Kevin Galvin questions Marseille President Vincent Labrune’s ability to govern one of the world’s most unique and passionate clubs.
As the dust settles on a charged Olympico derby, fingers are being pointed at those responsible for the terrible scenes that caused last night’s game to be suspended for over 20 minutes, and will undoubtedly result in sanctions for l’OM and its supporters.
The source? Mathieu Valbuena; the former Marseille midfielder is currently in a lawsuit with the club to the tune of over half a million euros (£414,000) for issues arising with his agent. Valbuena believes that money he had to pay to his agent for breaking the contract should have, in fact, been paid by the club itself.
Valbuena’s lawyer says that current Marseille president Vincent Labrune made a ‘verbal agreement’ to pay the sum to agent Christophe Hutteau, and is now in the courts against Les Phocéens.
The case was taken up four days before the French international was due to return to the Vélodrome, before Valbuena himself was quoted as saying only the “true” Marseille supporters wouldn’t jeer him, and rather predictably, yet somewhat disturbingly his effigy was hanging on the roof of the Vélodrome as the teams came out to warm-up, a sign of things to come.
The game itself saw the hosts use what could comfortably be described as anti-tactics, trying to kick Lyon out of the opening exchanges, despite the fact that they themselves were more than capable of playing some decent football, as shown by Batshuayi’s great run leading to Alessandrini just shooting wide in the early moments.
However the narrative that dominated was some of the appalling and calculated fouling of Marseille. Remi Cabella was very lucky to have only gotten a caution after a dangerous two-footed tackle on Christophe Jallet. Valbuena was then taken out by Rekik, causing temperatures to rise on the pitch.
After Steve Mandanda just missed out the chase with Lacazette he brought the Lyon forward down, Lacazette converting himself to give Lyon the lead. The white hot atmosphere boiled over as Romain Alessandrini scythed through the back of Valbuena, and earned an admittedly harsh red card from referee, but again putting the attention, and the blame in the eyes of the Phocéens, on traitor Valbuena.
One man in particular that the blame is being put at is Marseille club president Vincent Labrune. The director’s comments during and following the incident have been pretty inexplicable, given the week that the club has been through.
While Labrune isn’t known for measured response; videos of Marseille hooligans taking apart parts of Groningen before OM’s Europa League game against the Dutch side on Thursday, added to last night’s incident, the President’s reaction has, in my view, been counter-productive, unprofessional and simply immature.
“I think everyone has to look at themselves in the mirror; I’ll be accepting my responsibilities as president, and I want everyone else to look at those at the Football Federation, the referees, and Olympique Lyonnais as well. The club accepts its responsibilities for the two or three bottles thrown onto the pitch.”
But as the pictures show, it was not just two or three beer bottles. Harmless paper balls were followed by a torrent of plastic beer bottles, and eventually a lit flare at Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, before the players were eventually escorted from the pitch, riot police followed to protect the playing surface.
This is the man that should be wanting to avoid this kind of incident; but instead of accepting the obvious problem that, albeit a minority, fans in the Vélodrome last night were unable to behave themselves and that the game was postponed due to their actions, he would rather deflect the blame on parties that had very little to contribute to the situation.
Labrune is allegedly the reason why the whole Valbuena incident has gotten to the stage it has, over a year after the midfielder left the Mediterranean coast. He refused to comment following the disgusting scenes of hooliganism in Groningen, and has now totally stuck his head in the sand to a problem which almost caused the first abandonment in a Ligue 1 match due to crowd trouble.
Not only has he not accepted his own responsibilities by not acknowledging the extent of the problem, but he is trying to lay the blame on parties that have little-or-nothing to do with it. Insinuating that the referees were part of last night’s problem is extremely dangerous and irresponsible on two fronts.
First, it undermines fans’ responsibilities, regardless of what happens on the pitch, it also undermines the referee’s job, and need for impartiality, regardless of his decisions.
The fact is that last night’s referee Rudy Buquet called the game as he saw it; Mandanda did make contact with Lacazette, and while Alessandrini’s foul was borderline a red, the fact that Valbuena was being kicked up and down the pitch meant that the man in the middle had to ensure player safety, and therefore clamp down on the antics that Marseille were employing.
Labrune then tries to blame the Federation, for presumably hosting the game, and then Lyon, for what, turning up?
The away side kept playing despite the detritus pouring down on them, and then re-took the pitch to finish the game, surrendering their goal advantage in the process, something which I imagine OL officials will have something to say about when the issue is brought to the LFP.
This is not the first instance in which Labrune has proved himself unfit for purpose; empty promises, spats with managers, suspicions over illegal activity and ill-judged comments have plagued his tenure since taking over in 2011.
Meanwhile a hugely significant transfer window has seen some of OM’s biggest stars depart with a handful of unproven youngsters and Abou Diaby (on the Premier League’s list of most injured players of all-time), Lassana Diarra and Rémy Cabella (A man that made little-to-no impact at Newcastle) being the only names of note to arrive at the club this summer.
With Bielsa walking out after the first game during Marseille’s disappointing start to the season, ill-discipline plaguing the side, and now almost certain financial and supporter sanctions to hit Marseille after bad behaviour both home and away; Labrune’s refusal to combat these issues, and his feeble attempts to deflect attention onto others forces Marseille fans to ask if he is indeed the right man for the job.