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Referee stops Ligue 1 game for removal of homophobic banners

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For the third time in two weeks, a high-level league game was temporarily stopped due to homophobic abuse occurring inside the stadium.

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Wednesday’s Ligue 1 game between home side Nice and visitors Marseille was stopped by referee Clement Turpin in the 28th minute for the removal of homophobic banners displayed by Nice’s fans, along with reports of homophobic chanting. The stoppage lasted 10 minutes.

According to writer and broadcaster Tom Williams, the banner and/or chants were aimed at British chemical company INEOS, the club’s new owners led by British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe who completed their purchase of Nice on Monday.

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It’s the second such (high-level) incident to have occurred in France after French referee Mehdi Mokhtari stopped a Ligue 2 game between Nancy and Le Mans due to homophobic chanting, and the second such instance this week after Brazilian referee Anderson Daronco stopped the first-division game between Vasco da Gama and Sao Paulo for homophobic chanting.

French football officials have presumably made it abundantly clear to the country’s referees that eradicating homophobic abuse — along with racist abuse, perhaps — is a high priority. Mokhtari and Turpin wasted no time in halting their respective fixtures, which could prove the most effective method for putting an end to various types of abuse, at least inside stadiums.

Transfer Roundup: Benedetto, Cahill and more

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Outside of Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille might now have the best attacking trio in all of France.

Olympique Marseille on Monday announced the signing of Argentine striker Dario Benedetto on a four-year contract. The 29-year-old striker has had a long and storied career throughout the Americas. From his upbringing with small Argentine clubs like Arsenal di Sarandi, he made his first big move moving to Northern Mexico to play for Club Tijuana.

Benedetto was an instant sensation, scoring a hat-trick in his first game and eventually earning the interest of Mexican giant Club America. While Benedetto never truly lived up to his potential in Mexico City, he earned a move to Boca Juniors, where he won three Superliga titles and led Boca to the Copa Libertadores final against rivals River Plate.

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He also scored 21 goals in his first season, though his hard-as-nails mentality (which matches his tattoos) has earned him a fair share of injuries. That being said, playing up top in Marseille in-between former West Ham winger Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin could prove to result in double-digit goals for the Argentine. He’s also playing for Andre Villas-Boas, a coach with plenty of experience in England and abroad. It will be up to Villas-Boas to get the best out of Benedetto in Ligue 1 this year. Unfortunately for Benedetto, at least this year, he won’t be playing in Europe. Marseille’s fifth-place finish, coupled with Rennes and Strausbourg winning the cup competitions, meant Marseille missed out on even the Europa League.

Here are more transfer stories from around Europe and the Premier League:


Report: Cahill signs with Crystal Palace

For the first time since 2012, Gary Cahill has a new home. Luckily for Cahill, he didn’t have to move very far to find his new club.

According to the BBC, Cahill has signed a contract with Crystal Palace, after London neighbors Chelsea released Cahill at the end of the 2018-2019 season. The 33-year-old centerback was a standout starter for Chelsea until Maurizio Sarri arrived at Stamford Bridge. Cahill, older and unable to keep up with Sarri’s high-pressing style to play a high line defensively, only made two Premier League appearances and eight across all competitions for Chelsea last season.

With Crystal Palace, Cahill could potentially step into a starting role alongside either James Tompkins, Scott Dann, or Martin Kelly. Or, he could be available for a late-game insertion to hold onto a tight lead as Crystal Palace hunts to get over the 40-point mark yet again.

West Ham: Chicharito plus $45M to Marseille for World Cup winner?

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Florian Thauvin left the Premier League a transfer bust, and may be returning for a lot more money as a World Cup champion.

Thauvin, 26, is being linked with a move to West Ham United for $45 million and the services of Mexican national team star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.

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Newcastle boss Steve McClaren couldn’t coax a single goal out of Thauvin in 2015-16, and he was quickly back at Marseille.

He then scored 15, 26, and 15 goals over the next three seasons, breaking into the French national team and playing a single minute in France’s World Cup victory. Here’s the thing, though: you can’t prove they would’ve won it without that minute.

