The UEFA Champions League Final of the 1992/93 campaign stands out as being one of the competitions most notable fixtures for a number of reasons. Firstly, this game was the first-ever ‘Champions League’ Final in history, with the competition having been known as the European Cup in previous years.
That alone is more than enough to earn that year’s game its own unique place in the history books, however, when looking back, that game might also stand out from a historical perspective due to the fact that it was the first Champions League/European Cup Final to be held in Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1991. In addition, it might present itself as unique from a sporting perspective due to the fact that the 1993 edition remains the only Champions League or European Cup to ever be won by a French team.
While this is all very notable, much of it for positive reasons, it is difficult to look back on the 1993 UEFA Champions League Final without addressing the glaring dark cloud that hangs over that fixture’s history and presents itself as a large elephant in the room which is difficult to ignore.
This game is infamously associated with 1993’s French football bribery scandal.
At this time, Marseille occupied a position in French football that one might say closely resembled the position that Paris Saint-Germain occupies today. After appointing millionaire Bernard Tapie, a businessman who targeted the recovery of bankrupted companies as a means of building his fortune, as the club’s president in 1987, Marseille’s presence in French football grew to a point of domestic dominance.
An era that was ushered in under Tapie’s leadership saw Marseille take home their first French top-flight title since 1972 in the 1988/89 season.
When looking back on some of the names that Marseille managed to attract to the club during this period, the list of players that graced Stade Velodrome in that era almost reads like a ‘who’s who’ of football from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Ballon d’Or-winner Jean-Pierre Papin, Abedi Pele, Didier Deschamps, Eric Cantona, Chris Waddle, and Rudi Völler are just a few of the high-profile players who made the move to Marseille during what became arguably the most successful period in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur club’s history. While they hadn’t won a French top tier title since 1972 when Tapie arrived at the club, they went into the 1992/93 campaign with, perhaps a sense of boredom with domestic success, as they were coming off the back of four-straight French Championship title victories.
This gave them an all-time total of eight French top-flight titles, meaning that they doubled their tally during that period of success.
However, with a sense of ‘been there, done that’ surrounding Marseille in terms of domestic success, an increased level of importance appeared to be placed on their continental success with regard to whether or not their season would be judged as a successful one.
This was certainly the case going into the 1992/93 campaign when they may have been driven by their desire to become the first French club to lift European football’s most coveted prize. There was also the very fresh memory of an agonizing defeat in the 1991 European Cup Final when they suffered a 5-3 penalty shoot-out loss to first-time winners Red Star Belgrade.
Two years later, Marseille would enter the first instalment of the rebranded Champions League with the goal of avenging their failure from two years prior, and claiming what they believed to be their rightful place at the top of European football, as the dominant side from western Europe’s largest country.
The French side went unbeaten on their way to that season’s final – easing past Northern Irish side Glentoran in the First Round with a dominant 8-0 aggregate victory, before overcoming the slightly more competitive opposition of Dinamo București in Round Two, achieving a 2-0 aggregate victory in that stage of the competition to guarantee Les Olympiens a place in the group stage.
Nowadays, teams advance past the group stage to enter the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League. In the competition’s inaugural campaign, the group stages acted as the final obstacle Europe’s elite had to overcome in order to earn their place in the final.
Marseille passed that test with flying colours, winning three of their six games and drawing the remaining three to book their place in Munich’s Olympiastadion.
A dominant Marseille side ensured that they would make up one half of the inaugural Champions League Final. They would be tasked with overcoming a flawless AC Milan side if they were to bring home the famous trophy, that they could do no more than admire from a close distance two years prior.
In their first European Cup Final, Marseille might have fancied their chances against a Serbian side who, like themselves, didn’t have their name written anywhere in the winner’s section of the competition’s record books.
This time around, they were up against an Italian giant of the European game who had gotten their hands on the European Cup on a total of four previous occasions.
At this time, Milan were under the tutelage of Fabio Capello and boasted names such as Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Paolo Maldini, and Franco Baresi in their ranks. They were one of the few sides who could claim to have as many stars in their side as Marseille boasted in theirs. This matchup was undoubtedly a fitting one to usher in the era of the Champions League.
If Marseille were to make history by becoming the first winner of the Champions League, in addition to the first French side to take home that famous trophy, one would have imagined that they would have had to have pulled out all the stops. Les Olympiens left no stone unturned in their attempt to give themselves the best opportunity possible of not reliving the failure and disappointment they’d experienced on European football’s grandest stage in 1991.
