Marseille’s team was built for European domination, so why cheat?

The Marseille squad of 1992/93 was laden with star quality; Fabian Barthez in goal, Basile Boli and Marcel Desailly in the heart of the defence; a midfield consisting of Didier Deschamps, Dragan Stojkovic and Abedi Pele; a forward line of Alen Boksic and Rudi Voller. 

It was without doubt a world-class team. Having come so close to winning the European Cup in 1991, hopes were high for the talented team that they could go one better.

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Manager Raymond Goethals had been building a team to go one better than the runner-ups in 1991. They were also competing in the French Ligue 1, which was turning into a three-way battle between current champions Marseille, Paris St Germain and AS Monaco. But in the UEFA Champions League – the newly named European Cup – Marseille were beginning to make progress confidently through the tournament.

They comfortably beat Northern Irish team Glentoran 8-0 over two legs in the first round. Beating them 5-0 in Northern Ireland, making the second-leg a formality. Goals from Oman-Biyik, Adebi Pele and Basel Boli scoring, securing a 3-0 win. This was followed up with a 2-0 win against Dinamo Bucuresti of Romania. Having secured a scoreless draw in Bucuresti, they produced a professional performance at home, Boksic scoring both goals.

The teams then split into two groups of four playing each other twice with the top team from each group advancing to the final. Marseille found themselves pitched against CSKA Moscow, Club Brugge and Glasgow Rangers.

Marseille topped the group, beating CSKA Moscow twice, Club Brugge once and three draws, two of them against Scottish club Glasgow Rangers.  The games against Rangers, both being tight affairs. The first game in the group had seen Marseille take a two-goal lead, with Alen Boksic and German Rudi Voller scoring. But Rangers fought back to force a draw, Mark Hateley scoring in the 82nd minute to draw the teams level.

Marseille home match against CSKA Moscow was an excellent result for the French team, as they ran out 6-0 winners. Frank Sauzee scoring a hat-trick. Sauzee scored five goals in the group stages, which was an excellent return from midfield.

The Rangers return match at the Stade Velodrome, was once again a close game. Sauzee again opened the scoring in the 18thminute, only for Ian Durrant to equalise on 52 minutes. The final match in the group saw Marseille away to Club Brugge. Marseille needed to win the get through to the final, knowing Rangers were breathing down their necks. An early goal from Boksic in the 2nd minute got the French club off to a great start. Marseille managed to hold off Brugge and despite not doubling their lead, came away with the 1-0 win.

The French club just piped the Scottish team by one point, they had made it to their second European final in three years.

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UEFA Champions League Final

They would be up against AC Milan, who had won all six of their group matches. This was a Milan team full of world-class players; Italian superstars and club captain Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini in defence; the Dutch international Frank Rijkaard and another Italian Roberto Donadoni in midfield with the world class Dutchman Marco Van Basten up top. They also had ex-Marseille striker Jean Pierre Papin, who had had an excellent season for the Italian team.

Milan were one of the greatest teams in Europe at the time, the team had a plethora of talent throughout the squad. They had already secured the Italian Serie A over rivals Inter, winning the league for the second year running.

It would be a real test for the French club with Milan clear favourites.

With the French league going down to the wire, Marseille had a difficult run in. They had to face Valenciennes and Paris Saint-Germain in their final two matches. With only one win needed to become league champions. And this was then going to be followed by AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League.

It was at this point that things began to unravel for the French club. Worried that Valenciennes would give them a tough game, the Marseille board asked the players if they knew anyone at Valenciennes that they could speak to. The idea, to get them to take it easy on the team, ensuring Marseille could be crowned champions. They would then have more time to prepare for the final against Milan, as the final league match then, against title contenders PSG would have no bearing. As it turned out, midfielder Jean Jacques Eydelie knew three players from his Nantes days.

In Eydelie’s book he says,

“Bernard Tapie said to us, ‘It is imperative that you get in touch with your former Nantes team mates at Valenciennes, we don’t want them acting like idiots and breaking us before the final with Milan. Do you know them well?”

