The Greatest French Club Sides Of All Time – Part 3

We continue our countdown of the Greatest French club sides of all time by the wonderful Juliet Jacques. 

7. FC Girondins de Bordeaux, 1984-1987

Champions just once, in 1950, and Coupe de France winners in 1941, Girondins de Bordeaux were league runners-up three times in the Sixties but had never been a consistence force at home or in Europe – until ownership changes and new money from television and sponsorship transformed French football.

In 1977, Claude Bez, who ran a large accounting firm in the Aquitane region, bought FCGB, immediately selling it to mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas as a means of attracting investment into the city. This enabled Bez to secure low interest loans, planning permissions and other funds, including donations from the supremely wealthy Grimaldi family of Monaco’s micro-royal house, who filled some of the stadium’s new executive boxes, and a ground-breaking sponsorship deal with Opel.

Bez spent hugely, attracting star players such as Jean Tigana, Bernard Lacombe and Marius Trésor, who helped coach Aimé Jacquet win his first title in 1984. (Also part of Jacquet’s squad was one Raymond Domenech.) FCGB were champions again the following year and reached the European Cup semi-finals, narrowly failing to overturn a 3-0 defeat at Juventus in the home leg.

FCGB were supplanted by PSG in 1986, but spent heavily on playmakers Jean-Marc Ferreri, Philippe Vercruysse and José Touré and Yugoslav brothers Zoran and Zlatko Vujović and won their third championship in four years in 1987. By now, resentment over Bez’s level of influence was growing, particularly after he proved instrumental in the removal of Henri Michel as national team manager and his replacement by Michel Platini in 1988.

Bez negotiated lucrative television deals, particularly for European games, and his bitter rivalry with OM president Bernard Tapie (below) also generated huge ratings. His handling of the media caused friction, however, when he tried to dictate which journalists could access the club: all French media boycotted football for a weekend, making Bez more unpopular with counterparts already riled by his cavalier spending, ostentatious lifestyle and disclosure of transfer fees and player wages, which broke one of French football’s unspoken rules.

FCGB were runners-up to Monaco in 1988 and came second again two years later, this time to OM, but as Tapie’s side reached the European Cup final, Bez’s were demoted by the FFF, after he admitted debts of ten million francs in unpaid tax. Bez had to resign, his club owing 240 million francs in total, the deficit magnified by expensive purchases and the failure to find a successful blend after Jacquet’s departure in 1989. In 1995, Bez was sentenced to three years in prison for fraud, and faced further charges before his death four years later.

Meanwhile, FCGB recovered: they instantly returned to Division 1 in 1992 and reached the UEFA Cup final four years later. Despite selling stars Zinedine Zidane, Christophe Dugarry and Bixente Lizarazu, and losing several other out of contract players, they recovered to win another title in 1999 and remain amongst France’s top clubs.

Best XI: Dominique Dropsy; Jean-Christophe Thouvenel, Gernot Rohr, Patrick Battiston, Léonard Specht; Jean Tigana, René Girard, Dieter Müller, Philippe Vercruysse, Alain Giresse; Bernard Lacombe.

Honours: French champions: 1984, 1985, 1987. Coupe de France: 1986, 1987.

6. Paris Saint-Germain, 1993-1998

When Tapie’s OM collapsed, it looked as if Paris Saint-Germain might finally assert themselves as France’s dominant club, having won their first and then only title in 1986.

PSG were Division 1’s youngest club, formed in 1970 in an attempt to fill the capital’s gap for a competitive football team. Racing Club were champions in 1936, won five Cups between 1936 and 1949 and finished second in 1961 and 1962, but were relegated two years later, and fell into the fourth division after a financial scandal in 1967. With thousands of Parisians and wealthy businessmen, including Racing’s vice-president Pierre-Étienne Guyot, supporting a project to create a competitive new club, Paris FC and Stade Saint-Germain were merged, with Guyot becoming President.

Instantly attracting considerable support, including the notorious Boulogne Kop hooligans from the capital’s punk scene and the banlieues, PSG quickly rose from the Third Division, building an identity through board member and fashion designer Daniel Hechter’s icily cool strip and their move to the Parc des Princes. They reached the top flight in 1974 and have been there ever since, but despite spending heavily on high-profile players, were blocked from league dominance first by Bordeaux and then Marseille, although they did win the Coupe de France in 1982 and 1983.

PSG weathered scandal better than OM or Saint-Étienne. Hechter resigned over a ticketing scandal in 1977 and was replaced by Francisco Borelli, himself forced to quit in 1991 after incurring serious debts (partly in an attempt to stave off resurgent Racing, bought by Matra and elevated to Division 1 before bankrupting themselves and returning to the lower leagues) and then found guilty of financial irregularities. Unlike OM and ASSE, PSG were not relegated; instead, they were bought by broadcasters Canal+ who poured in funds with the specific aim of breaking OM’s dominance, helping PSG finish second in 1993.

When OM were stripped of their title, PSG refused to take it: having also won the Coupe de France, they entered the Cup Winners’ Cup, losing to winners Arsenal in the quarter-final. With a team composed almost entirely of expensive signings, including several Brazilians, they finally won their second title in 1994. But for all their stellar names, including World Cup winner Raí and George Weah, they could not secure another title, finishing second to Guy Roux’s Auxerre – as different a club to PSG as can be imagined.

PSG make this list primarily for becoming only the second French club to win a European trophy, as Bruno N’Gotty’s goal secured the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1996, and for reaching the final again the following season, where they were unfortunate to lose to Bobby Robson’s brilliant Barcelona. Like many French sides, particularly Bordeaux’s 1996 UEFA Cup finalists, they lost key players following the Bosman ruling, notably Youri Djorkaeff, and later descended into such financial chaos that Canal+ disinvested. Consequently, PSG are still waiting for another championship, but their recent acquisition by the Qatari Investment Authority may finally change that.

Best XI: Bernard Lama; Laurent Fournier, Leonardo, Bruno N’Gotty, Alain Roche; Paul Le Guen, Vincent Guérin, Raí, David Ginola; Youri Djorkaeff, George Weah.

Honours: French champions: 1994. European Cup Winners Cup winners: 1996. European Cup Winners Cup finalists: 1997. Coupe de France: 1993, 1995, 1998. Coupe de la Ligue: 1995, 1998.

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