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When Marseille were Kings of Europe

On a balmy night in the Olympic Stadium in Munich, not many people expected the Marseille team to have much of a chance against Fabio Capello’s now legendary Milan side. And although Marseille had just consolidated their grip on the Ligue 1 title for the fifth consecutive season with their 1-0 win over Valenciennes, Van Basten, Rijkaard, Baresi, and Maldini were expected to run rings around the French.

Marseille fielded a strong team in what was the most important game in the club’s history, and while many of the team went on to become legends in their own right at various other clubs, they really weren’t given a chance against the might of Milan. Barthez, Desailly, Deschamps et al. played out of their skins to bring about one of the greatest upsets in European Cup final history.

It was by no means a classic match, but a headed goal by defender Basile Boli was enough to see Marseille lift the cup. However, the celebrations of both the players and the fans were short lived. Just two days before their league game against PSG, the footballing authorities opened an investigation into  that would drag on for months, and would eventually see them stripped of their league title.

It was believed, and subsequently proven, that Marseille president Bernard Tapie ensured his team had an easy task in the Valenciennes match by fixing the result. It’s a decision that still continues to baffle the minds of anyone with even a passing interest in French football. Marseille were a driving force in the French league at that time, and Valenciennes were on the brink of regulation. There was simply no need to get involved with match-fixing, especially so close to the massive game vs. Milan.

Match-fixing scandals aside, it would be unfair to take all the glory from the players, as they had no knowledge of their club president’s underhand methods. From Rudi Völler up front to Fabien Barthez between the sticks, this was a team that oozed class all over the pitch.

Although the win was tainted by the shame of the domestic match-fixing scandal, Marseille remains the only French team to have ever won either the Champions League or the European Cup competition in its original format. A strong team in France, they were still unproven in Europe and were outsiders at the beginning of the tournament, much like Monaco were this season: although their current form sees  offering odds of 9/1 for the principality to lift the cup in Cardiff and emulate Marseille’s epic victory.

However, Monaco will hope to avoid the unwanted scrutiny that Marseille underwent, as some strange results and decisions in the lead up to the final raised a few eyebrows. Even Ranger’s fans were left feeling aggrieved at Mark Hateley’s sending off, which saw him banned for their group match against Marseille. They suspected the referee was bribed, a suspicion that  along with allegations that Marseille had offered to pay him not to play.

But even with all of these allegations leveled at the club’s hierarchy, there’s never been any question that Milan did nothing less than their best to put Marseille to the sword in Munich. And no matter how tainted their history may be, for one glorious night in May 1993, Marseille were the kings of Europe.

 

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