Europe’s Champions: Olympique de Marseille 1993

ALTHOUGH French football played its part in the development of European club competitions, only one has secured the major prize. In 1993, Olympique de Marseille (OM) lifted the huge trophy by beating highly-fancied and star-studded AC Milan.

Marseille went one better than France’s two previous finalists, Reims and Saint-Etienne, and also improved on their 1991 performance when they were beaten by Red Star Belgrade. This proved to be the pinnacle of a period in the club’s history when OM were rarely out of the news. Sadly, not all the headlines were positive, for after being crowned champions of Europe and France in 1993, the club was stripped of its domestic title due to a bribery scandal. They managed to keep hold of their Champions League success, but OM and their owner, Bernard Tapie were, without doubt, tainted by the negative publicity.

When Tapie, a figure described as “boastful, charismatic and seductive”, took over OM in 1986, they were struggling on and off the field of play. Marseille’s goal was to become the greatest team in French football history and their bold ambition was matched by the arrival of some star names. Jean-Pierre Papin, a fast and prolific striker, was signed from Club Brugge in 1986 and he went on to score 184 goals in 279 games for OM before joining AC Milan for £ 10 million in 1992.

OM also signed English internationals Chris Waddle and Trevor Steven as well as Didier Deschamps, who would captain France to World Cup glory in 1998 as a player and 2018 as their coach. Also in their squad was Abedi Pele, an exciting Ghanaian who was one of the finest players to emerge from Africa at the time. 

Marseille were French champions in 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992 and were beaten on penalties in the 1991 European Cup final. In 1992, they lost Papin but made two huge signings in the transfer market, Croatian Alen Bokšić from Cannes and German striker Rudi Völler from Roma. Between them, they would score 41 goals in Ligue 1 in 1991-93, their first season with the club.

As well as top players, OM also lured German World Cup winner Franz Beckenbauer to become Sporting Director, which included a short stint as coach. In 1992-93, the Belgian Raymond Goethals was in charge of the team, a coach who had enjoyed considerable success with Anderlecht.

Despite the addition of high-profile players, OM won the title in 1993 by just two points ahead of second-placed Paris Saint-Germain. Just days before the Champions League final, allegations of match-fixing in a game against Valenciennes were aimed at OM and they eventually lost their title and were relegated to Ligue 2. Tapie was forced to step down as president of the club.

In Europe, OM comfortably beat Glentoran in the first round of the newly-branded UEFA Champions League, an 8-0 aggregate victory. In the second round, they slugged-out a 0-0 draw with Dinamo Bucharest in Romania before winning 2-0 in the Stade Vélodrome with Bokšić scoring both goals. This victory meant OM had qualified for the group stage of the competition and were drawn alongside Glasgow Rangers, CSKA Moscow and Club Brugge. With the other group including AC Milan, Porto, PSV Eindhoven and Gothenburg, Marseille had a slightly easier path – the group winners would meet in the final in Munich.

OM’s chief rivals for a place in the Olympic Stadium were Rangers, a revitalised team that had began to break the mould in British football by attracting players from south of the border. In the first group match, the two teams drew 2-2 in Glasgow, the home side recovering from OM’s two-goal lead. Brugge were easily beaten 3-0 in Marseille before a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Moscow. 

Rangers were matching OM game-by-game, but a 6-0 home win against CSKA Moscow underlined Marseille’s quality. Franck Sauzée, a midfielder with an eye for goal thanks to his tremendous long-range shooting, netted a hat-trick. Sauzée, who won 39 caps for France, was in his second spell with OM and had rejoined in 1991 from Monaco. Also on the scoresheet was Marcel Desailly, who had been signed from Nantes in the summer and would later join AC Milan and Chelsea. This game later had a hint of controversy about it as there were suggestions that somebody had tried to compromise the CSKA players.

Rangers proved to be stubborn opponents and refused to be shaken off, drawing 1-1 at the Stade Vélodrome. The group was destined to be decided in the final games, with OM scoring early in Bruges through Bôksić to win 1-0 and Rangers held to a goalless draw at Ibrox Park. OM finished one point ahead of the Scottish champions and would meet AC Milan in the final. Milan had won all six of their group matches and had conceded one goal. They were a formidable side.

Marseille were highly motivated and knew this was their time. The game was tight and a little cautious but Milan dominated for the first half hour. But for OM keeper Fabien Barthez, the Italians may have been ahead before the interval. However, the final was settled by a first half goal from Marseille defender Basile Boli. Just a few minutes before his decisive goal, Boli had urged Goethals to substitute him because he was struggling with an injury. The plea was ignored and just as well for OM, for Boli headed past Milan keeper Sebastiano Rossi in the 43rd minute. Boli had been particularly crestfallen in 1991 when OM had lost to Red Star Belgrade, so he meant it when he commented after the game, “it was a header for eternity”.    

