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Soccer

What In The Hell Is Going On At Marseille?

Olympique de Marseille's Portuguese coach Andre Villas Boas gives a press conference at the French L1 football club training camp in Marseille, southern France, on January 26, 2021. (Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP via Getty Images)
Christophe Simon/AFP via Getty Images

Art in its broadest definitions is best when it imitates not life but punchlines, which is why Ligue 1 side Olympique Marseille is your favorite team today by the vote of the staff. This is what happened Tuesday.

Manager André Villas-Boas turned in his resignation because the team’s board signed a player on deadline day that Villas-Boas didn’t want. In fact, he announced his resignation at his own presser Tuesday morning, a bold move in PR circles because most PR people would react to such an announcement by slamming their heads in a desk drawer to make the pain recede.

The team responded by suspending him and firing him an hour or so later, mostly we suspect as an homage to the comedic chestnut, “You can’t quit because I just fired you.” Nothing is clumsily funnier than vaudeville revamped for a new century.

Now this isn’t some language barrier gone wrong, as can sometimes be the case in international sport. The manager pitched a public fit, and the board pitched a bigger fit back. And because Villas-Boas said he doesn’t want any going-away money from the team—to add to the general hilarity, the owner of the team is former Los Angeles Dodgers grifter-in-chief Frank McCourt—the club will surely find a way not to pay him and make it seem like it is doing him a favor. And we can presume that Villas-Boas’s agent will probably remind his client that collecting money for nothing is almost as honorable as collecting money for something, so Villas-Boas may rethink that part of his manifesto.

All this happened three days after fans CLASHED WITH POLICE (capital letters intended because CLASHED WITH POLICE) outside the team’s training ground Saturday night to protest the team’s lousy run of form, which is a fancy of saying that Marseille is all Piston-y and Senator-y these days.

Trying to invade the training grounds on a weekend night rather than rage-drinking in downtown bistros is one thing, but firing a coach that has just resigned takes felonious vandalism into the world of broad comedy with breathtaking speed. Are these people tragedians, comedians or just COVID screwballs? Why can’t they seek tranquility through cherries?

All this delightful chaos upped and re-upped does ask some questions, though. How did Frank McCourt, who failed scandalously and miserably with a historically profitable machine like the Dodgers, buy Marseille and own it for four years without us noticing? Is this what Marx meant by “first as tragedy, then as farce”? Why did it take a coach to quit and then be fired for quitting after a violent protest for us to see the nexus of an owner nearly ruining an iconic baseball team and an owner supervising the ruination of an iconic soccer team? Is there a nexus, or are we just saying nexus to be annoying? What the hell is happening here, and would an explanation just ruin the crystalline beauty of the mad-people-being-mad aesthetic?

It matters not. Marseille is a gift that has bloomed and will soon fade from our gaze again. I mean, we have more teams that we can intellectually eat already, so not being stuck on the mid-table machinations of Ligue 1 seems healthy. But when you get something that begins with rioting and gets weirder from there, that’s a sign that more attention must be paid to this and less to the craptasia that is the pre–Super Bowl story machine. This, after all, is way funnier.