Andrew Mehrtens: What it's like to play under Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal
Former All Blacks legend Andrew Merhtens has revealed some insight into life as a Toulon player under the guidance of controversial club owner Mourad Boudjellal.The 59-year-old French billionaire has dominated the headlines this week for savaging the performances of star wing Julian Savea, suggesting the former All Black could be sacked with more than a year still to run on his two-season contract following his side’s loss to Agen in the Top 14 last week.
“I’m going to ask for a DNA test. They must have swapped him on the plane [when Savea joined from the Hurricanes last year]. If I were him I would apologise and go back to my home country,” Boudjellal told RMC.
“I’ve told him that he was free to go and wasn’t welcome at Toulon any more.
“When we reach this level of play, we must apologise and leave. I told him he was released and he was no longer welcome in Toulon!”
Savea responded to Boudjellal’s threat on social media by saying that he will continue to train and play for the side for as long as he is contracted to the club, of which was widely supported by friends, family, teammates and fans from around the globe.
That did not stop Boudjellal from doubling down on his comments later in the week, labelling Savea’s behaviour as “unacceptable” in an interview with Le Parisien, before going on to say that the remainder of his contract will be a “very long time”.
Nevertheless, Savea was included in Toulon’s match day squad for their upcoming clash against Pau, with head coach Patrice Collazo describing the situation as a “fake problem”.
Speaking in the wake of the drama to the New Zealand Herald, Mehrtens – who spent a season playing at Toulon after signing for them in 2007 – revealed his experiences with Boudjellal, who took control of the club in 2006, during his time in the south of France.
Mehrtens scored 261 points in 25 matches for the then-Pro D2 club, and played alongside some of the biggest names in world rugby at the time, including George Gregan, Anton Oliver and Victor Matfield.
Boudjellal has since gone on to sign a plethora of other marquee players, such as Sonny Bill Williams, Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Giteau and Felipe Contepomi, with Mehrtens likening him to child playing fantasy football.
“I have no animosity towards him [Boudjellal],” Mehrtens said.
“There are elements about him that are good. He was the son of Algerian immigrants, and I think he had it tough growing up. He comes from a macho culture. I read once he said his wristwatch was so expensive, he ‘had an apartment on my wrist’.
“For Mourad the thrill is like a kid playing in a fantasy football league. He loves signing the big names, the bigger the better. If he went to an agent and said, ‘Get me the best five players in the world,’ and was told, ‘But the best five players are all fullbacks, he might say, ‘Get me all five anyway.'”
Boudjellal did not spend much time with side on a day-to-day basis, but would insist on speaking to the players in the changing rooms before a game if he was upset, Mehrtens said.
“He’d come in and tell us we’re all s***, and that no matter what it cost him, if we didn’t win he’d rip up all our contracts, and we’d never play for another club in France.
“When I was there George Gregan was our halfback, and Mourad became obsessed with the fact George wasn’t scoring tries. George was playing really well, but Mourad seemed to think that because George was a big name, he should also be scoring tries all the time.”
Mehrtens believes that despite all the success he’s brought to Toulon, Boudjellal’s almost dictatorial approach towards operating the club is outdated, with players now having to constantly make on-field decisions for themselves, as opposed to the highly prescriptive approach formerly applied by coaches.
“Mourad tends to operate from a position of negative authority, which doesn’t work for a lot of people.
“He’s done some good things for Toulon, but right from the start he’s been controversial.”
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