Marseille ‘hammer blow’ as Bielsa quits
Marcelo Bielsa stunned French football on Saturday when he abruptly quit as coach of Marseille minutes after the French giants had lost their season opener 1-0 at home to Caen.
“I have resigned from my post as manager of Marseille,” the Argentine announced at the end of his post-match news conference.
Bielsa, 60, has been linked to the Mexico national team manager’s role in recent weeks, and Marseille looked every inch a side affected by the off-field uncertainty surrounding his future.
Immediately after their lacklustre defeat, Bielsa, who only took charge at the Stade Velodrome in May 2014, delivered what captain Steve Mandanda described as his “hammer blow”.
“I have finished my work here, I will return to my country,” said the man who guided the former European champions to fourth place in Ligue 1 last season.”
‘El Loco’ blamed last minute changes to his contract for the decision which left Marseille president Vincent Labrune stunned.
“I am, like all the supporters, dazed by Marcelo Bielsa’s shock decision,” Labrune declared in a statement released early Saturday.
“However we take note of this decision which places the club in a difficult place having started the new season with a home defeat,” Labrune added.
He confirmed that one of Bielsa’s assistants, Franck Passi, would step up as caretaker coach pending a permanent replacement.
Bielsa in his resignation rocket thanked the fans “for always being behind me during games and on a daily basis”.
“I am sad and frustrated. I cannot accept the situation of instability at the club,” added Bielsa, who accused the club of last-minute changes to the details of a contract he was ready to sign which would have kept him at Marseille until 2017.
To add spice to the drama, Bielsa left it to his interpreter to read out the key phrase of his letter of resignation which was sent to Labrune.
“We had reached an agreement on a contract extension for 2016-2017, which was missing just a signature,” he wrote in his letter.
Bielsa said he had met Wednesday with the club’s chief executive Philippe Perez and Igor Levin, the lawyer of Marseille owner Margarita Louis Dreyfus.
“They wanted to change the contract,” the Argentine complained.
“I took this final decision as working together requires a minimum of trust which we do not have.”
And in a direct barb at Labrune he concluded: “Even if I don’t think you wanted this, what’s happened comes with your authority, I think you know what’s gone on.”
Labrune in his statement posted on the club’s website questioned Bielsa’s reasoning.
“I find it hard to understand how a straightforward meeting on Wednesday about the finer points of this contract could be behind this precipitous decision despite all his demands having been met.”
Bielsa meanwhile was at pains to point out his abrupt exit had nothing to do with money, revealing he had turned down a new deal multiplying his salary threefold.
And he said he’d been patient with the club, despite uncertainty in the way they had conducted themselves in the close-season transfer market.
“I adapted to the numerous changes on the sporting plan, I took into account their (the club’s) work on this front, it’s very hard to bring in players. But I can’t accept this unstable situation.”
Mandanda spoke for his dumbfounded teammates, describing Bielsa’s departure as “a massive hammer blow”.
– ‘Disappointed’ –
“At Thursday’s press conference, everything was fine, it was all positive,” the France international goalkeeper added.
“He was an important part of the club, for the team. We are disappointed. We don’t know the ins and outs of it, we don’t know what has happened. But we respect his decision.
“He developed almost the entire squad. And what’s delicate about all this, there are players who came here because of him.
“We all got on well with him, with a good game plan compared to past seasons.
“But he’s made his mind up, and we just have to accept that.”
Quizzed on what Labrune had told the team Mandanda said: “He told us he was above all disappointed because he’s still a great coach who made us all grow. He is remaining composed.”
Teammate Florent Thauvin added: “We haven’t seen Bielsa but we had a chat in the changing room with the president who reassured us, we’re not going to dwell on it, we have a season ahead of us.”