Mario Zatelli, who won the French championship as both a player and coach of Olympique de Marseille, died yesterday on the French Riviera at the age of 91 following a heart attack.
In a period spanning five decades, this colourful character was inextricably linked to French football, be it as a striker of considerable talent or a coach with the Midas touch. The son of a Roman publican, Zatelli was born in Setif, Algeria on 21 December 1912 but migrated to Morocco with his family in the early 1930s. His playing days began in Casablanca with US Marocaine, where he caught the eye of Marseille scouts.
Zatelli joined the southern French club in 1935 and two years later was part of the OM side that claimed Le Championnat. More silverware followed in 1938 as Marseille lifted the French Cup and in 1939 the striker was called up by France for a 22 January fixture against Poland. Despite scoring the final goal in a 4-0 victory for Les Bleus, it proved to be Zatelli's only international appearance.
By the time of his France call-up Zatelli had moved to the capital to play for RC Paris where he stayed for a season before heading south once more to Toulouse FC. Zatelli won another championship in 1943 before the second world war forced the suspension of football in France. When peace was restored, the forward returned to OM where he ended his playing days with a third league crown in 1948.
Zatelli was determined to remain in the game, though, and after obtaining his coaching certificate took charge of OGC Nice. The appointment proved a masterstroke as he guided the Eaglets to successive French titles in 1951 and 1952, when they also captured the French Cup. Zatelli reached the final of the knockout competition with his second club, AS Nancy-Lorraine, but his heart belonged at Marseille.
In 1963, his old club came calling and he was named coach. "I would have trained the youth team if it meant coming back to Marseille," said Zatelli. His long reign was a turbulent one, as chairman Marcel Leclerc hired and fired him three times until 1973 when the coach's patience finally waned and he retired from football. The Zatelli years were a glorious chapter in Marseille history, however, as he took the club back into the top flight and won numerous honours.
The signings of the Swede Roger Magnusson and Yugoslavian Josip Skoblar proved instrumental to that success as the striking duo galvanised the side. Marseille won the cup in 1969, the league in 1971 and in 1972 achieved their first double. Skoblar ended that latter season with 44 goals in 36 league games - a record which stands to this day.
The funeral of Mario Zatelli will take place at 10.00CET next Monday in Sainte-Maxime, the town where the esteemed player and coach retired.
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