Tapie was ecstatic, although he admitted the 1991 team that lost in Bari was possibly a better side. The joy was short-lived, though, as the scandal that unfolded not only saw OM lose their French title, but also saw them relegated in 1993-94. They were still European champions, but were disqualified from defending their title. In some ways, Marseille’s situation was a foretaste of owner mistrust in big-time football. Tapie’s Marseille were heavily in debt after his reign ended and the club has never quite been the same. Such a shame that France’s finest moment in the premier club competition has often been overlooked.

Real Madrid, PSG and Mbappé –  an impasse developing

REAL MADRID have made a € 160 million bid for Kylian Mbappé of Paris Saint-Germain, arguably the most coveted  player in world football today. This is the same Real Madrid that was impacted by the pandemic to the tune of € 300 million, the same club that has around £ 900 million of gross debt. At the same time, Real managed to generate a profit of just under a million euros in 2020-21, making then one of the few major clubs to avoid an annual loss during the crisis.

One could argue that football clubs spending seven figure sums on players seems inappropriate and a little insensitive in a time of hardship for many people. Furthermore, despite the reassuring financial figures, the pandemic’s economic consequences was one of the drivers of the European Super League. The project hasn’t fully gone away, as Real, along with Barcelona and Juventus, are desperately clinging to the idea like a life raft.

Apparently, Real Madrid have been making way for a bid for Mbappé as they are obsessed with luring the French striker to Spain. Mbappé has hinted this would be his country of choice, so if it’s Spain, it has to be either Real or Barca. It cannot be the latter as they are deep in crisis at the moment, so Real it will probably be – eventually. Some people have forgotten that Mbappé, when signing for PSG in 2017, had an agreement he could negotiate a move if Real Madrid ever came hunting for him.

Mbappé’s contract runs out in June 2022, so the Paris Saint-Germain management have to tie him down or maximise his transfer fee. If PSG were a normal, conventional club, this is precisely what they would do, but they are not. Given their riches, a transfer fee is almost irrelevant, but having such a talent in your squad is of paramount importance. So, the usual negotiatory path does not apply here. PSG badly want that UEFA Champions League title to anoint their position in the game – why let Mbappé go when they could, albeit for a short spell, field Mbappé, Neymar and Lionel Messi? 

Real and Mbappé could play a game of bluff for the next few months, neither one committing fully as PSG throw more money at the problem. The longer this goes on, the more beneficial it will be for Real Madrid and Mbappé. In June 2022, Real could, in theory, get him for nothing, while Mbappé could also benefit from a great personal deal that hasn’t included a transfer fee.

Real, meanwhile, have been trying to trim their cost base and have been relatively inactive in the transfer market. They sold Raphael Varane and Martin Ødegaard to Manchester United and Arsenal respectively, raising € 75 million in the process. Other players, such as Isco, Marceloa and Gareth Bale, may also be on their way soon. Simultaneously, Real have secured the core of their squad, aware that if they do manage to prise Mbappé away from the French capital, PSG may attempt reprisals.

As it stands, PSG have rejected the bid from Real Madrid and their sporting director, Leandro called the action “disrespectful, incorrect, illegal and unacceptable”, adding that Real have contacted the player directly. Interesting that they should feel so aggrieved when their own approach to player acquisition has been one of dogged determination. PSG know Mbappé wants to leave, but they have been quite adamant that in cases where a player is looking to depart, it has to be on the club’s terms. “Our objective is to protect the club and keep Kylian and extend his deal,” they said. Le Parisien newspaper reported that PSG want € 220 million for Mbappe. Is that beyond Real’s appetite? The story will run, but probably only until August 31.


Grey Neutral Weekly: The very mighty Müller

SAD news from Germany that the most famous footballer to remove England from the World Cup without cheating is no longer with us. Gerd Müller, a legendary figure in the Bayern Munich story, World Cup winner and goalscoring machine, has died aged 75. 

Born November 3, 1945 in Nördlingen, Müller is considered the greatest striker of all time by many pundits. Although he came to the attention of British fans in 1967 when he played a key role in his club, Bayern Munich, winning the European Cup Winners-Cup against Glasgow Rangers, it was the 1970 World Cup that earned him the reputation of one of the most feared forwards in the game.

