Boli, bribes and big-eared trophies: the story of Marseilles' corrupt Champions League win

Didier Deschamps lifts Marseilles' first ever Champions League trophy; but their route to the final is littered with controversy. 

Mark Hateley was a superb centre-forward. A proper, old-fashioned centre-forward. One of those rare English beasts who travel to warmer climes and improved their game immeasurably. From Michigan through Milan and in to Monaco; he travelled the leagues, and helped himself to 32 England caps along the way. But it was at Rangers where he played his best football. Forming a deadly partnership with Ally McCoist, he scored a total of 111 goals in 214 games for the Scottish club; in turn leading them to 5 consecutive SPL titles and a Champions League semi-final.

That aforementioned semi-final was against Olympique Marseille: the most successful club-side in French football history; and at the time, the winner of four consecutive Ligue 1 titles. A rising power in the European game under the flamboyant leadership of chairman, Bernard Tapie. He was the self-made millionaire who had made his fortune by buying up bankrupt companies, Tapie had taken over Olympique Marseilles in 1987. Under his stewardship they became a force to be reckoned with. At home Marseilles, the people's club, successfully took on the wealth of Arsène Wenger's Monaco. Next on Tapie's horizon was Europe.

1993 was a strange time for the European Cup. The tournament had just been re-vamped as the Champions League, and with the break-up of the USSR, new teams from brand new nations were allowed to enter for the very first time; teams like Tavriya Simferopol of Ukraine, Olimpija Ljubljana of Slovenia and Latvia's Skonto. 32 teams in all contested a first round. Naturally, this was cut in half for the second round, and finally, the remaining eight teams were split into two groups of four, with the winner of each group going on to reach the final.  

In Marseilles' group along with Rangers, were Club Brugge and CSKA Moscow. Much like today's Champions League group stage, each team played the other three home and away. The first time Rangers and Marseille met, the scores were level; that man Hateley with a late equaliser to make the score 2-2. The two sides then continued to match each other's scores: Rangers two wins and a draw, Marseille two wins and a draw. They met again in a decider on 7th April. And this is where the corruption begins in OM's Champions League-winning story.

If Mark Hateley is to be believed, a senior source at the French club rang the centre-forward three weeks before the all-important game and offered him "large sums of money" not to play. As it was, Hateley was sent-off in the previous group game against Club Brugge, which meant he was banned for the trip to France anyway. That sending-off however was described in The Independent at the time as "extremely harsh", leading many to assume that the referee had perhaps received a phone-call as well.

Marseille vs Rangers, round two, was a cagey affair. Marseille went 1-0 up within 20 minutes; Franck Suazee with the goal. But Rangers pegged back after half-time, and the game finished 1-1. The group decider had ended in stalemate. Next up for Marseille were Club Brugge; a win their would see Marseille go through on goal-difference.

"L'affaire OM" as it would become known, eventually saw Tapie convicted of fixing a French league game. But despite a series of allegations in the years that followed their European triumph - Basile Boli with the winner in the final, a 1-0 win over Milan - Marseille still remain on UEFA's roll of honour as France's sole European champions.

Their path to the final still remains littered with doubt. CSKA Moscow were beaten 6-0 in one group game amid allegations of spiked drinks and overwhelmingly biased refereeing. The final group game, a 1-0 win over Club Brugge, formed part of the French Prosecutions case that finally got Tapie sentenced. All this, along with Hateley's current revelations, add weight to the claim that Marseille should be stripped of their one and only European title. 

The perverse truth though is that OM were a formidable side in their own right: Marcel Desailly and Basile Boli at the back, Didier Deschamps in midfield and a front three of Rudi Voller, Alan Boksic and Abedi Pele; it was no wonder they'd dominated domestically for so long. But Tapie was determined not to leave his dream of continental glory to chance.

It was not long after that famous victory over Milan that rumours of financial irregularity began to surface. It wasn't, however, until two years later in 1995 that Tapie finally faced trial along with Jean Pierre Bernès, Marseilles' director general under Tapie, and three players, Jean-Jacques Eydelie of Marseilles and two from Valenciennes, Christophe Robert and Jorge Burruchaga, a World Cup winner with Argentina in 1986.

Six days before that European Cup final, Marseille were due to play Valenciennes in a league match that would all but mathematically win them their fifth consecutive title. Valenciennes were, at the time, struggling in the league and really were no match for OM. Tapie however didn't want the players over-exerting themselves before the biggest game in the club's history, so Eydelie was ordered to approach the opposition with a deal. The decision was made during a party on Tapie's yacht, Phocea, four days before the Valenciennes fixture. Eydelie described what happened in his book, published in 2006 and over which Tapie unsuccessfully tried to sue him.

"Bernard Tapie said to us, 'It is imperative that you get in touch with your former Nantes team-mates at Valenciennes [there were two of them including Jorge Burruchaga]. We don't want them acting like idiots and breaking us before the final with Milan. Do you know them well?"
On the eve of the game, which Marseille won 1-0, Eydelie handed over an envelope containing 250,000francs to Burruchaga's wife; later, as the scandal broke, French police discovered the envelope buried in Burrachaga's garden.

Eydelie was eventually found guilty, fined and received a suspended prison sentence, but the affair went much further than a single French league game. Bernes, Marseilles' director, was also found guilty, and was to testify at regular attempts to buy opponents and referees both at home and abroad. In 1997 Tapie and a number of others faced a second trial at which he was accused of embezzling over £10m of the club's funds. Prosecutors picked out three games, against AEK Athens in 1989, CSKA Moscow in 1991, and that Bruges fixture. But nothing has stuck when it comes to Marseilles' European exploits.

Marseille were stripped of their 1992/93 Ligue 1 title. But have not, as yet, been stripped of their Champions League title of the same season; even after two of the games were used as evidence of proof that Tapie had influenced the outcome of the games. Why is this case? Only UEFA know.

How OM won it

1992/3 was the first Champions League. After two knock-out rounds the remaining eight sides were split into two groups, with the winner of each qualifying for the final. Here are the key games in Marseilles advance to the final against Milan:

Rangers 2-2 Marseilles
Hateley scores equaliser as Rangers rally from two down.

Marseilles 6-0 CSKA Moscow
There were later claims of attempts to spike the players' drinks and bribe the referee

Rangers 2-1 Club Bruges
Rangers win but Hateley is sent off and so is banned for Marseilles game

Marseilles 1-1 Rangers
Durrant wins a point to keep Rangers in with a chance.

Club Bruges 0-1 Marseilles
The game that formed part of the French prosecution of Tapie. Boksic scores after two minutes and that seals their progress to the final.


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