Walter Smith is the phlegmatic type. Over a managerial career now into its third decade with Rangers, Everton and Scotland he has accepted his varied triumphs and disasters in a manner that would earn Kipling's approval. But there is one impostor that bothers him still, some 18 years after the events of one roller-coaster season.
In 1993 Rangers came within one goal of a place in the first final of the Champions League, losing out to Marseilles after a controversial series of events. "It sticks in the back of my mind," said Smith when questioned recently over the events of the winter of 1992 and spring of the following year. "It still rankles."
"Playing in that league [the SPL] we should never have been able to get anywhere near the Champions League final," said Mark Hateley, the battering-ram centre-forward who was feared by many of the continent's centre-halves of the day. Leeds United, the English champions were beaten in a battle of Britain, to earn a place in the first ever group stage of the Champions League, the reformatted European Cup.
Rangers were then drawn alongside CSKA Moscow, Bruges and, the favourites, Marseilles, a rising power in the European game under the flamboyant leadership of Bernard Tapie. A self-made millionaire who had made his fortune by buying up bankrupt companies, Tapie had taken over Olympique Marseilles in 1987. Under his stewardship they became a force to be reckoned with. At home Marseilles, the people's club, successfully took on the wealth of Arsène Wenger's Monaco, the unloved principality outfit that might have been a million miles away along the Mediterranean. Next on Tapie's horizon was Europe.
"L'affaire OM", as it was to be branded, eventually saw Tapie convicted of fixing a French league game, but despite a series of allegations in the years that followed their Munich triumph in the Champions League, a 1-0 victory over Milan thanks to a Basile Boli header, they remain on Uefa's roll of honour as France's sole champions of Europe.
Their path to the final is littered with doubt. CSKA Moscow were beaten 6-0 at the Stade Vélodrome amid allegations of spiked drinks, while their coach also claimed his players were got at, before abruptly withdrawing the allegations. The final group game, a 1-0 win over Bruges, that took Marseilles into the final at Rangers' expense formed part of the French prosecutors' case against Tapie. And now Hateley's revelations that he was offered money to miss the second game against the French champions add further weight to the claims of those, from Glasgow to Milan, who believe Marseilles should be stripped of their title.
OM were a formidable side in their own right; Marcel Desailly and Basil Boli at the back, Didier Deschamps in midfield, Alen Boksic and Rudi Völler upfront. But Tapie was determined to leave nothing to chance. There is little Tapie, the son of a Parisian fridgemaker and an extraordinary character, hasn't turned his hand to, from serving François Mitterrand's government as Minister of Urban Affairs to being cast in the lead in a stage production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the role Jack Nicholson won an Oscar for.
Tapie's career has played out as if one rolling Oscar performance. A French journalist, Christophe Bouchet, the author of L'aventure Tapie, once said of him: "He's convincing because his stories always contain a grain of truth – just enough to make them plausible. I think he also comes to believe them himself."
It was not long after the victory in Munich, in front of 50,000 OM supporters, that stories of irregularities began to emerge but it was not until 1995 that Tapie faced trial along with Jean Pierre Bernès, Marseilles' director general under Tapie, and three players, Jean-Jacques Eydelie of Marseilles and two from Valenciennes, Christophe Robert and Jorge Burruchaga, a World Cup winner with Argentina in 1986.
Six days before they were due in Milan, Marseilles played Valenciennes, who were struggling to stay in the French top flight. Tapie did not want his players to have to overexert themselves so Eydelie was ordered to approach the opposition. The decision was made during a party on Tapie's yacht, Phocea, four days before the Valenciennes fixture. Eydelie described what happened in his book, published in 2006 and over which Tapie unsuccessfully tried to sue him.
"Bernard Tapie said to us, 'It is imperative that you get in touch with your former Nantes team-mates at Valenciennes [there were two of them including Jorge Burruchaga]. We don't want them acting like idiots and breaking us before the final with Milan. Do you know them well?"
On the eve of the game, which Marseilles won 1-0, Eydelie handed over a envelope containing cash to one of the player's wives; later, as the scandal broke, French police discovered a package containing 250,000 francs in the garden of one of the Valenciennes players.
Eydelie was found guilty, fined and received a suspended prison sentence but the affair went much further than a single French league game. Bernès, who was also found guilty, was to testify to regular attempts to buy opponents and referees both at home and abroad. In 1997 Tapie and a number of others faced a second trial at which he was accused of embezzling over £10m. Prosecutors picked out three games, against AEK Athens in 1989, Spartak Moscow in 1991, and that Bruges fixture. But nothing has stuck when it comes to Marseilles' European exploits.
When Hateley was sent off against the Belgian side earlier in the group, he stormed into the dressing room and started kicking things around. "I knew that something had gone off there," he said. "It was a bitter pill to swallow. Maybe I should have made the accusations back then, absolutely. But we [Rangers] have always felt 100 per cent cheated."
How French side won it
1992/3 was the first Champions League. After two knock-out rounds the remaining eight sides were split into two groups, with the winner of each qualifying for the final. Here are the key games in Marseilles advance to the final against Milan:
Rangers 2-2 Marseilles
Hateley scores equaliser as Rangers rally from two down.
Marseilles 6-0 CSKA Moscow
There were later claims of attempts to bribe some Russian players
Rangers 2-1 Club Bruges
Rangers win but Hateley is sent off and so is banned for Marseilles game
Marseille 1-1 Rangers
Durrant wins a point to keep Rangers in with a chance.
Club Bruges 0-1 Marseilles
The game that formed part of the French prosecution of Tapie. Boksic scores after two minutes and that seals their progress to the final.
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