Villas-Boas leads Marseille back into Champions League but doubts linger over future

Andre Villas-Boas (Twitter)
Andre Villas-Boas (Twitter)

The decision to end the French Ligue 1 season early brought celebrations in Marseille, who are looking forward to a return to the Champions League thanks to the fine work done by coach Andre Villas-Boas, but it remains to be seen if he will stay at a club with major financial problems.

Marseille were second when the season was suspended in mid-March with 10 games remaining. They were well behind leaders Paris Saint-Germain but well clear of the chasing pack, so nobody disputes they are worthy runners-up after the French government dashed hopes of the campaign restarting.

In an Instagram post, Villas-Boas called it an "extraordinary achievement". Marseille have not been in the Champions League since 2013, but they had finished fifth last season under Rudi Garcia and Villas-Boas knew he was arriving at a club with little money to spend.

He had to do without arguably Marseille's best player, the winger Florian Thauvin, for almost the whole campaign because of injury, but the Portuguese has breathed new life into the careers of Dimitri Payet and goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.

In addition, he has got the best out of those new faces who did come in, like Spanish defender Alvaro Gonzalez and ex-Boca Juniors striker Dario Benedetto.

The former Porto, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur coach has rebuilt his own reputation by reviving a club that is wildly popular across France and remains the country's only winners of the Champions League having taken the inaugural edition in 1993.

Now, a decade after they last won Ligue 1, they are heading back to Europe's top table, but their ability to compete with the continent's best is in doubt because of their financial situation, and there is uncertainty surrounding Villas-Boas's future as a result.

"I am very happy in Marseille. I don't want to look for another club. I don't want to go back to the Premier League," the 42-year-old told RMC radio from his native Portugal, where he has been spending lockdown.

"I obviously want to go into the Champions League with Marseille, but...if the conditions are not there for us to do a good job, I don't think it's worth it."

UEFA sanctions loom

Spending since American tycoon Frank McCourt - the former Los Angeles Dodgers owner - bought the club in 2016 has been way beyond the limits set out in UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules.

They lost €91 million last season and that will be compounded by further losses this season, made worse by the coronavirus crisis.

UEFA announced in March that Marseille had been referred to the adjudicatory chamber of their Club Financial Control Body for not complying with an agreement to balance their books.

The club had already signed a "settlement agreement" which set out that Marseille would have to play with a reduced squad in their next European campaign and pay back up to four million euros of any prize money.

Now further sanctions are inevitable, with sports daily L'Equipe suggesting they could even be excluded from the next Champions League.

"When I bought OM, I knew there would be highs and lows," said McCourt recently, emphasising his "long-term vision".

With a wage bill last season of €127 million, Marseille must sell players, and want those who remain to accept pay cuts. Villas-Boas says he needs a competitive team if he is to stay.

He also wants to be sure sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, the ex-Barcelona and Spain goalkeeper, stays before committing to a second season at the Velodrome, even if he is settled on France's Mediterranean coast.

"I want to understand more or less where we are going, how much we can invest. Whether the club wants me, or if they don't, in which case it will not be a problem," said Villas-Boas, who is due back in France next week.

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