Bernard Tapie, the charismatic president of French soccer club Marseille during its glory era whose reign was marred by a match-fixing scandal, has died. He was 78.
Marseille announced Tapie’s death on its Twitter page.
“Marseille has learned with a great sadness the passing of Bernard Tapie," the club wrote. "He will leave a big void in the hearts of Marseille fans and will remain a club legend.”
His family announced in a separate statement that he had died from cancer. He is survived by his wife Dominique Tapie and their two children.
“Dominique Tapie and their children have the immense pain of sharing the news of the death of their husband and father, Bernard Tapie, this Sunday morning at 8:40 am, following a cancer,” the family told La Provence newspaper. “He made it known that he wishes to be buried in Marseille, the club of his heart.”
The French presidency sent condolences. French President Emmanuel Macron is a Marseille fan.
Tapie was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2017 and had undergone surgery in Paris in early 2018.
A multifaceted businessman, Tapie was also an actor who looked comfortable in the limelight when on the Paris theatre stage and as a politician. His success with Marseille dovetailed with a series of legal battles and corruption investigations that tarnished his image.
Known by the nickname “Nanar,” the gregarious Tapie started his career as a singer and made his fortune by buying out struggling companies. He was a familiar figure for many years, known for his tailored suits and a broad lower jaw.
Tapie’s flamboyant lifestyle was well-documented by French media, and he reached the peak of his popularity during the 1980s and '90s.
Marseille won five league titles between 1989-93 and the league and French Cup double in '89.
Although the ’93 title was stripped and Marseille relegated to the second tier because of a match-fixing scandal, that did little to tarnish Tapie’s image in the eyes of the club’s passionate fans who continued to adore him.
He will forever be remembered for bringing great names to the club, including dazzling winger Enzo Francescoli, ruthless finisher Rudi Voeller and imposing central defender Carlos Mozer — and for guiding the club to its greatest glory in winning the Champions League in 1993.
Euphoric Marseille fans sang “We Are the Champions” late into the night after defender Basile Boli’s bullet header defeated Italian giant AC Milan 1-0 in Munich. The side was captained by Didier Deschamps, a midfielder whose huge work ethic matched Tapie's and who then coached Marseille to the league title in 2010 and France to World Cup glory in 2018.
Tapie was extremely demanding of his players but also close to them. Long before the days of social networks and camera phones, Tapie would be filmed opening Champagne with his players in the dressing room after a big win.
Players were devoted to him and played a brand of electrifying attacking soccer that lit up stadiums in France and abroad.
“His intransigence helped players to mature, to progress, made them stronger,” Marseille said on its website. “He changed the mentality of French players ... with him it was all or nothing. You had to be able to respond to his levels of demand.”
Appearing frequently on television, Tapie became something of a celebrity with his excesses, successes and failures that led to bankruptcy, and once to jail.
Tapie was born in Paris in 1943. After a short and unsuccessful stint as a pop singer, Tapie thought about embracing a career in auto racing before a serious accident left him in a coma.
He sold televisions and then specialized in the recovery and resale of companies. One of the first businesses Tapie purchased was Leclanche Wonder, a battery manufacturer.
His masterstroke came in 1990 when he bought German sporting goods company Adidas, a move that also proved to be his downfall.
Tapie, who briefly served as minister of city affairs under the late French president Francois Mitterrand and was a member of the French parliament for several years, sold his majority stake in Adidas through French bank Credit Lyonnais in 1992. Tapie then claimed the deal was mismanaged and began a 20-year legal battle with the bank in an attempt to claim damages.
In 2017, an appeal court ordered him to repay 404 million euros ($449 million) that he was awarded in 2008 for the disputed sale of the company.
Tapie’s huge appetite for enterprise also led him into the world of sports. He managed star cyclists Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond to victories in the Tour de France with the La Vie Claire team.
Tapie then presided over the most glorious period in Marseille football club’s history, but also its darkest moment.
The club was stripped of the '93 championship after Valenciennes players were paid to throw a game, with a lump sum of money buried in the garden of one of the players.
Marseille was relegated to the second division; Tapie was convicted of rigging the match and served more than five months in jail, and Marseille was not able to defend its European crown.
Involved in several other legal cases, Tapie reinvented himself as an actor and wrote books before he returned to business, buying Marseille newspaper La Provence in 1992.