Football: Marseille could be relegated: French authorities check Stade Velodrome books

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MARSEILLE, the European champions currently embroiled in a potentially catastrophic financial crisis, face the possibility of compulsory relegation as French football authorities take a closer look at their books.

Despite an emergency injection of funds by their owner, Bernard Tapie, Marseille have been unable to pay Bordeaux and Metz their share of the gate takings from last month's league games at the Stade Velodrome.

'They are in dire straits,' said Bernard Caiazzo, the president of the company which is in charge of Marseille's sponsorship contracts and in dispute with the club. 'They are absolutely incapable of meeting their commitments.' Marseille's debts have been estimated at between 400m and 500m francs ( pounds 32m- pounds 41m). Tapie claims that Marseille's liabilities have been greatly exaggerated.

A report on Marseille's finances by the Direction Nationale de Controle et de Gestion may be considered by the League as soon as today, the League spokesman, Robert Bureau, said. The DNCG, set up by the football authorities to clean up the often chaotic finances of French professional clubs, has produced hard-hitting reports leading to the enforced relegation of First Division sides Bordeaux, Brest and Toulon in the last two years.

Bordeaux said this week they had not been paid Fr370,000 due for the 18 September match in Marseille and Metz are reportedly also owed money for a league game six days later.

Caiazzo, president of the BC and A agency whose sole client is Marseille, said his company was suing the club for Fr10m for breaking their contract. 'It's written in the contract that Marseille must look after their image and play in the European Cup,' he said. 'But they're not in the European Cup and their president is throwing television cameras into the sea and attacking journalists.'

Two goals by the defender, Jean-Philippe Durand, led Marseille to a 2-1 win over Strasbourg in a home league match played on neutral ground on Wednesday. Marseille, forced to play the game away after a pitch invasion by their fans last month, came from behind at Tours to inflict only Strasbourg's second defeat of the season.