Nick BidwellComment


Nick BidwellComment

“Droit au but" (straight for goal) is the motto of current French League and Cup winners Olympique de Marseille.  That phrase has particular relevance this season as club president; Bernard Tapie has invested heavily on new faces so that Champions’ Cup quarter­ finalists Marseille can achieve their goal of becoming the first French club to lift a European trophy. 

With the eliminations of Real Madrid and lnternazionale, that is not such a far-fetched idea.  At the end of last season's victorious campaign Tapie promised supporters that he would build a team capable of competing with the best in Europe.  And despite dominating French football last term, Tapie was true to his word, sparing no expense in strengthening the squad. 

For £4.5 million came Tottenham’s England attacker, Chris Waddle, while to stiffen the team’s rearguard Tapie engaged the angular Brazilian libero from Benfica, Jose Carlos Mozer.  Also to join the Mediterranean club's ranks were star French full back Manuel Amoros of Monaco, Bordeaux's veteran midfielder, Jean Tigana and also from Bordeaux the promising young central defender, Alain Roche.  To complete this signing spree Tapie paid Racing Paris a reported £2 million to lure the unhappy Uruguayan forward Enzo Francescoli to the Cote d'Azur rather than to Italy, when he seemed destined to emigrate. Less fortunate users of the Marseille revolving door included the experienced German striker, Klaus Allofs, who found himself hived off to Bordeaux, and the dependable Paris Saint-Germain-bound stopper, Yvon le Roux. 

Recent signings aside, 'L'OM', as the club are affectionately known to supporters, can count on a formidable backbone to its side. In central defence - when fit - is the implacable West German Karl-Heinz Forster, while further upfield is Franck Sauzee, a young and talented midfield dynamo.  And charged with the mission of scoring the goals is team captain, the ebullient Jean-Pierre Papin, top scorer in the French League last term with 22 goals and author of a splendid hat ­ trick in the 4-3 Cup triumph over Monaco. 

Marseille represent a case apart within French football.  While crowds which an English Third Division club would be ashamed of turn out in such cities as Paris, Nantes and Toulouse, Marseille is a footballing hotbed, more akin to its neighbours across the border in Italy.  Last season the average crowd at the Stade Velodrome was 26,530 - far ahead of its competitors in France, where, for the most part, those who attend soccer matches are spectators rather than fans.  Each and every aspect of the club is a matter of prime concern in the bars, shops and offices of this Mediterranean city and takes on a passion and fervour which simply does not exist elsewhere in France.  A Marseille journalist eloquently summed up the ties that bind the city populace to its club: "Since the beginning of the century the club and the town have lived a stormy love story. One has known OM-passion, OM-anger, OM-joy, OM-divorce and OM-reconciliation." 

The chequered history of Olympique Marseille began with the club's formation in December 1899 with Gabriel Dard the first president.  The football section had to live in the shadow of the then illustrious rugby side.  However little by little the footballing side of the club began to establish itself and in April1924 gained a first honour in defeating FC Sete in the French Cup Final - after extra time - starring a bustling centre forward in Jean Boyer and striking partner, Edouard Crut.  Marseille further established their place in the country's soccer hierarchy with league titles in 1929 and 1937 and additional Cup successes in 1925, 1927, 1935 and 1938. 

Heroes of the inter-war period included Emmanuel Aznar (who once hit eight goals in a championship match won 20-2 against Avignon in 1942); future club coach, Mario Zatelli and the Hungarian forward, Joseph Eisenhoffer.  Meanwhile in September 1932, Marseille played their first match as a professional side in the northern city of Lille. Club manager at this time was Englishman Charlie Bell, who had succeeded two other English coaches in Peter Farmer and Victor Gibson. 

After subsequent success in the Cup in 1943 and the League title in 1948, Marseille entered a twenty year wilderness of sporting failure, frustration and no less than fourteen managerial changes.  One of the bright spots of this epoch were constituted by the goalscoring exploits of the Swede Gunnar Andersson who, in seven years between 1950 and 1958, amassed 170 League goals.  In 1969 OM ended their trophy famine by overcoming Bordeaux 2-0in the French Cup final at the old Stade Colombes.  This was the opening salvo in what was arguably the most successful period of the Marseille story.  Under the leadership of president, Marcel Leclerc and coach, Mario Zatelli, coupled with the prowess of performers such as Swedish wing wizard, Roger Magnusson and prolific Yugoslav centre forward, Josip Skoblar, Marseille reaped the harvest of 1971and their first League and Cup double in 1972. 

From this pinnacle OM sadly went into decline and despite the now traditional succession of coaching employees and the sensational recruitment of Brazilians, Paulo Cesar and Jairzinho, the mid-1970s (a Cup victory over Lyon in 1976 apart) were a time of disillusion for the fans.  The unthinkable occurred in 1980 when the team, including French internationals Marius Tresor and Didier Six, was humiliatingly relegated. 

