The case seemed so folded that some speculated on the content of a press release being drafted. All that remained was to formalize the rumors sending Olympique de Marseille into the hands of a Saudi sovereign fund.
But the owner of the club, Frank McCourt, came out of his silence, Friday February 5 in the late afternoon, to whistle the end of what he ranks among the “Repeated campaigns of disinformation” and other “Manipulations”. “My commitment to OM, its employees, the City and all Marseillais is total”, assured the American, who has already invested more than 300 million euros in the 1993 European champion, including the purchase price in 2016.
→ ANALYSIS. When the camera spoils the sporting spectacle
Last summer, already, rumors of passage under the Saudi flag had agitated Marseille until the denials of the staff of the club. Lies or rumors of real negotiations, these soap operas question the interest of the kingdom for the current ninth in Ligue 1.
Soft power weapon
Such an acquisition, valued at several hundred million euros, would consecrate the young sporting ambitions of the oil monarchy. “The country’s interest in sport really dates back to 2017, with the arrival [du prince héritier] Mohammed Ben Salman at the gates of power and the development of the great economic diversification plan “Vision 2030” ”, analysis Carole Gomez, research director at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris).
In the Gulf, a reconciliation dictated by reason
World boxing championship, Dakar rally, cycling race: Saudi Arabia favors for the moment the hosting of international competitions, precious spotlights on a country betting on the tourist industry. By getting their hands on OM, it would join some of its neighbors in the Persian Gulf on European land and acquire a solid weapon of soft power.
“It is a historic club with a real track record, a solid reputation for its training and its public, and a strong image abroad”, presents Carole Gomez. A tempting picture for a country wishing to polish a reputation tainted by a very relative respect for human rights.
“Positive, dynamic and non-controversial image of sport”
“One of the objectives of Saudi Arabia’s sports diplomacy is to take advantage of the positive, dynamic and non-controversial image conveyed by sport, continues the researcher. If football is an investment in which you are not sure where you will find your hardest rock in the end, you reap the benefits in terms of marketing and place on the international stage. “
The Saudis could also be seduced by the historic rivalry between Marseillais and Parisians; the opportunity to continue on the lawn several years of tension with Qatar, owner of Paris-Saint-Germain since 2011. The two teams face each other on Sunday February 7, and it is an understatement to say that the Phocéens do not start favorites.
Buy OM at the same time as their stadium?
Stuck in the middle of the ranking, OM suffered in a few days the attack on their training center by their own supporters and the departure of coach André Villas-Boas, who resigned and then laid off on the same day. All against a background of financial losses caused by the health situation and the failure of the main broadcaster, Mediapro.
TV rights deal: is football off the hook?
What to cool potential buyers? Dubitative on the “Credibility” of an immediate sale to the Saudis, Christophe Lepetit, director of studies at the Center of Law and Economy of Sport (CDES) of Limoges, sees in the current decay of football a possible lever. “Wealthy international investors will be able to acquire clubs or parts of capital at lower costs and hope for capital gains on resale”, advances the economist.
Last element to take into account in the event of negotiations: the new majority in Marseille has confirmed its willingness to sell the Vélodrome stadium. The sale price has not been fixed, but the opportunity to recover the club at the same time as its enclosure promises additional sources of income. “If tomorrow there is a buyer and he wants to buy the stadium, we will sit around the table with him, promises Deputy Mayor Samia Ghali in The team. If that’s an argument to sell the club, so much the better. But I remind you that we don’t come to OM to do business, we come because we love football, the city, its club and its supporters. Otherwise, it does not work. “