From football fields to the roads of the Tour de France, Bernard Tapie, a salesman of dreams in the world of sport

A multi-faceted man, including that of president of Olympique de Marseille, Bernard Tapie died on Sunday October 3, at the age of 78. Company manager, television host, deputy, singer, minister, actor: this jack-of-all-trades has had a great influence on the French sports landscape, often selling dreams, and sometimes accomplishing miracles.

Between summits and abysses. Bernard Tapie has known everything in his life: from the golds of the Republic to the throes of prison, from television sets to those of cinema, from courtrooms to sidelines, he has lived through the years with one thing in common: the leading role . At the dawn of sport business, Bernard Tapie knew how to combine his talents as a businessman with his passion for sport.

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Coming from a popular background, his speech and his (many) successes make him an extraordinary character. His aura, his address book and his banter make him essential. Appearing in the program « Gym Tonic » alongside Véronique and Davina in tight-fitting outfits does not bother him. On the contrary, he uses it to display his dynamism, his fierce desire to succeed in whatever he undertakes.

« The unit of measurement of a capitalist system is money. And I have a fierce will to earn a lot, a lot, a lot of money », he liked to say on Antenne 2. It is with this philosophy that he built his empire, and it is with this same philosophy that he left his mark in French sport.

Bernard Tapie, boss of La Vie Claire, between Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond, January 31, 1985. (JOEL ROBINE / AFP)

Bernard Tapie will remain for many the one who knew how to raise OM on the roof of Europe. But before this epic football, whose epilogue has everything of a Greek tragedy, Bernard Tapie had already distinguished himself in cycling. In 1984, the man, then aged 41, invested 10 million francs in the « La Vie Claire » team. The two champions of the time, Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond, are its heads of gondola. In 1985, « Le Blaireau » won the Tour de France, signing the last success of a French rider on the Grande Boucle.

The following year, he managed to convince his two champions who no longer agree to cross the finish line at the top of Alpe-d’Huez, hand in hand. In the documentary by The team « Bernard Tapie the freedman », the journalist Philippe Brunel will talk about a « anti-legend stage, a sad stage. Tapie has arranged things (…). These two reconciled champions, it is La Vie Claire who wins », railed Brunel.

A divisive character, it is undoubtedly in Marseille and in football that Bernard Tapie made the most impression. When he took over OM in 1986 for a symbolic franc, the Marseille club had returned to the top two years earlier and failed to regain its former glory.

It’s been ten years since Marseille has not won a trophy, the last being none other than the Coupe de France. As for the championship, the last title dates from 1974. Specialist in the recovery of companies in difficulty, Tapie has all the messiah. And it was none other than Gaston Defferre, the former mayor of Marseille, who called on him.

Bernard Tapie (top left) celebrates their European title with OM players on May 27, 1993 (BORIS HORVAT / AFP)

« I am giving myself five years to make OM a great one in Europe« , he launches on his arrival. Under his leadership, Michel Hidalgo, former coach of the France team at the origin of the magic square (Platini, Giresse, Tigana, Genghini) symbol of the beautiful game, becomes sports director , and Gérard Banide trainer. With his aplomb, his persuasive force, but also a few magic tricks, he recruits Alain Giresse, who seemed however attached to Bordeaux. With nose, and well advised, he also convinces stars in the making among including a certain Jean-Pierre Papin, to join him … From the first season, OM started with twelve successes in a row and finished second in the championship.

The machine was launched and, in 1989, the cup-championship double made Tapie a real local hero. But the man is ambitious and is not satisfied with a single feat of arms. The one that Marseille supporters nickname « the boss » wants to conquer Europe. That summer, the craziest rumors announced the signing of Diego Maradona in Marseille. The case will not be done in the end, but the legend of Tapie sur la Canebière is being written.

In 1990, he bought the equipment giant Adidas and established his credibility a little more in the world of sport business. Franz Beckenbauer, newly crowned world champion at the head of Germany, becomes the coach of OM. This is one of Tapie’s many « pretty shots » in Marseille. Man of challenges, failures annoy him. After failing to attract « El Pibe de Oro », he rebounded by offering himself in the summer of 1990 Dragan Stojkovic, number 10 of genius that Europe is snapping up. A great name added to those of Enzo Francescoli, Chris Waddle, Klaus Allofs, Carlos Mozer, Rudi Völler, and so many French internationals (Deschamps, Desailly, Sauzée, Amoros …).

In 1991, he came close to his goal with OM, but the team was beaten on penalties by the Belgrade Red Star. The consecration will come in 1993 with the famous head of Basile Boli against the great AC Milan. Marseille is in a trance, French football is in the spotlight and Tapie is jubilant. But this forced climb makes people cringe. He made enemies, and his entry into politics in Marseille, then on the national level, did not help the situation. He annoys as much as he is feared.

Bernard Tapie, then president of OM, greets Marseille supporters at the Vélodrome, September 9, 1993. (ERIC CABANIS / AFP)

If it is celebrated as it should by all the people of Marseille, the president of OM is nevertheless worried. Four days earlier, the Valenciennes club revealed an attempted corruption during their May 20 match against Marseille. The VA-OM affair will explode and cause the downfall of Bernard Tapie. The latter will be sentenced to two years in prison, one of which is closed (converted into eight months after appeal, then six after his parole) for corruption and bribery of witnesses.

« He will have done a lot of good for French football and a lot of harm with this story », summarizes the former coach of AJ Auxerre, Guy Roux. With his « tricks » often depicted in the Guignols of Canal +, Tapie really managed to work miracles. He was sort of a sports magician.

Even away from the field, it is always with passionate eyes that he commented on OM news. Suffering from stomach cancer since 2017, he had embarked on a fight to survive. Tapie then revealed on France 2 that the announcement of his cancer, « It’s like getting a baseball in your head. » Sport always. A year later, he explained that he was fighting a fight to help the medical profession to support patients.

« It’s in my nature, I can’t help but get involved in things that don’t concern me », he called out. Like a boxer, Bernard Tapie has often won titles, before being cornered on the ropes. While we often believed him knocked out, he got up to start a new challenge. This time, he just lost his last fight.

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