Marseille coach André Villas-Boas stared at the reporter and asked him if he was thinking about his future in the club.
After a long pause, Villas-Boas smiled ironically, laughed, and then gave a short answer that was full of deeper meaning.
“I want to answer honestly, but I can’t,” said the Portuguese coach, who transformed the club in his first season in charge.
Just when Marseille was in second place in the French league and remained unbeaten for ten games, turbulence threatens to return to a notoriously volatile club.
Under Villas-Boas, who previously coached Chelsea and Tottenham in the Premier League, players show much more tactical discipline and team spirit than last season under Rudi Garcia.
Last Friday they proved that they went deep into third place in a very physical duel in the 1-0 win at Rennes before they secured a late winning goal.
But the club made a decision behind the scenes that reportedly angered Villas-Boas.
The tension relates to the recent arrival of Paul Aldridge as an adviser to club president Jacques-Henri Eyraud. This doesn’t go well with Villas-Boas, as Aldridge is a specialist in selling players to Premier League clubs.
The alarm bells rang for Villas-Boas, as there are still two weeks left for the transfer window in January. Villas-Boas is also closely linked to Andoni Zubizarreta, Marseille’s sports director, whose role appears to be hampered by Aldridge’s arrival.
Ultimately, players could be sold at a cheaper price this month as the club does well on the pitch. Marseille is threatened by financial fair play and had to pay EUR 2 million to UEFA in June for violating the rules on player transfers and wages.
It was also agreed to keep an additional 4 million euros in prize money if the financial targets are not met by June 2023. Marseille has a maximum break-even deficit of € 30 million ($ 33.7 million) this season.
Marseille must qualify for the Champions League to make money and still balance the books through the sale. Villas-Boas said he understood that when he took command, but anticipated that it would happen at the end of the season, not halfway through a successful-looking campaign.
Former Marseille striker Christophe Dugarry criticized Eyraud for putting Aldridge behind Villas-Boas’ back.
“Eyraud should have spoken to his trainer about it,” Dugarry said on RMC radio. “He’s going to get someone who wants to sell players that Villas-Boas doesn’t want to sell. Obviously he will react badly. “
Even if Marseille qualify for the Champions League, there might not be much ambition with a weakened squad. Since the club’s priority appears to be sales, the reporter asked if Villas-Boas was questioning its future.
Villas-Boas answered the next question with a clear indication that he could easily walk away.
“I canceled my contract in China (with Shanghai SIPG) for the Dakar (Rally 2018) for 12 million euros ($ 13.4 million) a year, excluding taxes,” he said. “I am a man of the world. I was in Mexico and Argentina more than in Marseille. “
He also urged Marseille not to part with Zubizarreta, who was under pressure in his role.
“I came here because of the size of the club and because of Zubizarreta,” said Villas-Boas. “My future is closely linked to his future.”
Marseille is the only French club to win the Champions League in 1993, but lags behind traditional rival Paris Saint-Germain. The club’s notoriously volatile fans turned against Garcia last season when the team took a disappointing fifth place – 30 points behind PSG.
The club could therefore appreciate the work done by Villas-Boas more.
“We did something in six months that gave emotional stability to one of the most unstable clubs in the world,” said Villas-Boas. “When we have achieved something, it is this stability.”
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