Paris Saint-Germain versus Olympique Marseille is a grudge match. If ever a game in France could be termed as a clash, Le Classique would be runaway winners. Every land in every corner of the world that has ever indulged in sporting faceoff has given birth to rivalries – it is an inevitable consequence of contrasting ideologies meeting in direct competition at the only place in civil society where physical contest is legally permitted. Football rivalries take greater contextual importance because this battle of pride, individuality, values and face is fought under the gaze of a worldwide audience; there is no hiding and it indeed is winner takes all.
And much like most fierce rivalries, the genesis of PSG and Marseille’s mutual dislike extends far beyond football. Theirs is not a neighbourly dispute but a conflict of France’s two biggest cities – a battle of culture, tradition and influence. PSG, from northern France, is a representation of the elite class who have been backed by newfound wealth of sovereign investment. Marseille, a port city from the south, represents the industrious working class who have reached their position through accumulating success.
But this was not a rivalry that was destined to be. For a large part of Marseille’s journey, 71 years to be exact, PSG did not even exist. Even when PSG was formed in 1970, they hardly troubled the historians into rewriting the annals. It was only in 1986 that the French capital smashed their way into footballing relevance by winning their first league title. But the rivalry would not be realized until three years later.
In 1989, Marseille and PSG emerged as the two frontrunners for the league with the former not having touched France’s premier silverware for 17 years. With emotions running high, Marseille prepared to host their competitors from Paris, who only needed a draw to win the league. As if the already combustible environment needed further catalysis, the then PSG president Francis Borelli accused his counterpart Bernard Tapie of fixing matches. For a large part of the game it seemed as though the verbal jibe had worked as the game was heading for a draw until a late 25-yard strike from Franck Sauzée saw Marseille back on the summit of French football.
This rivalry of ideologies turned into a battle of bad blood on and off the pitch after broadcaster Canal+ purchased PSG in 1991. Seen as a move in bad faith, clashes between fans and even players became common place. Dislike was cemented into hatred when Marseille defeated PSG in 1992 at Parc des Princes. Described as “The Butchery of 1992”, the players were motivated to fight very literally and fight they did as the game saw more than 50 fouls.
Marseille would march on to win their fifth consecutive domestic title that season and also win the UEFA Champions League. But their continued period of success would come to a screeching halt when Borelli’s accusation turned into a prophesy. Tapie and then general manager Jean-Pierre Bernès were found guilty of bribery which resulted in Marseille being stripped of the league title, relegated to the second division and banned from European competitions.
This jolted Marseille but not their spirit as the clash against PSG only gained heat. While still in the second division, a Coupe de France match between the two teams saw such violence that it led to 146 arrests and 9 policemen had to be hospitalized. The mutual angst between the two sets of fans has led to many shameful incidents over the years. The rawness of the emotions between the fans is not simply a proportional reflection of football on the pitch. It is one of pride – one which is a result of what each city represents. Even in 2016, a time when PSG and Marseille were as far apart in stronghold as they have ever been, crowd violence led to 30 arrests.
Monday’s game, however, between these accidental rivals will not have this unique dimension as in a pandemic-stricken world, the game will be conducted behind closed doors. Fans will not be the only ones missing from Parc des Princes in the latest rendition of this rivalry as PSG is set to miss the services of a host of their big boys. In the absence of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Keylor Navas, Angel Di Maria, Mauro Icardi, Marquinhos and Leonardo Paredes, the PSG side that lost to Lens in their opening game of the season resembled that of a time prior to middle eastern association.
And for Marseille, this presents an inviting opportunity to pile some early misery on PSG. Perhaps realizing this, Marseille attacker Dimitri Payet fired an early shot on Twitter by making it clear where his loyalty lies. Even though the former West Ham man played down any idea of revenge, it is clear that Marseille will not have a better opportunity to overturn their winless run against PSG – one that has stretched to 20 games.
PSG – Sergio Rico; Thilo Kehrer, Abdou Diallo, Presnel Kimpembe, Juan Bernat; Marco Verratti, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Ander Herrera; Pablo Sarabia, Arnaud Kalimuendo-Muinga, Kays Ruiz-Atil
OM – Steve Mandanda; Hiroki Sakai, Leonardo Balerdi, Duje Caleta-Car, Jordan Amavi; Morgan Sanson, Boubacar Kamara, Kevin Strootman; Florian Thauvin, Dario Benedetto, Dimitri Payet
Score Prediction: PSG 1-2 OM