Sunday 22 October 2017

French match-fixing still angers Wenger

Former Monaco boss denied league title by Marseille deceit

Arsene Wenger was manager of Monaco when they twice finished runners-up to cheating Marseille in the French League
Arsene Wenger was manager of Monaco when they twice finished runners-up to cheating Marseille in the French League

Jim White

ARSENE WENGER knows all about match-fixing. As manager of Monaco in the early 1990s, he can be counted among deceit's most prominent victims.

Twice at the start of the decade, his team finished second in the French League behind Marseille, whose owner Bernard Tapie was subsequently discovered to have bought off opponents to ensure success. Tapie's institutionalised deception denied the Arsenal manager the French title.

"It was the most difficult period of my life," Wenger said yesterday. "When you're in a job like mine, you worry about every detail. But then to go to work and know that it is all useless is a disaster."

The tale of Marseille is one of subterfuge and deceit at the highest level of football.

In the attempt to make his club French and then European champions, Tapie was not only buying the best talent available, but also regularly buying off opponents.

He was handing out so much money to players and managers of rival clubs that one of the those on his unofficial payroll was later found to have buried a hoard of cash in his back garden.

As the plot was in full swing, Wenger recalled he was more than aware all was not well in the French game. With results looking fishy and crucial fixtures lacking competitiveness, he sensed that the natural rhythm of the game was being disturbed.

"There were little incidents added one to the other, in the end there is no coincidence," he said. "(But) it's very difficult to prove. You hear rumours, but after that you cannot come out in the press and say this game was not regular.

"You must prove what you say. Feeling that it is true and then afterwards coming out publicly and saying, 'Look, I can prove it' can be very difficult."

After buying his way to five successive titles, Tapie was finally brought down when he attempted to bribe the players of Valenciennes in the last match of the 1993 season. A couple of them alerted their manager, Boro Primorac, who informed the French authorities – at which point Tapie's web of intrigue began to unravel.

Far from being thanked for his exposure of criminality in the game, however, the whistle-blower was ostracised by French football. Wenger was one of the few to stand by him, offering Primorac work first at Grampus Eight in Japan, then bringing him to Arsenal as first-team coach.

"He did very well," Wenger said of the man who still sits in the Arsenal dugout. "Because it's not always the fact that you stand up against it; it's the consequences of it."

Wenger has never spoken at length about his battle with match-fixing. It remains a sore point, a grievance that still rankles.

"It's difficult, it was a long, complicated case," he said. "I can tell you that story one day and you will be surprised by it. But I always felt in the end it would come clean again. At least I can look back and think I behaved properly."

One reason he went to work in England was because he believed football there was less susceptible to corruption.

In the 17 years since, his faith has been rewarded. Not once since has he been remotely aware of anything to compare with his experience in France and the Arsenal manager remains convinced that his level of the game is clean.

Meanwhile, Wenger has challenged his players to learn from the mistakes made by Manchester United and Manchester City when they take on Cardiff away today.

The Gunners could move seven points clear at the top of the table if they win in south Wales – something which United failed to do last weekend when Kim Bo-Kyung struck a deserved stoppage-time equaliser, while City were beaten 3-2 at the Cardiff City Stadium back in August.

FANTASTIC

Wenger, though, knows it will take a focused collective effort to get a positive result against Malky Makay's well-organised side.

"Cardiff look to have good solidarity, good togetherness and fantastic support as well," he said. "They are all on the same wavelength in the team and are very efficient at home on set-pieces."

The performance Aaron Ramsey will again be key for the Gunners as he returns to face his former club. Ramsey is enjoying a stand-out campaign, having scored 11 goals so far.

The Caerphilly-born 22-year-old has come a long way since leaving Cardiff as a raw talent in a £5m deal during the summer of 2008 – with Makay describing Ramsey as "one of the best performers in Europe" on current form.

"I expect him to continue to improve. He is a young player and of course there is a lot more to come from him," said Wenger.

"Aaron Ramsey has no limitations in his improvement and he can be a complete midfielder, efficient defensively, efficient offensively – that is what real football players are." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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