Olympique Marseille: France’s Champions League Best

Paris Saint-Germain are ready for a genuine shot at this season’s Champions League. For a decade, the club have been craving the most prestigious title in club football. Yet to this date, French football only has one European Cup or Champions League winner – Olympique de Marseille.

A Magical Moment for Olympique Marseille

France Conquers Champions League and Rules the Footballing World

Rewind to Wednesday, May 23, 1993, and a date etched into the memories of all connected with Olympique de Marseille – the day they reached the summit of European football. It was to be Basile Boli, an Ivorian defender who, from a corner, nodded home with a powerful header in the 43rd minute. It gave the French club a 1-0 win and an unlikely trophy triumph in the newly renamed Champions League.

The Olympians came up against the more historic and vastly experienced rival in AC Milan. It was a team coached by Fabio Capello with the likes of Dutch stars Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten, not to mention Italian stalwarts Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta and captain Franco Baresi.

Their illustrious Italian counterparts had won their previous four finals disputed, including the 1990 tournament. But Marseille overcame all the odds thanks to rising stars such as Fabien Barthez, Marcel Desailly, Alan Bokšić, Rudi Völler and captain Didier Deschamps.

The Journey to Destiny

Marseille successfully navigated themselves to the final through prevailing from Group A. They collected three wins and three draws against Rangers, Club Brugge and CSKA Moscow. Overall, 36 teams took part from November to May in a tournament very different from nowadays.

The team managed to win in the Olympiastadion, Münich. Two years previously, they fell short in the 1991 final. Marseille would lose on penalties to Red Star Belgrade 5-3 at the Stadio San Nicola in Bari.

The Aftermath of Olympique Marseille’s Triumph

It should have been a time for celebration and joy. Marseille winning their historic first Champions League. However, their joy would turn to despair with news breaking of allegations of match-fixing attributed to Marseille’s President Bernard Tapie and Sporting Director Jean Pierre Bernès.

There was a suggestion that the pair had fixed their league match against Valenciennes. This was by handing out bribes to rival players which would have crowned them champions of Ligue 1 earlier for Marseille to concentrate on their final with Milan, played six days later. The game in question was a victory for Marseille 1-0 thanks to a goal by striker Alan Bokšić. But the writing was on the wall.

The fallout for the French team would be devastating. One of Valenciennes’ players, Jacques Glassmann, refused the bribe and went public on the controversy. He gained recognition for his noble act – awarded the 1995 FIFA Fair Play honour for his part in bringing justice to the piece.

A Severe Punishment for Olympique Marseille

President Tapie was found guilty and served six months in jail of a two-year sentence and handed a fine of 20,000 French Francs. Sporting Director Bernès was given a two-year suspended sentence and a fine for his role in the scandal and the club itself stripped of their league title.

Soon after, Marseille suffered a demotion to Ligue 2. This was at a time when Marseille were the best team in the country. Remarkably, the club won four straight Ligue 1 championships before their demotion. Second in the table, Paris Saint-Germain felt unease winning the title in such a manner. Therefore the 1992/93 championship remains vacant.

Although their Champions League win against Milan from 1993 remains valid due to the penalty awarded for league matters, the club received a substantial ban and unable to defend their European crown. Meanwhile, the club were also unable to participate neither in the Intercontinental Cup nor the Super Cup. Runners-up Milan would replace them.

A special moment in the club’s history turned very much sour. Although the team from the South of France can point out they remain to this day the countries only Champions League victor.

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