Tributes poured in on Sunday for Marseille football club owner Robert Louis-Dreyfus who died after a long battle with leukemia on Saturday at the age of 63.
A statement on the Mediterranean club’s website read: “The death on Saturday of Robert Louis-Dreyfus, majority shareholder of the club since December 1996, has flung the whole Olympique Marseille family into mourning.”
Marseille newspapers said that the French-Swiss billionaire’s death would be a major blow to the club as it strives to restore its fortunes both on the domestic and on the European levels.
World football’s governing body FIFA also paid tribute to the owner of Olympique Marseille and Belgian club Standard Liege, saying his passion extended beyond his financial involvement.
“He actively deployed his thorough and full understanding of the footballing world to help shape the modern game, especially in Marseille,” it said in a statement.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter added: “Our family of football will miss Robert Louis-Dreyfus. He contributed hugely to the game of football, not only with his visionary business sense, but especially with his heart.
“Our thoughts are solely with Robert Louis-Dreyfus? family at this difficult time. I will personally miss Robert enormously.”
“Death of a boss” headlined L’Equipe sports daily while La Provence said that Louis-Dreyfus had been a “monument in the history of OM.”
The head of the French Professional Football League Frederic Thiriez said that his death would be a major blow not just for Marseille but for the whole of French football.
“His love of football and his passion for OM were stronger than anything else,” he said. “He is going to be sorely missed.”
Born in Paris, but naturalised as a Swiss citizen in 1995, Louis-Dreyfus took over the then ailing football giants in 1996 having previously been the director of major sportswear companies Adidas and Salomon and CEO of British-based advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi.
He ploughed some 200 million euros of his own money into the club over a 12-year period but success on the pitch proved elusive as rivals Lyon entered a period of domination on the domestic scene winning seven straight league titles from 2002.
Worse was to follow in June 2006 when he was handed a 10 month suspended prison sentence and fined 200,000 euros for his role in suspect player transfers in the 1990s.
Louis-Dreyfus almost sold his shares in the club the following year, but a proposed deal with Canadian businessman Jack Kachkar fell through at the last moment.
This season Marseille came close to once again winning the French league title but were pipped at the post by Bordeaux and the club was once again flung into turmoil with the departure of Belgian coach Eric Gerets and md club president Pape Diouf.
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