L’Affaire Crocodile – Investigation into Ligue 2
On Tuesday morning, news broke of multiple arrests in the world of French football. Confusingly, there seemed to be two different inquiries going on – one into transfer dealings relating to OM, and one into match-fixing, involving several Ligue 2 teams but pivoting around Nimes, who were battling relegation last season, finally managing to stay up in 15th.
The following is a summation of developments in the latter case, for the benefit of non-French-speaking readers, based mainly on the reporting of L’Equipe, and other sources as cited by them. Their rolling news feed is here.
Things kicked off with news from Le Point that the president of Nimes, Jean-Marc Conrad, had been arrested, as were Jean-Francois Fortin (president of SM Caen) and Olivier Dall’Oglio (manager of Dijon – and a former Nimes reserve team coach). Other people expected as witnesses included the presidents of CA Bastia and Creteil-Lusitanos, Patrice Garande (manager of Caen), Xavier Gravelaine (ex-France international and now Caen director) and Jean-Luc Vasseur (manager of Creteil at the time, now at Reims). The matches identified by Le Point as the object of the inquiry were three away games for Nimes, against Dijon, Angers and Caen.
Now – a pause. In October, Nimes put out a statement about the involvement of their shareholder, Serge Kasparian, in an inquiry into money laundering in the world of betting. The statement stressed that this was a private matter for Kasparian and didn’t involve the club, other shareholders, or management, in any way. However – again from Le Point – it looks like this inquiry was the source of the suspicions for the match-fixing inquiry now on-going, in that telephone conversations were recorded in which Kasparian discussed certain things with Conrad. Le Canard Enchaine has apparently got hold of these and have released excerpts relating to the Dijon and Caen matches, and also an earlier away match at CA Bastia.
Meanwhile, Angers were putting out a very firm statement saying this was nothing to do with them and denying that any director, player or coach had been either arrested or called in for questioning. Dijon president Olivier Delcourt was giving his full support and confidence to Dall’Oglio, and Garande was giving a press conference backed up by club director Xavier Gravelaine.
It’s worth pausing to take a look at Nimes’ run-in last season, to put the apparently suspicious matches in context.
Game 32 – CA Bastia 0 – 0 Nimes – CAB ended up being relegated in last place, and were pretty much gone at this point anyway with only 20 points, 15 off safety. The conversations released however include Kasparian and Conrad debriefing after Conrad had dinner with CAB president Antoine Emmanuelli – the implication is that they were hoping to arrange this match, but it turned out the mayor was going to be present, nobody wanted to look bad with local politicians in the posh seats, and the club were facing issues of their own relating to the gambling authorities…so, according to the excerpt, Kasparian said “we’ll find something else”.
Game 33 – Nimes 1 – 0 Istres – Istres got relegated in 19th. Going into this match they had 35 points, one off safety and the worst defence in the league by some distance (59 conceded – it ended up being 74).
Game 34 – the first of the ‘suspicious’ matches – Dijon 5 – 1 Nimes – to which we can only say that if you are playing a match in which recorded conversations heavily imply that Dijon weren’t that bothered and weren’t very good through the middle and you still lose 5-1, you might want to consider taking up another hobby. We would recommend watching the highlights for some nice strikes from Dijon and consistently terrible defending from Nimes.
Game 35 – Nimes 1 – 1 Brest – Brest finished 7th, and had a decent away record, but didn’t have much to play for at this point, being 8 points off a promotion place.
Game 36 – Angers 2 – 3 Nimes – Angers finished 9th, but at this point were 6th, and while off the pace, were not completely out of the promotion battle, being 6 points off third. Their sporting director Olivier Pickeu managed to involve grumbling about conceding three at home in his statement to the press, which was a one-off, although it had happened several times away from home. It seems contrary to all common sense that the club would have agreed to throw a match when they were still in with a shout of top-flight football – the highlights are here, and one possible factor comes at 1 minute in, when the commentator takes the opportunity to list seven players Angers were missing through injury.
Game 37 – Nimes 2 – 1 Laval – Laval were 15th going into this match and well in the relegation dogfight (they finished 17th).
Game 28 – yes. A complicating factor : a catch-up game – Caen 1 – 1 Nimes – Caen were yet to secure promotion at this stage, but knew that a point would do it, as their goal difference of +21 was well ahead of Nancy on +10. Caen were on 62 points with a game in hand, Nancy on 60, so if Caen could get to 63, barring any unbelievable goal swings, they were up. Meanwhile, a point would take Nimes to 43 points and safety, with their goal difference 8 better than Chateauroux. This pleasing symmetry was noted in the recorded conversation between Fortin and Conrad. According to France 3, cases of wine were delivered to the Caen dressing room at half-time, by which time both goals had been scored.
Game 38 – Creteil 1 – 1 – it turned out that this result was not needed, but the calling of several Creteil representatives as witnesses suggests that a contingency plan is suspected by the authorities. Creteil finished comfortably mid-table in 11th.
So, Nimes did rally at the end of the season, taking 13 points from 8 games (1.625 per) compared to their overall 44 (1.16 per), but 7 of those points came against relegated or nearly relegated teams, leaving 1.2 per for the rest. Not that weird for a team fighting to stay up. The Angers result looks an outlier but there were, as noted above, a lot of players missing for the home team (as there apparently were for Dijon, making that result look even less ‘ept’ in the greater scheme of things).
If Kasparian and Conrad were trying to sort things out behind the scenes, there is no sign that then-manager René Marsiglia knew anything about it, as he does not appear to have been called in by the authorities. The focus seems to be on people at other clubs who the taped conversations suggest were at least prepared to discuss ‘going easy’. The involvement of Caen complicates things as they are now a Ligue 1 side. And as for poor Luzenac (denied promotion to Ligue 2 for not having an acceptable stadium), one can only imagine how furious they will be. Chateauroux (18th) ended up staying up as a result of that, but we wait to see if Istres (relegated) or Nancy (4th) have anything to say about the matter.
This inquiry is in the hands of the Service Central des Courses et Jeux (SCCJ – which is a police body focussing on sport, racing, and gambling), rather than the footballing authorities. This means a different approach to investigation, although possibly not a quicker one.