Müller was the leading scorer in Mexico, scoring two hat-tricks in the group stage – against Peru and Bulgaria in the space of four days – and went on to become top marksman in the competition. England fans caught a glimpse of his ability to be quite athletic, despite being nicknamed “kleines dickes Müller” (short, fat Müller) by green-eyed coaches. Two years later, with the West German team in its pomp, Müller scored at Wembley against England to effectively knock the reigning World Champions out of the European Championship.

Müller won the Ballon d’Or in 1970, fending off the challenge of Bobby Moore and Luigi Riva. From 1967 to 1976, he featured in the top 20 of the award and also made the top three in 1969 and 1973. Furthermore, he won the European Golden Shoe as Europe’s top scorer in 1969-70 and 1971-72. He was West German footballer of the year in 1967 and 1969.

After 1970, Helmut Schön’s West Germany arrived, winning the European crown in 1972, the calendar year in which Müller netted an astonishing 85 goals. Bayern Munich, too, were coming to the boil and in 1974, were European Champions for the first time. Muller was still the kingpin in a team that included Franz Beckenbauer and Sepp Maier and when West Germany hosted the World Cup, it was Müller who won the new trophy for his country, swivelling his hips to score the winner in Munich after the Dutch had earlier threatened to embarrass their hosts. It was Müller’s last game for his country and his 68th goal in 62 games, a remarkable statistic. He later admitted that he had been a little hasty in retiring from the national team. West Germany certainly struggled to replace him.

With Bayern Munich, Müller won a total of three European Cups (1974 to 1976), four Bundesliga titles, four DFB Pokals and the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, and accumulated 398 goals in 453 games, a phenomenal record. As good and as lethal as he was, his post-playing career was something of an anti-climax and he experienced great problems with depression and alcohol. Thankfully, his former team-mates and old club, Bayern, rallied round “Der Bomber” – they realised the debt of gratitude they owed to the little (5ft 9 inches) front man.

Down to Millwall

AS EVER, a trip to Millwall leaves you with mixed emotions. There’s scarcely a stadium in Britain where the atmosphere is more raucous and intimidating. Against Blackburn Rovers, it was no different, there was a sense of “we’re back” about the afternoon. It started with a free-for-all in the stand where our seats had been taken by a group of regulars who clearly didn’t fancy Row E and we were not going to argue. Inevitably, they only sat in our Row B seats for about half the game, the rest of the time, they were either topping-up at the bar or expelling what they had already consumed. Never mind, we still had a decent view, when they were not standing up. Why do we go to Millwall, you might ask? It’s such an interesting place to watch a match, a throwback to more robust times and a good example of how influential a passionate and full-on crowd can be. They didn’t like the “taking the knee” at the Den, the gesture was roundly jeered by the fans and, the Millwall team didn’t take part. The game itself was unexceptional, ending 1-1. Both goals, by Millwall’s Jed Wallace and Blackburn’s born-again Chilean Ben Brereton-Diaz, were decent efforts, but the 12,490 crowd won’t remember the contest for too long. Millwall need more punch up front and Blackburn need more ambition.

The Kane game

NOW that Lionel Messi has found a home for the next two years, the emphasis is switching to Harry Kane and the game of “will-he, won’t-he” for the next couple of weeks. Kane was not at the Tottenham stadium for their deserved and eye-catching 1-0 win over Manchester City. You could read this in many ways, but our take at GOTP towers is the deal has probably been done and it’s a little embarrassing for Kane to be rubbing shoulders with City on the opening day of the season. Fans are fickle, as we have saw at Tottenham – at the end of the 90 minutes, they were chanting, “are you watching, Harry Kane?”, which suggests the bond has been broken. Kane has been idolised by the Spurs faithful, but how quickly the sentiment can change. It will be a surprise if Kane doesn’t leave, and judging by City’s lack-lustre performance, they need him.

Payback time for Lille?

LILLE’s Ligue 1 success in 2020-21 was marvellous for the French club, but it has all gone horribly wrong for them since. The club lost their coach, Christoph Galtier in the summer and he returned this weekend with his new club to win 4-0 in Lille. The club already had financial problems when Callisto Sporting bought them in December 2020, with debts around € 150 million and rising. Lille’s wage bill in 2019-20 was just over 20% of the total paid by Paris Saint-Germain, so their achievement in 2020-21 was considerable. Their revenues for 2019-20 were just € 96 million, as it is unlikely last season will be better than that, what will the impact be of trying to keep pace with more affluent clubs? Lille may yet lose the core of their title-winning team, which might swell their bank balance, but how damaging will that be for their on-pitch performances?

Photo: Alamy