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Marseille’s ambition in question after not signing Balotelli

August 23, 2018

FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017 file photo, Nice's Mario Balotelli controls the ball ball during their Champions League playoff round, second leg soccer match against Napoli in Nice, France. With a highly-regarded coach in Rudi Garcia, solid financial backing and a creative team, all Marseille really lacks is a high-class center forward. After missing out on qualifying for the Champions League by one point last season, Marseille really needed a dynamic No. 9 this time around. That search led Marseille to Mario Balotelli, but the Italy striker is finally staying at Nice and Marseille is running out of time. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, file)

Supposedly an ambitious club, Marseille has a strange way of showing it.

With a highly-regarded coach in Rudi Garcia, solid financial backing, and a creative team, all it really lacks is a high-class center forward.

After missing out on qualifying for the Champions League by one point last season, Marseille really needed a dynamic No. 9 this time around. That search led Marseille to Mario Balotelli. But after weeks of negotiations which seemed to be reaching a positive conclusion, the Italy striker is now staying at Nice.

Although the French transfer window is open until the end of August, Marseille is running out of time to attract a striker who is as good.

In an era where players are sold for inflated prices, Balotelli should have been a relative bargain. Yet according to Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivere, Marseille did not offer the asking price of just 5 million euros ($5.8 million) for the 28-year-old forward.

Marseille’s president Jacques-Henri Eyraud said Nice wanted at least 10 million euros ($11.6 million) and aimed a swipe at the high wage demands negotiated by Mino Raiola, Balotelli’s agent.

“The interests of everyone were not completely aligned,” Eyraud said in an interview with French sports daily L’Equipe. “Regardless of how talented a player is, this opportunity didn’t warrant us revising the economic fundamentals of our project and our ethical line of conduct in business matters.”

Raiola represents stars such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba and is one of the most powerful agents in the world along with Jorge Mendes, who has Cristiano Ronaldo and Spain goalkeeper David de Gea among his prestigious clients.

Regardless of the size of the transfer fee, what is evident is Marseille have missed out on a player still in his peak years. Balotelli scored 43 goals in 66 games over the past two seasons with Nice, completely tuning his career around after a miserable spell with Liverpool. He’s also forced his way back into the Italian national team.

Yet, seemingly, Marseille did not make the extra effort to sign him.

The project club president Eyraud referred to in the L’Equipe interview — the “Marseille Champions Project.” — reflects the ambition of American owner Frank McCourt to take Marseille back to the summit of French soccer. The former owner of baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, he pledged to invest 200 million ($230 million) when he took over two years ago and spoke confidently of making Marseille competitive again in Europe.

Marseille is the only French side to win the Champions League, in 1993, and last season lost the Europa League final to Atletico Madrid.

The money for Balotelli was available and Garcia was reportedly hopeful the club would sign him, especially since Marseille sold midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa to Premier League side Fulham for 30 million pounds ($39 million).

Marseille found itself in the same position in last year’s summer transfer window, failing to sign proven France striker Olivier Giroud and Cameroon forward Vincent Aboubakar. Marseille finally landed striker Kostas Mitroglou for 15 million euros ($17.4 million) on the final day of the transfer window.

Mitroglou and strike partner Valere Germain netted only nine league goals each last season. Fast forward a year and Marseille has the same two leading its attack.

Marseille is also overly reliant on France winger Florian Thauvin, who collected 22 goals in the league last term. Should Thauvin get injured or lose form, Marseille could be left seriously short of firepower.

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Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

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