Monday 23 October 2017

Tapie scandal still haunts Marseille

Robin Scott-Elliott

Walter Smith is the phlegmatic type. Over a managerial career now into its third decade with Rangers, Everton and Scotland, he has accepted his varied triumphs and disasters in a manner that would earn Kipling's approval. But there is one impostor that bothers him still, 18 years on.

In 1993 Rangers came within one goal of a place in the first final of the Champions League, losing out to Marseille after a controversial series of events.

"It sticks in the back of my mind," said Smith when asked recently about the events of the winter of 1992 and spring of the following year. "It still rankles."

"Playing in that league (the SPL) we should never have been able to get anywhere near the Champions League final," said Mark Hateley, the battering-ram former Rangers centre-forward who was feared by many of the continent's centre-halves of the day.

English champions Leeds were beaten to earn Rangers a place in the group stage of the reformatted European Cup.

Rangers were then drawn alongside CSKA Moscow, Bruges and favourites Marseille, a rising power under the flamboyant presidency of Bernard Tapie. A self-made millionaire, Tapie had taken over Marseille in 1987.

In France, Marseille, the people's club, successfully took on the wealth of Arsene Wenger's Monaco. Next on Tapie's horizon was Europe.

'L'affaire OM' -- as it was to be branded -- eventually saw Tapie convicted of fixing a French league game, but despite a series of allegations in the years that followed their triumph in the Champions League, a 1-0 victory over AC Milan thanks to a Basile Boli header, they remain on Uefa's roll of honour as France's sole champions of Europe.

Their path to the final is littered with doubt. CSKA Moscow were beaten 6-0 amid allegations of spiked drinks, and their coach also claimed his players were got at, before withdrawing the allegations.

The final group game, a 1-0 win over Bruges which took Marseille into the final at Rangers' expense, formed part of the case against Tapie.

And now Hateley's revelations that he was offered money to miss the second game against the French champions add further weight to the claims of those who believe Marseille should be stripped of their title.

OM were a formidable side: Marcel Desailly and Boli at the back, Didier Deschamps in midfield, Alen Boksic and Rudi Voller up front. But Tapie was determined to leave nothing to chance.

There is little Tapie hasn't turned his hand to, from serving as Minister of Urban Affairs to playing the lead in a stage production of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'.

It was not until 1995 that Tapie faced trial along with Jean Pierre Bernes, the club's director general under Tapie, and three players, Jean-Jacques Eydelie of Marseille and two from Valenciennes, Christophe Robert and Jorge Burruchaga, a World Cup winner with Argentina in 1986.

Six days before they were due in Milan, Marseille played Valenciennes, who were struggling to stay in the French top flight. Tapie did not want his players to have to overexert themselves so Eydelie was ordered to approach the opposition.

Eydelie described what happened in his book, published in 2006 and over which Tapie unsuccessfully tried to sue him.

"Bernard Tapie said to us, 'it is imperative that you get in touch with your former Nantes team-mates at Valenciennes (there were two of them including Burruchaga). We don't want them acting like idiots and breaking us before the final with Milan. Do you know them well?"

On the eve of the game, which Marseille went on to win 1-0, Eydelie handed over a envelope containing cash to one of the player's wives; later, as the scandal broke, French police discovered a package containing 250,000 francs in the garden of one of the Valenciennes players.

Eydelie was found guilty, fined and received a suspended prison sentence but the affair went much further than a single French league game. Bernes, who was also found guilty, was to testify to regular attempts to buy opponents and referees both at home and abroad.

In 1997 Tapie and a number of others faced a second trial at which he was accused of embezzling over £10m. Prosecutors picked out three games, against AEK Athens in 1989, Spartak Moscow in 1991 and that Bruges fixture. But nothing has stuck when it comes to Marseille's European exploits.

When Hateley was sent off against the Belgian side earlier in the group, he stormed into the dressing-room and started kicking things around.

"I knew that something had gone off there," he said. "It was a bitter pill to swallow. Maybe I should have made the accusations back then, absolutely. But we (Rangers) have always felt 100pc cheated." (© Indepdendent News Service)

Irish Independent

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