It was the match fixing scandal that rocked French football, but why will one of Arsenal's backroom staff hope to stick the knife into Marseille...
I've never held much truck with the theory that revenge is a dish best served cold. I understand the concept behind it, but if I'm looking to seek revenge I want it to be instant and flaming hot, with a fire poker up your arsenal and my brimstone in your eye. I'd much prefer to go through you with a two-footed tackle in full view of everyone and receive the punishment than slyly rake my studs down your achilles. Yet some people, for a variety of reasons, don't get the chance for instantaneous retribution, whether it be red tape, the legal system, physically inferiority or whatever. Arsenal coach Boro Primorac falls into that category.
He may sound like a Latvian chocolate bar, or possibly even a really rubbish Transformer, but Primorac is an urbane multi-linguist and, whatever Pat Rice's default position may have you believe, is one of the real architects behind Arsenal's much-vaunted yet currently absent passing game. A cultured centre-half, he played over 600 club games in an 18 year career, represented Yugoslavia at the 1980 Olympics and managed a young Zinedine Zidane at Cannes between 1990-92. Then he joined Valenciennes, and this is where the revenge comes in, because the actions of Marseille under the instruction of the disgraced Bernard Tapie effectively ended his managerial career.
Having spent 40 seasons in Ligue one and 36 in Ligue 2, Valenciennes are the yo-yo club of French football. Located in the North-West near the Belgian border, it is a well-supported club with a trophy cabinet that requires more dusting than bolstering, and on the final day of the 1992-93 season they needed to beat Marseille to have a chance of avoiding relegation. The game took place three days before the Hollywood club of French football faced AC Milan in the European Cup final.
Whatever the reason, let’s hope, for Boro more than anyone else, that Arsenal wipe the floor with Marseille this evening.
This is not the correct organ to trawl out every sordid detail of the match fixing scandal that ensued, the full debacle can be found online here, but this potted history should give you the basic facts and a desire to read more on the subject. Bernard Tapie is a hideous individual, a businessman, politician, TV Host and pop star, if he was Italian he'd probably run the country. With his fingers in more dirty pies than Sweeney Todd, he made his fortune transforming failing businesses into a roaring success in the 80s boom, and owned Adidas from 1990-93.
Success is everything to a man like Tapie and the prospect of facing the feared Milan of Baresi, Gullit and Van Basten with anything other than a completely fully fit eleven (a team that included Barthez, Desailly, Deschamps and Basile boli) led him to do the dirty. He instructed general manager Jean-Pierre Bernes to set-up the deal to fix the match against Valenciennes, with left-back Jean-Jacques Eydelie as a conduit.
'It is imperative that you get in touch with your former Nantes team-mates at Valenciennes (Jacques Glassmann, Jorge Burruchaga and Christophe Robert),” he told the player. “We don't want them acting like idiots and breaking us before the final with Milan. Do you know them well?"
To cut a very long story short, Robert took the £30,000, Burruchaga (who seven years previously had scored the winner in a World Cup final)responded positively but didn’t take it, while Glassman blew the whistle and told his bosses at Valenciennes. Rumours of the game being fixed started to circulate within hours of Marseille’s 1-0 victory, with Tapie recating incredulously “"I'm sickened, it's a lynching, and there's not the slightest proof of guilt."
Yet within a month there was. On June 30, while the players and fans of Marseille basked in the glow of winning the inaugural Champions League, Robert admitted to taking a bribe and the roof was blown off. He took investigators to his aunt’s house where he had buried the cash, they matched the envelopes to those used by Marseille and a long, drawn out legal battle kicked off.
Back to Boro Primorac. You can only imagine how he felt when he realised that his players, those he trained everyday, had essentially shafted him. While he would have been right to direct a lot of the anger at Tapie for ordering the deal, you can guarantee that he probably wanted to kill Robert. That was until he met Tapie, who offered him £66,000 to take the blame and was placed under investigation for attempting to interfere with witnesses.
Much like their pastries, the French legal system is labyrinthine in its construction, and it was not until February 1995, with Marseille now in the second division following their forced relegation because of the scandal, that Tapie was finally bought to justice and sentenced to eight months inside when Bernes told the court that “Tapie ordered the corruption from his boat in Marseille…”
The scandal essentially destroyed two clubs for a time. Valenciennes were relegated by a point and ended up in the fourth division a few years later, while Marseille were stripped of the title, relegated and barred from defending the Champions League. But it is perhaps Primorac who suffered most, at the time he was a young manager, just starting out and serving his apprenticeship at smaller clubs. He left Valenciennes following the relegation and has never managed another club side. Maybe he wasn’t up to it, maybe he was so sickened by what had gone on that he retreated from the frontline and became Arsene Wenger’s longest serving coach. Whatever the reason, let’s hope, for Boro more than anyone else, that Arsenal wipe the floor with Marseille tomorrow evening.
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