Worse was to follow in April 1981 with the news that the club had been declared bankrupt and the entire first team put up for sale.  Survival was thanks in great part to the perseverance, persuasion and financial competence of the new tandem of President Jean Carrieu and former Nancy president, Claude Cuny.  Long gone were the days of fantastic transfer fees and exorbitant salaries and with young coach, Ronald Gransart at the helm, the club began to rebuild a side now composed almost wholly of products of the club's junior ranks.  The supporters obstinately stuck by their team and patience was finally rewarded in 1984 when Marseille regained the elite after winning the Second Division title. 

The next key event in the rejuvenation of the club took place in the early days of 1986 when the city's mayor, Gaston Deferre, persuaded industrialist Bernard Tapie to enter the corridors of power at OM and revive the moribund giant.  A vital decision by Tapie, rendered famous for his ability to transform ailing French companies into commercial success stories, was to appoint former national team boss, Michael Hidalgo as general manager. 

Hidalgo, following the triumph of steering France to victory in the 1984 European Championship had been given the post of national technical director of the French Federation, but jumped at the prospect of renewing links on a day-to-day basis with the world of football. To the surprise of many, the side led by new coach, Gerard Banide, and reinforced by the ever-youthful Alain Giresse, Forster, Papin and the Yugoslav playmaker, Sliskovic, put up a tremendous showing, only to be upset at the final hurdle in both League and Cup by the 'betes noires' of Bordeaux. 

The following season the 'new' Marseille reached the semi-final of the European Cup Winners Cup after impressive displays to dispose of Lokomotiv Leipzig, Hajduk Split and the Finns of Rovaniemi.  Barring their route to the final were the then holders, Ajax of Amsterdam. 

Comfortable Optimism as to the club's chances of qualification was high in the Vieux Port but the Dutch team extinguished such hopes with a more than comfortable 3-0 first leg win in Marseille.  Although OM won 2-1 in the return, they were out and for Bernard Tapie it was a bitter pill to swallow.  The dawn of the 1988-89 campaign saw added proof of Marseille's penchant for the sensational when coach Banide was sacked after a mere two games.  Tapie attempted to persuade Michel Hidalgo to leave his post of general manager and take charge of team affairs.  Hidalgo refused. Subsequently the Marseille president turned to the 36-year-old reserve team boss, Gerard Gili. This course was not Tapie's preferred one but unbeknown to him a fairy story was about to commence. 

The team under the aegis of the calm and astute Marseille-born Gili started to find cohesion and in a marvellous comeback OM pipped Paris Saint-Germain to the title after trailing the Parisians by nine points at the winter break.  Two weeks later Marseille added the Cup in splendid fashion at the expense of an injury-hit Monaco at the Parc des Princes.  All that was left was for Marseille supporters both in Paris and on the streets of the Mediterranean port to break into jubilant celebrations. 

As Bernard Tapie's much-publicised but abortive efforts to secure the services of Diego Maradona testify, his Marseille is not lacking in the commodity of ambition.  Only time will tell if the entrepreneur turned football club president will receive a prestigious European Cup return on his major investment.

GAETAN HUARD: Goalkeeper.  Born Montargis January 12, 1962.  Bought from Lens last season as replacement for the popular Cameroon international, Joseph Antoine Bell. Small but agile keeper who was a French under 21 cap. 

MANUAL AMOROS: Defender.  Born Nimes February 1, 1962.  Big-money close season signing from Monaco, where he had hitherto spent all his professional career.  The son of a Spanish immigrant, Amoros is an attacking fullback with a good turn of speed and sound defensive qualities. Outstanding during the 1986 World Cup finals,'Manu' has been a regular French international since 1982. 

ERIC DI MECO: Defender.  Born Avignon September 7, 1963.  Former centre forward, who was one of last season's surprise successes at left back. A product of the club's junior ranks, the long-haired Di Meco spent loan spells at Nancy and Martigues before returning to Marseille in 1988. Gained his first full cap for France in a recent friendly in Sweden. 

KARL-HEINZ FORSTER: Defender. Born Unterschwarzach (West. Germany) July 25, 1958.  Excellent West German stopper and still one of the world's finest man-for-man markers.  Joined Marseille from Stuttgart after the World Cup in 1986 and judged by critics to be among the best-ever imports to French football. A losing finalist in both1982 and 1986 World Cup Finals, Forster was recently granted French citizenship to allow the club to field three 'real' foreigners. 

