The Rise and Fall of Bernard Tapie’s Marseille: Part 5: Les Retombées

This is the fifth installation of a six-part series on Olympique de Marseille. You can read “Part 1: L’homme d’affairs,” here, and  “Part 2: La Nuit Les Projecteurs Se Sont Éteints,” here. You can read “Part 3: Nuits Blanches Et Thés Frelatés,” here. You can read “Part 4: La Balance,” here. You can read “Part 6: Le Mec de La Courneuve,” here.


If there is any victim that suffered more than Jacques Glassmann, it is his former club. After dropping down to Ligue 2, Valenciennes were unable to rebound from their tarnished image, with several players such as Yves Bouger and David Régis departing to avoid the embarrassment and accusations that they were involved with the plot. The club finished 20th, suffering relegation to France’s third tier for the first time in club history, and two seasons later, they fell to the fourth division amid financial problems.


Ahead of the 1996-97 season, Valenciennes dropped to amateur status after filing for bankruptcy, and on April 1, 1996, the club was renamed “Valenciennes Football Club.” They quickly advanced through the ranks and became a perennial member of the Championnat National, before earning promotion to Ligue 2 in 2005 under the leadership of Antoine Kombouaré. Bolstered by 16 goals from late bloomer Steve Savidan, Valenciennes won promotion at the first time of asking and finished first in Ligue 2.


The club narrowly avoided the drop in 2007 thanks to a 13-goal haul from Savidan or ‘Savigol,’ a figure only bettered by Paris Saint-Germain’s Pauleta, and he repeated his tally the following season as Valenciennes finished 13th in the league, sandwiched two points in between Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. Despite a slow start in the following season, Valenciennes bounced back to place 12th in Ligue 1 with 44 points.


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Kombouaré departed the club in the summer of 2009 to become PSG’s new manager, with Philippe Montanier taking charge and impressing with his free-flowing 4-3-3 system, an attractive style of play that saw Valenciennes dubbed “Barça du Nord” (Barcelona of the North) by the local press. After two years, Montanier left for Real Sociedad, and his replacement Daniel Sanchez guided the club to back-to-back 12th-place finishes, but the following years would bring darker skies for the club.


The summer of 2012 saw two starters (Carlos Sánchez and Renaud Cohade) depart after the expiry of their contracts without being replaced, whilst the club was handed over to French football’s financial watchdog Direction Nationale du Contrôle de Gestion (DNCG) due to a deficit of €5 million. However, Sánchez would return to the club on August 25 after failing to reach an agreement with Bolton Wanderers and West Ham, whilst Anthony Le Tallec replaced Mamadou Samassa after the latter’s abrupt departure to Chievo Verona.


Valenciennes finished a comfortable 11th place in the league, and the following summer, they were forced to let go of more key assets such as Sánchez, Gaël Danic and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin. After an impressive 3-0 victory against Toulouse on opening day, the club suffered seven consecutive defeats without scoring a single goal, and whilst they snatched a last-minute draw against Reims via a goal from Eloge Enza Yamissi, they were unable to prevent Daniel Sanchez from being given his marching orders on October 10.


The club brought in Belgian manager Ariel Jacobs in the hopes of saving their doomed campaign, but their efforts were in vain. After suffering a 6-2 defeat at home to Nantes, the bottom fell out as fans attempted to block the players from leaving the Hainat Stadium and berated them, forcing the police to intervene. Defeats to Guingamp and Bordeaux followed as Valenciennes’ eight-year spell in the top flight came to an end.


It seemed likely that Valenciennes would be relegated to France’s fourth tier due to their mounting financial issues after president Jean-Raymond Legrand stated he would no longer bail out the club, but on July 10, 2014, Legrand appeared in court with Jean-Louis Borloo, who had presided over the club from 1986 to 1991, and ex Lens president Luc Dayan to plead their case and prove they had the available funds to avoid liquidation.


Three months after being forced to end his political career due to health problems, Borloo stepped in and put down €500,000 of personal funds along with €2.1 million from four other investors to help the club escape bankruptcy and be reinstated in Ligue 2. Nevertheless, the club struggled to rebound from the turmoil and found themselves in a relegation fight throughout the 2014/15 season; only a late comeback in their final match against Ajaccio rescued them from a second straight relegation.


