Man behind reported Marseille bid says he's not Saudi intermediary

The man behind a reported bid to buy storied Ligue 1 club Marseille told AFP on Tuesday he was not operating as an intermediary for Saudi Arabia, while the current owner insisted the team are not for sale.

Following reports of a mega Saudi-backed bid to buy the former European champions at the weekend, Marseille president Jacques-Henri Eyraud insisted the club was not for sale.

Contacted by AFP, industrialist Mohamed Ayachi Ajroudi brushed aside links to Saudi Arabia and Eyraud's refusal to sell.

"Everything is for sale," he said.

"The project is moving forwards and we have been preparing for a long time. We haven't just arrived right now."

Ajroudi gave no financial figures and no date of potential purchase.

"Before we make an offer we need to know what state the affairs are in, there will be no blind offer," he said.

This contradicts widely reported figures of a 700 million-euro ($785 million) bid to buy the club by a consortium fronted by Mourad Boudjellal, the high-profile former owner of leading French rugby outfit Toulon, but backed by Saudi investors.

But Ajroudi denied this.

"I am not a Saudi intermediary, this is our idea, with my team," he insisted.

He also said the project was also not about political sportswashing.

"Marseille would be at the heart of a huge humanitarian, social and economic project that would flower at the Velodrome and bring together 500 million Mediterraneans."

Champions League winners in 1993, Marseille have been owned since 2016 by the American tycoon Frank McCourt, formerly the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers in Major League Baseball.

Despite McCourt's investment, Marseille have been unable to close the gap on Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain, who dominate French football.

But a spokeswoman for McCourt later on Tuesday insisted "unequivocally" that he is not in the process of selling the club.

"There is no discussion of any kind whatsoever with Mr. Ajroudi or his partners, contrary to what is reported in the media," she said.

"We are witnessing an attempt to destabilise the club at the precise moment when it is going through its most... successful period since the takeover of Frank McCourt."

Marseille finished second in Ligue 1 last season, which was shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic.

That performance allowed the club with the biggest crowds in the French game to return to the Champions League for the first time since 2013.

However, financial difficulties almost saw coach Andre Villas-Boas leave the club and earlier this month and they were fined three million euros by UEFA for breaching financial fair-play rules.

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