Marseille won the game 1-0 and were crowned the Ligue 1 champions. The supporters embraced, but it was the European match that all the Marseille fans were waiting for. The chance to put the disappointment of losing the 1991 European Cup final behind them.

64,400 people packed into the Olympiastadion in Germany. Could the French club pull off a shock win and bring the trophy back to France? The game kicked off to a crescendo of noise. Both teams started timidly, but as the first-half wore on it was Milan with the better chances. Fabian Barthez was in fine form in the Marseille goal. Marco Van Basten had a great chance to score but Barthez managed to throw out a left hand and stop the shot. Then Abedi Pele drove into the Milan area, forcing a corner. Pele whipped in the corner. Basil Boli rose on the edge of the six-yard box beating Rijkaard in the air, to head home. Marseille had taken the lead two minutes before half-time. Milan continued to pepper the Marseille goal in the second-half, bringing on ex-Marseille legend Jean Pierre Papin, but it was to little avail. Chance after chance went begging for Milan, but the French club held on.

At the final whistle, sheer ecstasy for the Marseille supporters. The players, some looking up to the heavens, some collapsing on the floor. Finally they had done it and become the first French team to win the UEFA Champions League.

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Bribes and Scandal

No sooner had the team lifted the European trophy, that reports of bribery and scandal were being rumoured.  Reports had surfaced that Marseille had bribed a team in the French league. President Bernard Tapie vigorously denied the allegations, however, as more evidence appeared, the reality was dawning on the football world. Tapie had continued to deny he had anything to do with the scandal, blaming others for the controversy.

Tapie was quoted as saying,

“I’m sickened, it’s a lynching, and there’s not the slightest proof of guilt”

But it was short-lived. The Marseille president was very much involved as it turned out. It was Tapie who had instructed general manager Jean Pierre Bernes to set up a deal.

Bernes allegedly spoke to three of the Valenciennes players over the phone to offer them money to lose the match. The three players in question were Jorge Burruchaga, Christophe Robert and Jacques Glassman – a strange decision, as Marseille had more than enough class to win the game comfortably.

The Marseille fans continued to believe their team was innocent. the supporters spokesman said

“We are convinced Marseille are innocent, what interest would we have in bribing a small team like Valenciennes?”

Before the game in question, Eydelie had handed over an envelope of cash to one of the players’ wives. The envelope contained 250,000 francs. Of the three players involved, Robert had taken the money, Burruchaga had acted positively but had not received any cash, but Glassman was the one who blew the whistle and informed the Valenciennes hierarchy.

Robert, on talking to the police did admit finally to taking the money and hiding it in his auntie’s garden, which is where the police later found it. Robert stated he had hid the money in the garden and buried it as he felt the money stank so threw it in a hole.

With the envelopes and paper clips matching those in the Marseille office, the net was beginning to close. Both Burruchaga and Robert had both been charged, with the noose tightening around the neck of Bernes.  Tapie was still protected by the scandal. It was not until 1995 that he was finally caught. Bernes after years off denying any wrongdoing, finally admitted his involvement and that Tapie had ordered the corruption from his boat in Marseille.

Tapie was found guilty, and was jailed for 24 months but with 16 suspended. General manager Jean Pierre Bernes was handed a 18-month suspended sentence. Burruchaga and Robert were both given suspended six months sentences, with Eydelie a one-year suspended sentence for his part in the role.

Marseille were stripped of the Ligue 1 title, although they were not relegated to Ligue 2 until 1994 due to the scandal. They were also banned from defending their Champions League title. They were allowed to remain as Champion League winners as none of the bribes had been for any European matches. Although, this was despite numerous accusations that followed, with more talks of bribery unfounded.

Marseille were a fantastic team and the need for bribes was never required. It is a case of what might of been for the French team. After the scandal broke and the reality kicked in, the team slowly started to disperse. The talented team that manager Goethals had built was ripped apart, when they should of been competing for more European and domestic trophies.

Unfortunately the Marseille 92/93 team is only known for the bribes and the scandal. When in truth all the talk should of been about the team that had been assembled about to take Europe by storm.