Mar­seille’s im­age once again dented af­ter at­tack on player

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Frank McCourt’s plans to bring Mar­seille back to the top of French and Euro­pean soc­cer could be un­der­mined by lo­cal crim­i­nals.

Winger Flo­rian Thau­vin be­came the lat­est vic­tim of the south­ern city’s no­to­ri­ous thieves this week, suf­fer­ing a vi­cious at­tack near his home in a chic neigh­bor­hood of the port city.

Thau­vin was at­tacked and stran­gled by two men on mo­tor­bikes who crashed into his car be­fore they tried to steal his lux­ury watch.

The New­cas­tle loa­nee man­aged to flee the scene and es­caped un­in­jured but the in­ci­dent high­lighted once again the vi­o­lence to which play­ers are reg­u­larly ex­posed in a city with a long his­tory of or­gan­ised crime.

Ac­cord­ing to the L’Equipe news­pa­per, at least 12 play­ers and of­fi­cials from the club have been vic­tims of rob­beries or thefts since 2011, a poor record slow­ing down Mar­seille’s de­vel­op­ment be­cause it makes it dif­fi­cult to at­tract top-qual­ity play­ers.

Five years ago, mid­fielder Lu­cho Gon­za­lez was robbed of his lux­ury car and credit cards by armed men who broke into his house, while then-Mar­seille pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Dassier had his house robbed dur­ing a Cham­pi­ons League game abroad.

The same year, de­fender Vi­torino Hil­ton was at­tacked in his home and hit on the head while armed men held his fam­ily hostage. He left the club soon af­ter.

“It cre­ates a very un­pleas­ant cli­mate,” Dassier said in an in­ter­view with L’Equipe. “It does help build­ing a serene and calm at­mos­phere in the chang­ing room.”

The as­sault on Thau­vin was the first re­ported on a Mar­seille player since McCourt’s ar­rival at the for­mer French cham­pi­ons. But it fol­lowed an­other in­ci­dent in Au­gust in­volv­ing for­mer Mar­seille sports di­rec­tor Gunter Ja­cob, who was re­port­edly robbed of his car and com­puter while asleep at his rented villa. Ja­cob left the club three months af­ter he was hired, re­placed by An­doni Zu­bizarreta.

McCourt, the for­mer owner of base­ball’s Los An­ge­les Dodgers, bought the club last month and has pledged to re­store Mar­seille’s bat­tered im­age. The club is the only French out­fit to have won the Cham­pi­ons League, beat­ing AC Mi­lan in 1993.

It has won the French ti­tle nine times but not since 2010, and has fallen way be­hind ri­val Paris Saint-Ger­main since it was bought by Qatari in­vestors five years ago.

But with the win­ter trans­fer win­dow loom­ing, tak­ing PSG off its perch will be a tall or­der if the club fails to build a com­pet­i­tive squad be­cause of the city’s lack of at­trac­tion, in spite of McCourt’s vow to in­vest 200 mil­lion eu­ros over four years as part of his project to re­build the club.

For now, Mar­seille is lan­guish­ing in 12th place in the French league, 15 points be­hind Mediter­ranean neigh­bor Nice, the sur­prise lead­ers who re­cruited Mario Balotelli and Dante.

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