Marseille coach Eric Gerets dropped a bombshell on Tuesday as he told his title-leading players he would be quitting the club at the end of the season.
The Belgian coach - whose contract terminates at the end of June - has been at the club since September 2007 and has turned them into title contenders after years of failing to challenge seven-time champions Lyon.
Gerets, who turns 55 in May, told French radio station RTL that he felt he had no option but to quit since Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the largest shareholder in the club, to his mind had criticised him in an interview with L'Equipe in January.
"I believe that my record at the club hasn't been too bad up to now," said Gerets, who as a coach has won two Belgian, two Dutch championships and a Turkish league title. "Certain people seem to forget that in my first season with the club I took them to third place in the league, they having finished 18th in the previous campaign.
"However, this season after December we oscillated between third and fifth place, and then Robert Louis-Dreyfus gave this interview. He felt obliged to attack me, and I certainly took it as a personal attack, and he certainly forgot my record with the club.
"He had his doubts he said. Someone who said that you must finish second in the title race, is a doubter and myself personally I did not understand," added Gerets, who as a player won the then European Cup in 1988 with PSV Eindhoven.
On Monday the straight-talking Belgian - capped 86 times - had to deny he was not going to replace Jurgen Klinsmann after he was sacked from the Bayern Munich post. Indeed Gerets refused to discuss his future - it has been claimed he is in advanced talks with Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal and it was this that forced his hand in revealing he was stepping down - saying it would prove a distraction for his players from their ambition of landing the title.
Gerets, a player on the Belgian side that reached the 1986 FIFA World Cup™ semi-finals where they lost to eventual champions Argentina, also this month denied he was a candidate to become the next coach of Belgium. By announcing his departure before the end of the season Gerets is following the example set by Jacques Santini, who announced he was standing down as France manager to take over Tottenham before UEFA EURO 2004, affecting moral in the French camp in Portugal.
Marseille - who won the last of their eight titles in 1992 - lead Bordeaux by five points though the latter can reduce it to two should they beat Rennes on Wednesday. Al Hilal - twice winners of the AFC Champions League - are presently coached by another Belgian, former national coach George Leekens.