Hernandez has scored 15 Premier League goals in the two seasons since he arrived from a Bundesliga run with Bayer Leverkusen. He’s earned just two of his 108 caps since the 2018 World Cup, scoring against Paraguay after a sub’s turn versus Chile in March 2019.

Good deal for the Irons? Marseille probably likes what it sees from its end.

Marseille hires Andre Villas-Boas as coach

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MARSEILLE, France (AP) French club Marseille has hired Andre Villas-Boas as coach, hoping he can turn the former European champion into a contender again.

The 1993 European Cup-winning club, which is owned by former Los Angeles Dodger owner Frank McCourt, says Villas-Boas has signed a two-year contract.

The 41-year-old Portuguese previously coached Chelsea, Tottenham, Zenit St. Petersburg and Shanghai SIPG.

Villas-Boas takes over a team which last won the French league in 2010. A fifth-place finish this season meant Marseille failed to qualify for European competitions.

Marseille was the Europa League runner-up a year ago but failed to advance from the group stage this season under coach Rudi Garcia.

Marseille’s ‘Champions Project’ in tatters

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PARIS (AP) Ridiculous Project.

Arrogant Project.

Fiasco Project.

Deficient Project.

Defeat Project.

These were some of the slogans displayed by Marseille fans last weekend at Stade Velodrome, mocking the “Champions Project” plan of American owner Frank McCourt, who aimed to return the club back to the summit of French soccer and among the European elite.

[ MORE: Sarri’s job in jeopardy? ]

Instead, in front of those poster-holding fans, former European champion Marseille was humiliated by Lyon 3-0 at home.

Ahead of the trip to Toulouse on Saturday, Marseille is seven points behind fourth-placed Saint-Etienne. With only two rounds left in Ligue 1, it means the club won’t even qualify for the Europa League.

Two and a half years after McCourt took over, the southern side has not lived up to expectations, and coach Rudi Garcia’s future is hanging in the balance after he failed to find the right balance in a squad featuring some brilliant individuals.

Marseille, which made it to the 2018 Europa League final but earned only one point in the group stage this season, has 13 defeats in 36 matches in the French league, has conceded 50 goals – its worst total in more than 30 years – and lost all of its matchups against the top three teams.

Constant tinkering with the lineup – Garcia fielded 41 different starting XIs in 44 matches in all competitions – to find a winning combo contributed to Marseille going backward, in sharp contrast to the club’s motto of “Straight to Goal.”

“There is no point looking for excuses,” World Cup winner Florian Thauvin said last month after a loss in Bordeaux. “We should stop fooling ourselves. We did not make a good season. And even if we qualified for the Champions League, what could we achieve? Every year it’s the same thing. We don’t win the games we need, we make too many mistakes.”

Marseille Ultras supporters, who play a major role in the running of the club, have had enough, too, and are asking for Garcia’s firing. They are also unhappy with club president Jacques Henri Eyraud, who appointed the coach when McCourt, the former Los Angeles Dodgers owner, launched his project of making Marseille great again, then extended Garcia’s deal to 2021.

“It’s one of the most difficult seasons of my career,” says Garcia, who seems under no illusion his time is up at the club. “But it’s part of my experience, and I’m sure I will use it in the future.”

Upon arrival at the buoyant Mediterranean city, McCourt pledged to revive Marseille by investing 200 million euros ($210 million) over four years. Large amounts of cash have been spent on Mario Balotelli, Valere Germain, and Brazil midfielder Luiz Gustavo. Marseille’s squad also features Lucas Ocampos, Kevin Strootman, Dimitri Payet, and Florian Thauvin, but Garcia has failed to make them gel as a team.

Thauvin has appeared unconcerned in recent weeks, and has not scored in the league in more than two months. He has repeatedly said his main goal in club football is to play the Champions League and appears bound for a transfer this summer.

Balotelli is not expected to stay either, but Marseille could struggle to find credible replacements as it remains closely monitored by UEFA in regard to financial fair play rules, and might not be allowed to spend as much as it wants.

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