AP Source: Marseille fires coach Gennaro Gattuso

Marseille's head coach Gennaro Gattuso reacts during a warm up before the French League One soccer match between Marseille and Metz at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (Daniel Cole/AP Photo)

BRUSSELS — Marseille coach Gennaro Gattuso has been fired by the French league club after less than five months in charge, a person with direct knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Monday.

Gattuso, whose contract was due to expire at the end of the season, was relieved of his coaching duties a day after Marseille lost 1-0 to 10-man Brest in the league, a result that dented the club’s hopes of qualifying for a European competition next season.

Marseille and Gattuso have started a legal proceeding to part ways and the club is actively looking for a replacement, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Gattuso’s departure has not been announced by the club.

Marseille is ninth in the standings after 22 matches, trailing leader Paris Saint-Germain by 23 points. It has failed to win any of its five league games this year.

Since American owner Frank McCourt bought Marseille in 2016, the former powerhouse of French soccer has failed to find any form of stability, with a succession of coaches and crises that sometimes turned violent. The club has changed coach 30 times since the beginning of the century, the highest total of any topflight club in France over the period.

Marseille needs to bounce back quickly to say in contention on the European stage this season. The nine-time French champions take on Shakhtar Donetsk on Thursday at the Stade Vélodrome in the second leg of their Europa League knockout round playoff. The teams drew 2-2 in the first leg.

Gattuso, the former AC Milan and Italy midfielder, was hired as coach in September. He replaced Spanish coach Marcelino, who stood down after just a handful of games amid tensions between management and supporters.

Gattuso had apologized to Marseille fans for the dismal display against Brest on Sunday.

“I’m the one calling the shots, and I’m not one to run away,” he said through a translator. “But in soccer, in sport, if you don’t have a soul, it’s difficult. I don’t think we have any soul at the moment. We hit rock bottom tonight.”

Marseille dominated French soccer in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is the only French team to win the Champions League, back in 1993. But it hasn’t won the domestic league since 2010, while PSG has finished first nine times in the last 11 years to set a French record with 11 titles.

After a difficult start in Marseille, Gattuso ditched his plans of playing with a four-man defense and switched to a more flexible three-man back line with greater scope for wide players. The change in strategy paid dividends and Marseille enjoyed a good spell in December that was crowned by four consecutive league wins.

But the upturn did not last as Marseille followed that up with a six-match winless run in the league, losing two of its last three games.

Gattuso previously coached Milan, Napoli and most recently Spanish club Valencia. As a player, Gattuso won the World Cup with Italy in 2006 and two league titles and two Champions League trophies with AC Milan, where he played 468 games and scored 11 goals. His only goal in 73 appearances for Italy was a fierce 25-meter strike against England in a 1-0 win in November 2000.

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