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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Bielsa to coach Olympique Marseille from next season

Marcelo Bielsa gestures during a match against Real Madrid.

MARSEILLE, France — French club Olympique Marseille said yesterday it has reached an agreement to sign Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa on a two-year deal.

Marseille was the runner-up in the French league last season but currently sits in sixth place, missing out on a Champions League spot despite replacing coach Elie Baup in December with sporting director José Anigo.

The club said Bielsa will come back to Marseille to sign his contract at the end of the season.

“I’m a big fan of Argentine soccer in general and of Marcelo Bielsa in particular,” Marseille president Vincent Labrune told RMC radio. “We got in touch with very few coaches. I believe it’s a great chance for Marseille to have Marcelo Bielsa with us.”

Bielsa led Argentina to the Olympic title and to a runner-up finish in the Copa América in 2004. He also helped Chile qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

At club level, Bielsa guided Newell’s Old Boys to the 1991 Argentine league title and Athletic Bilbao to a runner-up finish in the 2012 Europa League.

“We hope to turn a corner with Marcelo,” Labrune said. “It’s going to be a cultural revolution but also a structural one. I think it’s a necessary step to help Marseille deal with a new economic environment and especially new rivals.”

Marseille won the French league title in 2010 but has struggled this season to compete with Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco, both backed by billionaire owners.

BILBAO RETURNS TO CL. Athletic Bilbao secured its return to the Champions League next season by winning 3-0 at Rayo Vallecano yesterday to lock up a fourth-place finish in the Spanish league.

With Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona destined to take the top three spots, Bilbao fended off Sevilla’s late surge to seal its return to Europe’s top-tier competition for the first time since the 1998-99 season. The Basque side qualified for the playoff round to reach the group phase. “When I think back on how difficult this year has been, on how much we have won and lost, and to see this now, we have to enjoy it,” Bilbao defender Mikel San José said while his teammates celebrated with a large group of their travelling fans.

Bilbao’s quest of reaching the Champions League was led by coach Ernesto Valverde, a former player who returned to coach the club a second time this summer after the exit of Bielsa.

The kickoff was 15 minutes late to let the Vallecas Stadium grounds crew clean up a large amount of paper bits Rayo’s home fans threw onto the pitch while festively celebrating before the game.

The game was briefly stopped a second time after a barrier collapse in front of a section of Bilbao supporters following their team’s second goal. TV images showed one man with what appeared to be a cut on his head. Another man needed to be carried off the pitch while he held his foot.

AP

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