By John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) - Frank McCourt, former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, said on Monday he had entered exclusive negotiations to buy Olympique de Marseille and vowed to restore the club to their former glories.
Billionaire businesswoman Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, the Russian-born chairwoman of Louis Dreyfus Commodities trading house, said in April she was looking for a buyer for the Ligue 1 side.
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"Margarita and I just executed a contract for us to buy OM, the greatest football club in the French league and one of the best in the world," McCourt told a news conference alongside Louis-Dreyfus and Marseille mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin.
"I'm very excited about making Marseille a champion again,"
The deal is due to be completed by the end of the year, the two parties said. RMC Sport reported that the club had been sold for 40 million euros ($44.68 million).
Declining to give details on the sale, McCourt, who described himself as "very wealthy", told French sports newspaper L'Equipe he had bought the club as a long-term personal project and not to re-sell it like an investment fund.
"Football is becoming the most visible sport in the world. We see it through the World Cup, the (English) Premier League, which has created a fantastic business model," McCourt said.
"I think the future of French football can be excellent. I'm very optimistic on this."
Louis-Dreyfus took control of Marseille after the death of her husband Robert in 2009 but despite investing tens of millions of euros in recent years they have struggled and finished 13th in Ligue 1 last season.
She said she would keep five percent of the club as part of the deal.
BIGGEST FAN BASE
Marseille, who have French soccer's biggest fan base, won the last of their nine league titles in 2010.
While Qatari investors have bought arch-rivals Paris St Germain and Russian and Chinese investors have ploughed funds into Nice, Monaco and Olympique Lyonnais, OM have failed to attract top players and financial investment to take the club forward.
McCourt, who sold the Dodgers in 2012 for $2 billion, said he aimed to bring his experience in sport ownership to turn OM's fortunes around.
"We have a project we will build together," he added. "We will build a championship caliber team that can compete year-in and year-out for the championship."
($1 = 0.8953 euros)
(Editing by Andrew Callus and Ed Osmond)