The name Basil Boli conjures up images of a player who headbutted Stuart Pearce in an England v France game at Euro 92 and somehow got away with it, a player who, alongside fellow Frenchman Marcel Desailly, formed the backbone of Marseille’s successful, and ultimately disgraced, team that won the Champions League trophy in 1992/1993.
Both players had caught the eye of Rangers boss Walter Smith after the team (choc full of internationals such as Barthez, Deschamps, Boksic, and Rudi Voller) played out a 2-2 draw at Ibrox and a 1-1 draw away in Marseille during the group stages of what was the inaugural season for the tournament in its new ‘league’ format.
Games that, as the group results played out, would mean that the French team pipped the Scottish side to a place in the glamour final against AC Milan in Munich’s Olympiastadion. A final, incidentally, which was decided by a Boli header from a corner in the 43rd minute.
Rangers chairman David Murray originally wanted Desailly, but was beaten to the punch by Milan, who shelled out £5 million in January of 1994 to take him to Italy.
Instead, it was the then 27 year old Boli who moved to Ibrox later that year in what Murray regarded at the time as Rangers’ “biggest signing”, as he sought to help strengthen an already stellar squad looking to repeat the previous year’s Champions League run and treble trophy winning domestic success (the 5th in the team’s history).
A squad that finished their maiden Champions League campaign unbeaten and who came within a goal (if they had beaten Marseille) from a first European final since they defeated Dynamo Moscow in 1972 to win the Cup Winners’ Cup.
One that, even today, fans can still name without difficulty. Andy Goram/Ally Maxwell, David Robertson, Richard Gough, John Brown, Dave McPherson, Stuart McCall, Ian Durrant, Trevor Steven, Pietr Huistra, Mark Hateley, Ian Ferguson, Alexei Mikhailichenko and Ally McCoist.
Ateam full of players who had already cemented their status as heroes prior to facing off against Marseille, Club Brugge and CSKA Moscow in the group stages, thanks to a famous two-legged victory over then English champions Leeds.
Dubbed the ‘Battle of Britain’, Rangers outclassed a Howard Wilkinson side that featured the likes of Cantona, Strachan, McAllister and Speed to secure a 4-2 aggregate win, having seen off Danish champions Lyngby BK in the previous round.
Now for the Ibrox side, all eyes were fixed on a six successive league title a priority as the club drew closer to arch rival Celtic’s record of nine titles in a row, one set nearly 20 years earlier in 1974.
Fans dreamed big and drank in Murray’s desire for European domination, one which ultimately finished before it started, as Rangers went out of the Champions League in the first round to Levski Sofia on the away goals rule the following year.
But the pain of missing out on a return to the biggest stage masked two altogether different, greater questions as the season unfolded.
Firstly, why did the club stick with a man (albeit for only one season) who himself became wrapped up (indirectly) in the scandal that had by that point engulfed his former team in France and later found itself in every back page across Europe?
A scandal that cost Rangers a chance to dine at the most prestigious of European football tables by facing off against Fabio Capello’s Milan in the final?
Boli’s signing was considered a major coup for the Gers, as the team fought off competition from the likes of Arsenal Tottenham and Genoa for the Frenchman, who by that point had already amassed an impressive 50 caps for the national side. Many fans even felt like we had got the better player out of the two between Boli and Desailly.
And secondly, why were his former team, who were subsequently forced to relinquish their 1992–93 Division 1 title, and lost their right to play in the 1993–94 UEFA Champions League, the 1993 European Super Cup and the 1993 Intercontinental Cup, not ultimately stripped of their title as European champions?
The very mention of the name ‘Marseille’ to a Rangers supporter sees the blood drain from their face, and its just aswell that, in the almost 25 years since, the two teams have never been drawn together in European competition. That would really mean fireworks.
Perhaps, for UEFA, the idea of asking the first French team to win the coveted trophy seemed heavy handed. This nearly 40 years after Gabriel Hanot, the former editor of French sports daily L’Equipe, first put forward the idea in one of his columns in December 1954.
But critics were in no doubt as to the gravity of the scandal, one of the biggest in the football’s history, and one which left an irremovable stain on Marseille’s famous white jersey and saw commentators renege on the plethora of footballing superlatives thrown their way over the previous year.
