Bernard Tapie was a charismatic and controversial figure
French businessman Bernard Tapie, who died on Sunday aged 78, was the charismatic driving force behind Marseille’s victory in Europe’s premier club football competition in 1993.
But his trophy-laden reign as president of the club culminated in a match-fixing scandal that stained his reputation.
When Basile Boli leaped to head in the goal that beat AC Milan on a balmy night in Munich 28 years ago, French football finally had the European crown it craved.
Overcome with emotion, Tapie hugged the club’s veteran Belgian coach Raymond Goethals as a team including the current France coach Didier Deschamps, German striker Rudi Voeller and Ghana star Abedi Pele celebrated.
Despite the huge injection of Qatari funds pumped into Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille remain the only French team to win what is now called the Champions League.
Marseille also won the French championship four times while Tapie was president, meaning he will forever be adored by the football-mad southern port city — and by the players who played for him.
“RIP Bernard Tapie what a man. Legend,” Chris Waddle, the English winger who had left the club a year before the European Cup win, tweeted on Sunday.
“When (Tapie) came into the changing room, we just had to win,” recalled Jocelyn Angloma, who was a defender in the 1993 team.
“He had so much confidence and he transmitted it to us. He always told us we were the best.”
Yet Tapie’s reign ended in shame and in the biggest scandal in the history of French football.
Just days after the glory in Munich, accusations emerged that Marseille had tried to bribe Valenciennes, their lowly northern opponents in a match before that European final, to ensure Marseille’s players were given an easy ride.
The principal piece of evidence was 250,000 francs, worth roughly 55,000 euros or $64,000 today, found buried in the garden of the aunt of Valenciennes player Christophe Robert.
Then it emerged Tapie had paid a visit to the prosecutor of Valenciennes for what he called “a courtesy visit”.
After a year and a half of claims, counter-claims and an investigation played out across the front pages of newspapers, Tapie was found guilty of “complicity in corruption” and given a two-year jail sentence, of which just one year was suspended.
The sentence was eventually reduced on appeal and Tapie served 165 days behind bars.
The accusations kept coming. In 1995, Marseille director Jean-Pierre Bernes admitted there had been a fund of as much as six million francs to buy off referees as well as opposition players and coaches.
On Sunday, as they digested news of his death following a long battle with cancer, Marseille supporters focused on the glory Tapie brought to the club.
“He owes everything to Marseille and Marseille owes him a lot too,” Didier Bertrand, 57, a fan sitting at a cafe in the city’s Vieux Port area.
At the club’s Stade Velodrome, meanwhile, Marseille slumped to a 2-0 loss to reigning champions Lille.
“All the players had heard the news but we didn’t talk about it, we just talked about the game plan we had to put in place,” said coach Jorge Sampaoli.