Despite constant financial struggles and front office turmoil, Valenciennes have managed to consolidate themselves as a perennial Ligue 2 side and help produce the likes of Arthur Masuaku, Angelo Fulgini and Lucas Tousart, but they have been unable to shake the ignominy of the events of 28 years prior from their image. Olympique de Marseille, on the other hand, have fared considerably better than the northern side.


As the footballing world cast its eyes on the Mediterranean club in the wake of the VA-OM scandal, several key players such as Didier Deschamps, Rudi Völler, Basile Boli and Éric Di Meco left Marseille, whilst Bernard Tapie was forced to part with Marcel Desailly and Alen Bokšić midway through the season due to mounting financial problems brought about by a lack of Champions League revenue.


Raymond Goethals departed as the oldest manager to ever win the UEFA Champions League, although the Belgian would spend another season at Anderlecht before retiring in 1995. Whilst Goethals himself was not implicated in the cheating scandal, he had landed himself in hot water in 1982 after helping to bribe players from Standard Liège’s last domestic challengers, Walterschei, before facing Barcelona in the Cup Winners’ Cup.


Whilst Marseille were stripped of their league title and banned from participating in European competition the following season, they remain the only French team to ever win a major European trophy and proudly boast the fact on their social media pages with their “À jamais les premiers” slogan (Forever the First). They have made it to the Champions League knockout rounds on two occasions under the management of Deschamps in 2010 and 2011, and while they have reached the UEFA Cup/Europa League Final on three times since then, they have lost every single occasion.



Bolstered by a 16-goal-haul from new signing Sonny Anderson, Marseille finished in second place as Paris Saint-Germain marched to their second league title in their history. It was all for naught, however, as the French Football Federation’s Federal Council elected to relegate Marseille to the second division at the end of the season and prevent them from signing any new players, whilst simultaneously allowing them to play in the 1994/95 UEFA Cup, where Sion would eliminate them in the second round.


Four years after leading them to back-to-back league titles, Gérard Gili returned to Marseille in December 1994, but he left after 15 days as the club’s financial difficulties prevented them from offering him a contract. Marseille finished first in Ligue 2 under the management of Luka Peruzović and Henri Stambouli, father of Benjamin, but they were blocked from earning promotion to the top-flight by the DNCG due to their overwhelming debt.


In April 1995, Marseille filed for bankruptcy after accumulating a debt of nearly 300 million francs, with Robert Vigouroux, the city’s outgoing mayor, taking charge of the club alongside local politicians Jean-Claude Gaudin and Renaud Muselier and appointing Jean-Michel Roussier as Director General. The club’s poor form in the start of the 1995/96 season saw Stambouli depart and Gili take charge once again, this time on a legitimate contract.


With Gili back on the bench, Marseille turned around their form thanks to a 30-goal-tally from Irish striker Tony Cascarino. The club finished second in the table to Caen, earning promotion back to the top flight, whilst making it all the way to the Coupe de France semifinals where they would lose to Guy Roux’s Auxerre, winners of the domestic double that season. OM’s promotion saw Gaudin and Muselier auction off the club to the highest bidder, with Robert Louis-Dreyfus purchasing it for 20 million francs.


Louis-Dreyfus, or ‘RLD’ as he was commonly referred to, had purchased Adidas from Tapie back in 1993 alongside three state-run French financial firms and two British investment firms. A crafty businessman with a reputation for turning failing companies around, RLD spent a reported €200 million and went through 19 coaches, but whilst his big-name signings such as Laurent Blanc and Robert Pires helped to initially restore OM’s place on Ligue 1’s upper echelon, silverware eluded him. His lone silverware would come in 2005 as Marseille defeated Deportivo La Coruña in the UEFA Intertoto Cup.


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After an 11th-place finish in 1996/97, Marseille bounced back with a fourth-place finish under Rolland Courbis the following season, before reestablishing themselves on the top of France’s totem pole in 1998/99. The club narrowly missed out on the Ligue 1 title to Bordeaux, who finished a point above them, whilst losing to Parma in the UEFA Cup Final. However, whilst OM fans were inclined to believe the glory days were back, storm clouds appeared on the horizon.


