French football fans are well versed in the reasons why ‘le Classique’ is such an important event on the French football calendar but it is often forgotten that Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain are not traditional rivals. Instead, the intrigue behind this fixture has been built up over many years and a number of classic encounters between two of France’s most successful teams.
Yes there are political, social and economic reasons for the rivalry but most of it comes down to what has happened between the clubs on and off the pitch. PSG and Parisians in general may well be seen as ‘the chosen ones’ whilst equally Marseille represent the ‘enfants terribles’ of the country, but there can be no denying that both sides recognise the pedigree that their respective rivals possess.
Whilst PSG are currently enjoying the considerable benefits of having some of the game’s most affluent owners Marseille still remain the country’s most widely-supported club, something no amount of Qatari money will change. At least for now… With les Phoceen’s stock in terminal decline before the departure of Didier Deschamps and the surprising arrival of Elie Baup, it looked like PSG were going to become the more dominant of the two forces by default.
However, the appointment of Baup so far has proved nothing less than a masterstroke and with the Valenciennes result aside, Sunday’s hosts have been in better form than their bitter rivals. L’OM go into the game top of Ligue 1 with PSG hot on their heels in second and the game has all the makings of a ‘classic Classique.’
Before that though, a look back at some of the games that have seen that phrase coined since the capital club’s inception in 1970.
Over the years ‘le Classique’ has had a big impact on the domestic game, in particular determining the fate of many pieces of silverware. The 1989 title deciding clash at the Velodrome, played a major part in shaping the rivalry as we know it today. With just three games left in the season, the match was a winner takes all encounter. The championship looked to be heading to Paris with the score locked at 0-0 with just seconds remaining. However, an unstoppable long-range strike from former Hibernian midfielder Franck Sauzee gave les Phoceens the points and set them on the road to their first league crown since 1972.
Equally as unforgettable was the incident just three years later. PSG’s Portuguese coach Artur Jorge announced in the build-up to the clash that his side would “walk all over” their opponents. Seizing the opportunity to motivate his players, President Bernard Tapie cut out the offending newspaper article and stuck it up in the Marseille dressing room. Sure enough, 90 minutes later they walked out of the Parc des Princes with the three points.
Marseille have dominated the fixture hugely since the first edition and another memorable date for OM fans is 29 May 1993. Just three days after they had defeated AC Milan in the Champions League final, the newly crowned continental kings and championship leaders welcomed their arch-rivals in a match that would determine where the title went. Drained by their European exploits, l’OM quickly fell behind but hit back with three quick goals. Among them was arguably the greatest goal ever scored in the fixture to date; a mouth-watering team move capped by a brilliant 18-yard header from Basile Boli.
Les Parisiens can console themselves with two dramatic victories of their own though. In 1999 a struggling PSG side earned a 2-1 win over championship contenders Marseille, their first over their rivals in many years. What made the triumph even more special for the Parisians was the fact that Marseille would finish the season a point behind eventual champions Bordeaux, directly denying them the title. And when the two sides met in the 2006 French Cup final, Paris set their relegation worries aside to upset the favourites 2-1, with Vikash Dhorasoo scoring a magnificent 25-yard effort.
Whilst this Sunday’s match promises to be a spectacle of massive proportion PSG are undoubtedly favourites, and even if they don’t win then surely over the course of the season the superior quality in their ranks will see them finish above their bitter rivals. But that is what makes the clash so unique, even if their team have nothing to play for in these fixtures PSG and Marseille fans just simply take pleasure from seeing their rivals beaten.
So expect Sunday to be no exception. PSG were humbled 3-0 at the Velodrome last season when expected to capitalise on Marseille’s poor start to the season, this year however they have the big guns that never materialised for last year’s campaign. Whether les Phoceen’s actually have the squad to be genuine title contenders and potential champiOMs is too early to tell, they will do anything to stop the PSG juggernaut on Sunday night though. By the same token though, the capital club’s fans would dearly love a cherished away victory in a fixture that they trail by a 22-6 deficit.