Marseille: The first and most controversial Champions League winners, 30 years on

Marseille: The first and most controversial Champions League winners, 30 years on
Video marseille 93 champions league
Basile Boli, who scored the winner in the 1993 Champions League final, celebrates with Marseille owner Bernard Tapie
Basile Boli, who scored the 1993 Champions League final winner, celebrates with Marseille owner Bernard Tapie

In 30 years of the Champions League, there has not been a winner more controversial than the competition’s very first.

A single goal from sweeper Basile Boli secured a 1-0 victory in Munich; Marseille were European champions. Not even the Paris St-Germain of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar have managed that.

That achievement, though, would be overshadowed by a match-fixing scandal that led to Marseille being stripped of the Ligue 1 title they won that same season, and relegated from the French top flight.

First, the good stuff. While the maiden Champions League is unrecognisable from its current form – just eight teams in the group stage, with the pool winners qualifying for the final – Marseille managed the impressive achievement of going through the whole competition unbeaten.

Their president Bernard Tapie – remember his name – had invested heavily in the squad following their defeat by Red Star Belgrade in the 1991 European Cup final.

In defence, goalkeeper Fabien Barthez and centre back Marcel Desailly were signed, while striker Alen Boksic was acquired to score the goals. The Croatia international obliged with six in the 1992-93 European campaign, as did midfielder Franck Sauzee.

With three wins and three draws from six group games, Marseille narrowly edged out Scottish champions Rangers to meet Milan, who started the final as overwhelming favourites.

The Italians had won the European Cup in 1989 and 1990, and powered through their group with six wins from six.

However, on 26 May 1993, they could find no way through the Marseille defence before or after the 44th minute, when Boli met Abedi Pele’s corner at the near post and flicked a header into the far corner past motionless Milan keeper Sebastiano Rossi.

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The bag of money buried in the garden

The Marseille team in the 1993 Champions League final, captained by Didier Deschamps
The Marseille team line up for the 1993 Champions League final, captained by Didier Deschamps

The events for which Marseille’s 1992-93 campaign would become infamous, however, had taken place some days prior to that final.

As well as chasing European success, they were locked in a Ligue 1 title race with PSG and Monaco which went down to the final day, staged the week before the meeting with Milan.

Marseille visited relegation-threatened Valenciennes needing a victory to be sure of the title – and they got it, winning 1-0 to complete part one of their double.

However, reports soon emerged that all was not as it seemed. Valenciennes player Jacques Glassmann said he had been offered 250,000 francs – at the time around £30,000 – to “take his foot off the gas” by Marseille midfielder Jean-Jacques Eydelie, a former team-mate at Nantes.

Two other Valenciennes footballers, Jorge Burruchaga and Christophe Robert, were also offered bribes. Robert’s wife went to the Marseille team hotel to pick up a bag of notes, which was later found buried in her mother’s garden.

Criminal investigations began, as did the footballing recriminations. Marseille were stripped of the Ligue 1 title, relegated and denied the right to defend their Champions League title.

Runners-up PSG turned down both the Ligue 1 title and Marseille’s Champions League place, with owners, TV company Canal+, worried about losing subscribers in the south of France.

And so third-placed Monaco took over the 1993-94 Champions League slot, while the honour of being 1992-93 Ligue 1 champions was left vacant in the record books.

Marseille, though, were allowed to keep their continental crown, as there was no evidence any of the match-fixing had taken place in European matches. Thus they remain the inaugural Champions League winners, albeit with a gigantic moral asterisk next to their name.

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Tapie was handed a two-year jail sentence – of which he served eight months – while Eydelie, then 27 and seemingly approaching the peak of his career, was given a suspended sentence and banned from football for 18 months.

Eydelie did return to football, but never to his Marseille heights. After a nomadic few years – including a loan spell with Walsall – he retired in 2003.

‘Players were injected all the time’

Chris Waddle celebrating in a Marseille shirt
Former England international Chris Waddle played for Marseille between 1989 and 1992

Eydeliewas not done with Marseille, though. His autobiography, released in 2006, claimed players were given suspicious injections before the game against Milan.

These claims were backed up by his team-mates, including Chris Waddle and Tony Cascarino.

“Players were injected all the time at Marseille,” Waddle told the Sun in 2003. “The club doctor said the injections would help our recovery after games. I had a couple of injections but they didn’t make any difference.

“I don’t know what it was, but no-one ever failed drugs tests and nothing illegal showed up.”

Cascarino, writing in the Times later that year, added: “To this day I don’t have a clue what it was. The doctor would only tell me that it would give me an adrenaline boost and I never felt inclined to ask the rest.

“Whatever the substance was, my performances improved. I cling to the sliver of hope that it was legal, though I’m 99% sure it wasn’t.”

Uefa rechecked the anti-doping tests taken at the time and confirmed they were negative, while Tapie unsuccessfully sued Eydelie for libel.

It provided a dark coda to an infamous tale. The first-ever winners of the Champions League will forever remain shrouded in controversy.

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