They began the following campaign on the right foot with a 3-0 victory over Sedan, but despite splurging heavily on the likes of Stéphane Dalmat and Ibrahima Bakayoko, Marseille’s form sharply declined in the coming months, causing Courbis to be given the ax. Bernard Casoni, Abel Braga, Albert Emon and Christophe Galtier were brought in to stop the bleeding, but OM’s strife continued. They would be saved on the final day, drawing 2-2 to Sedan and only staying up due to goal differential.


Another relegation fight would follow in the 2000/01 season, but after narrowly staying up, Marseille began to consolidate their place in Ligue 1’s top half thanks to a steady flow of investment from RLD. However, in 2006, ‘RLD’ and Courbis found themselves in hot water for their roles in a fraud scandal. French prosecutors alleged that €22 million had been illegally diverted from club funds as part of the transfer of 15 players from 1997 to 1999. “The court heard of a complicated system of international cash transfers between several tax havens as part of a system of hidden commissions paid on player moves,” wrote Jean-Francois Rosnoblet in Reuters.


Courbis would spend five months in prison and pay a fine of €200,000, whilst the billionaire owner would be the only one of the 13 defendants to escape without serving any jail time. RLD contracted leukemia in the following months and attempted to sell Marseille to Canadian entrepreneur Jack Kachkar, but the deal fell through after Kachkar was found to have used false bank documents to fund the takeover. RLD died of leukemia in July 2009 at the age of 2009, his final act being replacing outgoing manager Eric Gerets with Didier Deschamps.


The summer of 2009 saw various departures and arrivals for Marseille, with Djibril Cissé, Karim Ziani and Lorik Cana heading out the exit door, whilst Lucho González joined from FC Porto for a fee of €18 million. While Gaël Givet headed to Blackburn, two players who composed Deschamps’ Monaco side that advanced to the 2004 UEFA Champions League Final, Édouard Cissé and Fernando Morientes, reunited with their manager in the other side of the Côte d’Azur.


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Stéphane Mbia and Souleymane Diawara joined from Rennes and Bordeaux, respectively, and the two formed a steel-trap pairing in the heart of defense alongside Laurent Bonnart and Taye Taiwo, who manned the flanks. With Steve Mandanda impressing between the sticks and Cissé and Charles Kaboré patrolling the midfield, Lucho had the creative license to roam around the pitch and combine with wide players Hatem Ben Arfa and Mathieu Valbuena, as well as provide through balls into the two strikers, Brandão and Mamadou Niang.


The plan worked to perfection, as Marseille ended their 18-year title drought, winning 23 matches, drawing 9, and losing 6, whilst also winning the Coupe de la Ligue Final over Bordeaux. After seven consecutive years of watching their rivals Lyon build a modern dynasty, followed by narrowly losing out on the title to Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux, it seemed a new dawn was on the horizon in French football.


However, despite bringing in André-Pierre Gignac, César Azpilicueta and Loïc Rémy in the summer transfer window, Marseille failed to build on their title as a Lille side led by Eden Hazard, Moussa Sow and Gervinho gave Les Dogues their first trophy in 56 years, with OM finishing eight points behind in second. The following season, they finished 10th, prompting Deschamps to leave and take charge of the French national team.


That inconsistency, uncertainty, and constant power vacuums have plagued Marseille throughout the ensuing decade; just when it seems the club is ready to firmly establish themselves as a challenger to the now-dominant Paris Saint-Germain, they combust. André Villas-Boas managed to lead them to an impressive second-place finish last season, but he left on February 2 with the club 9th in the table.


Frank McCourt has continued to preside as owner since purchasing the club in 2016, whilst Pablo Longoria replaced Jacques-Henri Eyraud as president midway through the season, becoming one of the youngest people to ever preside over a major club at 34. Jorge Sampaoli has managed to deliver a promising string of results since taking charge on February 26, but after short-lived spells at Santos, Atlético Mineiro, Sevilla and the Argentina national team, it’s unclear whether or not he will be able to withstand the test of time in the powder keg that is Olympique de Marseille.


By: Zach Lowy

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Jacques Demarthon – AFP