JOSE-CARLOS MOZER: Defender. Born Rio de Janeiro September 19, 1960.  Marseille's first close season purchase is a tall and powerfull Libero with typical Brazilian technique on the floor. Signed for OM from Benfica, for whom he was losing finalist in the 1988 European Cup Final against PSV Eindhoven.  Started career with Rio club, Botafogo before joining Flamengo and was a colleague of Zico and Junior in the side which defeated Liverpool in the 1981 World Club Champions game. 

ALAIN ROCHE: Defender.  Born Brive October 14, 1967. Young and extremely promising central defender signed from Bordeaux during the summer.  The fact that he was one of the rare home-grown products to establish himself in the star-studded Bordeaux line-up of recent times pays testimony to Roche's precocious talent.  Made debut for France in the World Cup defeat by Yugoslavia last November. 

PHILIPPE THYS: Defender.  Born Paris August 30, 1959.  Dependable right back, who performed consistently well last term.  However seems destined to lose his place to the incoming Amoros.  Previous clubs include Nantes, Racing Paris and Metz.

JEAN TIGANA: Midfielder.  Born Bamako (Mali) June 23, 1955.  Finally signed by Tapie after the French football authorities vetoed a proposed loan move to Marseille last April. Slight of stature, but blessed with silky skills and a seemingly endless supply of stamina, Tigana made a priceless contribution to the French successes of the Eighties.  Now in the twilight of his career but unquestionably still has much to offer his new club. 

FRANCK SAUZEE: Midfielder.  Born Aubenas October 28, 1965.  Powerful midfield dynamo signed from Sochaux in 1988 and whom national team boss, Michel Platini sees as one of the pillars of the French side for the Nineties. Sauzee is a feared long­ range striker of the ball and scored Marseille's last minute winner in last season's vital Championship match against Paris Saint-Germain. 

BRUNO GERMAIN: Midfielder.  Born Orleans April 26, 1960.  Hard-working midfield grafter, who often specialises in marking the opposition's 'danger man’.  Joined Marseille in mid-season from Cote d'Azur neighbours, Toulon and made an important contribution to the Double conquest.  Previously with Racing Paris, Nancy and his home town club, Orleans. 

PHILIPPE VERCRUYSSE: Midfielder. Born Saumur January 28, 1962.  Stylish playmaker signed from Bordeaux this past season after a difficult period bedevilled by injury and inconsistency.  Started professional life with Lens, where rave reviews portrayed him as Platini's successor in the number 10 shirt - a tag he has found hard to live up to. 

GERARD BERNARDET: Midfielder. Born Mostagnem (Algeria) March 7, 1957. Loaned to OM from Montpellier last spring following the aborted Tigana deal. Subsequently the diminutive, but muscular Bernardet played an important role in the final furlongs of the title race.  His loan move has since been made permanent. 

PATRICE EYRAUD: Midfielder.  Born Toulon December 18, 1967. One of the rare products of Marseille’s juniors to rise through the ranks and become an established first-teamer in the Double campaign. Although competition for places will be fierce this term, the combative Eyraud should be one for the future. 

JEAN-PIERRE PAPIN: Forward.  Born Boulogne sur Mer November 5, 1963. Club captain and the French league's top scorer last year with 22 goals. Author of a memorable hat-trick in the Cup Final conquest of Monaco, Papin remains something of an enigma - capable of consistently scoring spectacular goals for his club but seemingly unable to reproduce that form for the national side.  Signed for Marseille in 1986 from Belgian club, Bruges, despite protestations from Monaco that he had already agreed to join them. 

CHRIS WADDLE: Forward.  Born Newcastle December 14, 1960. Smashed the British transfer record this summer with his £4.5 million deal.  Former Tottenham and Newcastle favourite.  England regular under Bobby Robson. 

ABDOULA YEDIALLO: Forward.  Born Dakar (Senegal) January 27, 1963. Injured during last season's climatic finale, Diallo has been a regular squad member since arriving at Marseille in, 1983.  Played a prominent role in the club’s promotion to the First Division in 1984.  A pocket-size winger with skill to spare, his major weakness is an overwhelming desire to attempt too much on his own. 

FREDERIC MEYRIEU: Forward. Born La Seyne February 9, 1968. Together with Eyraud, Meyrieuis an endangered species at OM - that of the locally-born youth team graduate in the first team squad.  Recalled to Marseille after a loan spell at Le Havre, this slight, but extremely skillful attacker made only sporadic appearances last term. 

ENZO FRANCESCOLI: Forward.  Born Montevideo November 12, 1961. The final piece of Tapie's close season recruitment programme, a reported £2 million brought the lean Uruguayan star to Marseille from Racing Paris.  Francescoli had made no attempt to conceal his disillusionment with the lack of atmosphere and professionalism within the Parisian club and looked set to ply his trade in Italy before the Marseille president entered upon the scene.

This article originally appeared in the August 1989 edition of World Soccer Magazine, 51 years young and still the best football publication available. 

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