On the week of their history-making opportunity, Marseille’s preparation was interrupted by a French First Divison fixture. While they had become quite familiar with taking home the honours in their domestic league, Marseille were on course to secure their fifth league title in a row – something no side had ever previously achieved.
The year prior, they equalled the previous record for consecutive French First Division title wins, set by Saint-Étienne when they won four in a row between 1967 and 1970. While Marseille felt that they had bigger fish to fry, they did have an opportunity to further cement their domestic dominance and put themselves one step higher on the rankings of France’s all-time great teams.
The game against relegation-battling Valenciennes four days prior to a Champions League Final clash was, on one hand, an inconvenience for Marseille, whose preparation for the big game would be interrupted. On the other hand, it was a distraction as a slip-up in the league at this point could still have ruined their chances of securing a fourth-straight title and they were far from in the clear with both Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco chopping at their heels and giving their all to break the domestic dominance of this Tapie-era Marseille side.
This presented a problem that Marseille’s millionaire president attempted to solve by utilising his cash reserves in an unsportsmanlike manner. This decision ultimately cost his team what they’d been working and building towards since Tapie arrived at the club in 1987.
In an attempt to conserve his players’ energy and fitness levels ahead of the upcoming Champions League Final, all the while keeping his side in a strong position in their domestic competition, Tapie enlisted the help of one of his club’s players, Jean-Jacques Eydelie, who was asked to contact Valenciennes players who he knew from his time playing with them at Nantes.
In his book, Eydelie quotes the millionaire as saying: “We don’t want them acting like idiots and injuring us before the final with Milan.”
Two of the three players who Eydelie approached allegedly accepted a cash bribe from Tapie. One of them, Jorge Burruchaga, is said to have had a change of heart and didn’t follow through with taking part in the stunt.
The other player, however, did follow through with the plan on the day and is said to have convinced his teammates on the relegation contenders to throw the game and allow Marseille to have an easy run of it, thus protecting them in the lead up to their Champions League Final clash.
In the short-term, Tapie’s underhanded tactics paid off. Later that week, Marseille would go on to achieve their goal of becoming the first French side to win European football’s top prize, as a 43rd-minute goal from the unlikely source of Basile Boli was enough to help them make history. They also went on to claim their fifth-straight French championship title, finishing the season four points clear of both Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain, while Valenciennes did ultimately suffer relegation.
A team that could have ended up being looked back on as one of French football’s greatest ever club sides was forever tainted, as the truth quickly came out with regard to Marseille’s conduct in relation to the bribe that had been paid to Valenciennes four days before their clash with Milan.
While two of the players Eydelie had approached were open to accepting Tapie’s bribe, one of them – Jacques Glassman refused to do so and didn’t hesitate to blow the whistle on the injustice he had become aware of, informing both his coach, Boro Primorac, and the referee of the game, Jean-Marie Véniel of what he knew.
Glassman’s honesty and bravery resulted in the police quickly becoming aware of what Tapie was trying to do, which resulted in Robert’s payment being discovered by the authorities.
Under the heat of the legal investigation, Robert quickly cracked and fessed up to what he had agreed to be part of and then, this major scandal became public knowledge.
Robert, for accepting the bribe and following through with the plan, was suspended by the French Football Federation for two years, in addition to a six-month suspended prison sentence for his participation in this act.
Eydelie, the catalyst of the plan, was suspended for one year by FIFA, in addition to a one-year suspended prison sentence for his role in the act.
Tapie, the creator of this plot and instigator of the act, was forced to leave his role as president of Marseille and was handed a two-year prison sentence, of which he served six months.
The era of Tapie at Marseille was forever tainted and tarnished by this stunt, and they will never be looked back upon with the adoration that they could have been, as one of the major European football stalwarts of the early 1990s. The would-be history makers ensured that they would be remembered in infamy, rather than glory.
Their fifth-straight French First Division championship was struck from the record books and now, a blank spot marks where their name would have sat next to the 1992/93 championship, forever serving as a reminder of what occurred. Les Olympiens have since added just one more French First Division title to their name.
In a story that had rather tragic outcomes for most parties involved, the hero of the story, Glassman, was presented with FIFA’s Fair Play award in 1995 for blowing the whistle on this scandal and ensuring that this plot and all active participants in it were met with justice.