The scandal came to light after it emerged, not long after Marseille’s victory in Munich, that the club and their owner, Bernard Tapie, had fixed a French league match with Valenciennes six days before the final (which they won 1-0). This was done, it was alleged, to ensure the team wouldn’t over exert themselves going into the final, without sacrificing the club’s league campaign.
Using midfielder Jean-Jacques Eydelie as a go-between, Tapie instructed general manager Jean-Pierre Bernes to organize the deal, which consisted of asking Valenciennes players (and former teammates of Eydelie) Jacques Glassmann, Jorge Burruchaga and Christophe Robert to ‘take it easy’ in the game in exchange for payment.
Their cover was only blown after Glassman blew the whistle on the bribery, not before the damage had been done, with Robert receiving 250 000 Francs (£30,000) for his part in the role, a sum he buried in his aunt’s garden because, in his own words, “the money stank so much.”
Subsequently, Rangers forward Marc Hateley, who had a three year spell in France with Monaco prior to signing for the Ibrox side, alleged that Les Phocéens offered him “large sums of money” to try and convince him not to play against them in the penultimate group match of that year’s Champions League campaign.
As bad luck would have it, Hateley missed the game anyway through suspension, having been red carded in the 2-1 home victory against Club Brugge in the previous tie.
The 1-1 away draw between the sides was one Rangers would have won if Hateley had been in the side, believes then manager Walter Smith with some conviction.
Fingers were also pointed at CSKA Moscow, who, after drawing 1-1 with Marseille in the first game between the two sides (played in Berlin’s Olympiastadion due to adverse weather in Russia), were then battered 6-0 by the French side in France.
A 6-0 defeat made remarkable for two factors. The first being that midfielder (and subsequent Hibs captain) Franck Sauzée scored a rare hat-trick for the home team, with Desailly, in no man’s land in a central striking position, capping off the win with an even rarer goal.
CSKA resembled a pub team as their defence chased shadows most of the night while second choice keeper Aleksandr Guteev played as if he wore a Marseille jersey under his own one.
The second; that CSKA’s capitulation in Marseille came from a side that had previously shocked Europe with a 2-3 away win (from 2-0 down at half-time) against then European Cup holders Barcelona to secure their passage into the group stages, in what is, to this day, one of the best 45 minutes ever seen in the illustrious competition.
In an interview in 2010, Walter Smith alluded to Plotnikov when recalling a conversation he had with CSKA boss Guennadi Kostilev prior to their match against Rangers. “We were having a drink before our game at Ibrox. They had lost 6-0 to Marseille and I asked him about it. He told me that his keeper and other players ‘all had money’,” noted Smith.
Indeed Kostilev himself claimed that Marseille officials had tried to bribe his players before the match, only to withdraw the accusation.
Their final group game, which saw them beat Club Brugge 1-0 away in Bruges thanks to Alen Bokšić early goal, was also placed under the microscope, in a 1997 trial involving that man Bernard Tapie, who was accused of embezzling over £10m due to match fixing and corrupt practices.
Prosecutors in the case chose to review three previous European ties Marseille played, with the Club Brugge game one of these under suspicion. In the end, however, the case concerning the three games was not proven.
And if not wasn’t enough mud to throw at the team to make it stick, we also had allegations of doping levied against them in the same era. The aforementioned midfielder Jean-Jacques Eydelie confessed that he and the rest of the players were told to line up prior to the Milan final and given an injection in the lower back of an unknown substance.
This was confirmed in 2003 by former Republic of Ireland striker Tony Cascarino, who said that he too received injections during his spell at the club between 1994 and 1997.
The final nail in a coffin which, unfortunately, is a lid now firmly shut in the eyes of Europe’s governing body. One illustrative of a team that used every trick in the book to become their nation’s first ever European champion, to the detriment of others, most notably Rangers.
A history of twists and turns, drama, treachery and complexity akin to that of a Shakespearean play, that had as their ‘sets’ stadiums such as Ibrox and the Stade Vélodrome . One in which in the end, the villain was stripped bare, but lived to tell the tale.
And for bad or for good, Marseille are still the 1993 European Champions.