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With Payet, Marseille look to past for future glory

New owner and new manager look to restore club to league-winning form.

Olympique de Marseille v OGC Nice - Ligue 1 Photo by Kaz Photography/Getty Images

How is it that Marseille, the team that sold Dimitri Payet to West Ham in the first place, suddenly able to afford bringing Payet back at almost twice the price that they sold him to West Ham for? After all, the team sold Payet in the summer of 2015 and also let key players Andre Ayew and Andre-Pierre Gignac both leave for other clubs that summer. And last summer, the club sold Michy Batshuayi to Chelsea, club captain Steve Mandanda went to Crystal Palace, and Nicolas N’Koulou went to Lyon.

So what happened?

Frank McCourt, former LA Dodgers owner who sold the Dodgers for $2 billion, bought the club in October of 2016. Previous owner Robert Louis-Dreyfus had passed away in 2009 and his widow Margarita gained control in 2010. The team had suffered financially in the last few years after winning the Ligue 1 title in 2010 and placing 2nd in 2011. While they had made the quarterfinals of the Champions League in 2012 for the second straight season, their league formed dipped and they placed 10th in the league that season, but still qualified for the UEFA Cup by winning the Coupe de la Ligue.

Arsenal v Olympique de Marseille - UEFA Champions League
The match in London against Arsenal was part of Marseille’s woeful Champions League campaign in 2013-14.
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The club rebounded in 2012-13, even after selling a number of star players, and placed 2nd and got back to the Champions League, but were unable to maintain that success. The 2013-14 edition of the Champions League featured Marseille, but they failed to win or draw any of their matches, the first French club to pick up zero points in the group stage of the Champions League. In addition to the dismal Champion League results, the team placed 6th in the table and was not able to participate in any European competition for the first time in ten years, cutting off an important source of income. Last year the club stumbled to a 13th place finish, the worst since 2000-01.

Now the club has new ownership and an ambitious manager in Rudi Garcia, who was appointed in October after McCourt had purchased the club for 45 million euros. Also hired by McCourt were Andoni Zubizarreta as the director of sport and club president Jacques-Henri Eyraud. Garcia has said that he “targets European football” for Marseille, and the club currently sits in 6th place, four points away from a Lyon and a UEFA League spot. Champions League places seem to be out of reach for Marseille, with them trailing 3rd place PSG by 13 points, but stranger things have happened in half a season.

Olympique de Marseille v OGC Nice - Ligue 1
Maybe Payet can reuse some of his old kits.
Photo by Kaz Photography/Getty Images

Payet had hinted in the fall that he would be open to a move back to France, even mentioning during an interview that he was interested in the “project” at Marseille. He was also rumored to have not wanted to leave Marseille in the first place. While his time at West Ham may have been glorious, it became obvious that Payet wanted to go back to the south of France and Marseille wanted him back. L’Equipe in France seemed to suggest that a deal was struck before Payet went to Bilic and refused to play, a deal that could have been made with Payet’s agent long before the January transfer window. Payet even mentioned to French radio outlet RMC that he was interested in going back to Marseille in mid-December.

Marseille are traditionally one of the powerhouses of French football, and is often regarded as the most popular club in France. They have an intense rivalry with Paris Saint-Germain, and have one European Cup win on their resume, coming in 1993. That lone win, however, came with a good dose of controversy, as the club was later stripped of their league title from that season due to a bribery scandal.