of stagnation & frustration, is set to embark on a new chapter in the club’s history. After 20 years under the ownership of the Louis-Dreyfus family, the club is set to change hands, coming under the direction of a consortium led by American businessman Frank McCourt.

Who, you might ask? That’s the very question most OM & European football fans thought to themselves. For those not aficionados of American baseball, fractious high-profile divorces and sport ownership, the name Frank McCourt doesn’t seem to resonate with the majority of the club’s support. For those that performed a quick Google search after the revelation on Monday afternoon, you could be forgiven for feeling some dread.

It is surprising to see the 63-year-old American set to takeover OM, given that not one rumour was reported of his interest since the starting gun for the takeover process was fired in April. There’ve been plenty of rumours about other candidates, not least that of Gerard Lopez, the Formula 1 boss and businessman who hit the headlines last week after France Football erroneously reported that he was set to win the battle AND name the revered Marcelo Bielsa as coach again. While that didn’t happen, Lopez since confirmed on Monday night that this was his plan all along and conceded sadness at his failure to buy the club.

The candidacy of Guggenheim Partners was also touted. The American company are well linked to Frank McCourt, given it was they & NBA legend Magic Johnson who took over the historic, yet ailing baseball club LA Dodgers in 2011 from McCourt. The prospective new owner of Marseille was accused of leading a successful franchise to the brink of collapse. Indeed, American media reported with bemusement on Monday that McCourt had surfaced elsewhere with hopes of turning around yet another distinguished name in sport.

Yet, it’s still early to press the panic button. Marseille fans have craved new ownership for the best part of four years, and a consortium pledging a championship-winning team & a project to restore l’OM back to the European elite must be welcomed. The club has gone through incredibly frustrating events – particularly within the last year – and Monday’s news about a takeover should be welcomed.

But McCourt may be a con artist? He may play about with OM the same way he did with the LA Dodgers? These are pertinent questions that every OM fan can pose. Yet the reality is a little different. It is expected that McCourt does not take on OM as a single investor, but with a consortium in which incumbent Margarita Louis-Dreyfus will also keep a percentage in the club. There are various stakeholders in the process to ensure Marseille do not implode into a worst-case scenario, particularly where McCourt is concerned.

Secondly, there are other mechanisms in place within French football to ensure teams are financially sound & competitive. Marseille, not least of all teams, can attest to the pressure of conforming to DNCG standards having sold most of the crown jewels over the past 24 months.

And finally, it was announced by Margarita Louis-Dreyfus that Rothschilds Bank and Clifford Chance were working on the takeover process. That’s one of the world’s foremost banking institutions and one of the world’s most famous law firms charged with analysing the takeover process to ensure a sound owner for Marseille in the future. I’m pretty sure their analysis extends further than a couple of negative articles, even if they are merited.

Of course, we’ve been here before at Marseille. A North American prospective owner agreeing a deal with Louis-Dreyfus and dogged by scepticism. In 2007, that deal failed to materialise. This time however, it is expected that Olympique de Marseille will indeed be changing hands to a group that has the blessing of both Louis-Dreyfus and Marseille mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin.

So now, to the future. McCourt & co. promise to drag OM back to the elite. At a time when Chinese investors pile their money into Nice & Lyon, and the Qataris continue to reign supreme in Paris, these are undoubtedly exciting times for OM. With the closure of the transfer window on Wednesday, it is expected that any big moves will occur from January, with next summer earmarked to be the first major opportunity for the American consortium to showcase their intent for Marseille.

The ailing French giant has waited too long for this scenario. Now is the time to await further details of the project led by Frank McCourt & hope that the good times are a lot closer today than they were on Friday night.

Given that the Stade Velodrome was 2/3 empty against Lorient at the weekend, the developments of this week are enough to create major optimism on the Canebiere. However, given that so much remains up in the air, and doubts remain over McCourt’s background – it is important to remain cautious of the future.

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