MARSEILLE, France — Having led Marseille back to the Champions League and united the hard-to-please fans behind him, coach Jorge Sampaoli left the team's preseason preparations in tatters when he quit on Friday.
After Marseille announced his departure, Sampaoli claimed his objectives were not met by the club — even though there was seemingly no bitterness between him and club president Pablo Longoria. It seemed to be simply a matter of principle since Sampaoli didn't even ask for compensation.
“He renounced (payment) on his three contracts. He arrived and left as a gentleman," Longoria said. “Marseille is an unstable club by nature. The team needs to build a project around a coach.”
Sampaoli's exit bears similarities to Marcelo Bielsa's sudden resignation at the start of the 2015-16 season.
Longoria added the club has candidates in mind and hopes the chosen one will arrive at the end of this week. Training starts on Monday, and the players will miss Sampaoli when it does.
He was popular with the club's demanding fans, and qualified the 1993 Champions League winner automatically by leading Marseille to second in the French league behind Paris Saint-Germain.
The 62-year-old Argentine demanded a strong summer recruitment drive from Longoria and reportedly was unhappy with a lack of signings so far.
“My tempo and my objectives are not the same as the directors. There's no harm in striving for different things,” Sampaoli wrote on his Instagram page. “What's important is to seek excellence and to want what's best for Marseille.”
But Longoria argued that the club, which is owned by American businessman and former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, does not lack ambition.
“Everyone has the same ambitions, it's the timescale for winning that differs,” Longoria said at a hastily arranged news conference. “The transfer market is like Christmas presents, everyone's waiting for their gift. I don't think it's a lack of ambition.”
Marseille announced Sampaoli's departure in a statement and called it a “mutual decision."
The club praised him, saying “he invested himself fully in putting into place a style of play and a fighting spirit which corresponded to Marseille.”
Sampaoli took over from Andre Villas-Boas midway through the 2020-21 campaign, and the former Argentina coach quickly turned around the club's fortunes.
The team's work rate rose sharply as attitudes improved, and he started to get the best again out of veteran playmaker Dimitri Payet.
Marseille's 67,000-seat Stade Velodrome has a passionate atmosphere that varies from huge devotion to open hostility, and Sampaoli said he will never forget it.
“Marseille is a passion. Every time I entered the Velodrome my heart was beating at top speed,” he said. "Last season was incredible. Coaching this club was a pleasure for me. I was very happy ... Thanks to the fans because, without you, nothing has meaning."
Longoria paid tribute to him.
“I would like to thank Jorge for the moments we experienced together,” he said. “He arrived at a difficult time and carried himself in an honest and professional way until the end.”
Although there were irreparable divides, it was never personal between them and Longoria showed him respect.
“There were frictions that were professional not personal. I read what he said in his statement, there was a lot of emotion,” Longoria said. “It wasn't easy to part ways with a good coach and a good person.”
He urged Marseille's fans to show patience during a “slow” transfer window, although they are not renowned for patience.
“With the Champions League, the ticket receipts will go up. That allows us to keep important players in the squad,” he said. “It will be a strategic transfer window. We want to improve the squad's level, we want to be more competitive.”
There was one bright spot on a sad day for Marseille fans.
France midfielder Matteo Guendouzi signed permanently. He was loaned by Arsenal last season and Marseille took up the option to buy him for 11 million euros ($11.4 million).
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Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press