Marseille: The Notre Dame of French Football

Marseille is a history rich club, with success on the pitch and plenty of controversy off it. Since its inception in 1899, the club has won nine French league titles and holds the privilege of being the only French club to lift the coveted Champions League title. While Marseille bleeds success, there is always a layer of controversy that understates its success. Here is the controversial history of Marseille.

The Controversial History of Marseille

Club’s Story

Marseille, a port city in southern France, is a place that looks like paradise on one side but possesses an impoverished area on the other side. The disparity highlights the dark underbelly that is indicative of the city. The place has grown synonymous with controversy and violence.

Unsurprisingly, such attributes found their way into the city’s most popular sport. Despite being a massive club in France, they have suffered four relegations since the 1950s and have experienced dips after each success. And the allegations of bribery and match-fixing should further thrust upon the seriousness of the situation. With no league title to show since 2009, one can only imagine how chaotic the scenes are in the Orange Velodrome.

Marseille and Controversial History of Corruption

In 1986, Bernard Tapie became the club president and pulled the club out of a crisis. What followed was a period of unprecedented success and decline, combined with many corruption allegations. After putting together a formidable side, the Olympians lifted four consecutive Ligue 1 titles between 1989 and 1992.

A few years after, determined from their earlier disappointment in the 1991 Champions League final, they finally claimed their illustrious Champions League trophy in 1993. In the aftermath of the final, a shocking revelation was made regarding a match-fixing scandal involving the club. It was revealed that Marseille players and the club officials had instigated the opposition to lose or cause less damage before their games. As a result, the club had to give up its 1992/93 Ligue 1 title. They lost their place in the subsequent season’s Champions League and were sent to the second tier of French football. In the forthcoming years, The president finally stepped down and paved the way for the Adidas CEO, Robert Louis-Dreyfus.

The Comeback and the Trophy Syndrome

The advent of the owner sparked a comeback to the top-flight in 1996. While the club was unable to replicate their past successes, they stayed in the top-tier. Two defeats in the UEFA Cup final in the years 1999 and 2004, was the continuation of their trophy drought.

In the 2009/10 season, a side inspired by Didier Deschamps finally ended their trophy hoodoo to win the Ligue 1 title. They also lifted the Cope De La Ligue in the same season. In the coming years, Didier Descamps resigned after having hit a rough patch with the club. Surprisingly, the side still achieved a second-place finish the subsequent season. The death of owner Robert Louis-Dreyfus meant his wife Margarita Louis-Dreyfus had to take over the reins.

Big Spenders Turned Big Sellers

After the second-place finish, Marseille returned to the Champions League once again. To mark the occasion, they completed the signings of Dmitri Payet and Florian Thauvin. While the signs were there at the start, things took to a turn for the worse after a series of defeats. After pressure from the fans, the manager Elie Baup was sacked and some players including Dmitri Payet were subject to demand from other clubs. In 2014, The stagnating atmosphere surrounding the club coincided with the appointment and departure of manager Marcelo Bielsa.

The New Era

Takeover rumours slowly began to take shape. Margarita Louis-Dreyfus sold the club to an American businessman named Frank McCourt in a deal reportedly worth €40 million. Despite the uproar from the fans, the club reached another Europa League final with Rudi Garcia on the touchline. Marseille fell victim to another defeat but there was hope. In the 2019/20 season, they successfully returned to the Champions League for the first time since the 2013/14 season.

Old Habits Die Hard

“Old habits die hard” is a quote that describes Marseille as a football club. Despite a second-place effort in the 2019/20 season, the club has crashed to eighth place after 25 games in the 2020/21 season. The boss Andre Vilas-Boas publicly criticized the direction in which the club was heading. The statements put him in hot water and eventually led to his dismissal. At this point, it’s safe to say the club has run off steam and is gasping for air.

What’s Next for Marseille?

Marseille is technically a fan-owned club, and this is due to their propensity to react ruthlessly during times of crisis. Such violence can make the owners impotent and could force them to act in favour of the fans. The complexity associated with the situation means that there is no easy solution to the matter but with Marseille’s history so rocky, will we see them rise again?

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