Olympique Marseille: 1989-1992
Profile by Steven Cornwall
One interesting consequence of the exclusion of English clubs from European Competition as a result of the Heysel Stadium disaster was that many of England’s top players chose to move to other leagues in order to compete at the highest levels of the club game. Many of these players, such as Terry Butcher and Chris Woods, chose the relatively language-safe route of Scotland to fulfil this; however others crossed the English Channel and took in a whole different culture.
Chris Waddle was one of those, and the former sausage factory worker and Newcastle United star chose to leave Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 1989 to join new French champions Olympique Marseille, revitalised under the controversial presidency of Bernard Tapie.
Of course, the European Cup wasn’t the only factor behind the move – the £4.5 million transfer fee was the third highest of all time, and as Waddle himself said regarding the financial benefits of the deal, “I just had to accept, because of what it offered my family for the future.”
L’OM had just wrested the French League title from Monaco, and boasted other great players such as Didier Deschamps, Jean-Pierre Papin, Enzo Francescoli and Jean Tigana. The addition of Waddle sealed Marseille’s dominance, domestically at least, and they achieved three league titles in the following three seasons (1990-92). Waddle was, not surprisingly, a huge crowd favourite and his carefree style and trickery on the ball delighted the passionate Stade Velodrome faithful, who gave him the nickname ‘Magic Chris’.
League titles naturally led to European excursions for l’OM, and after a controversial semi-final exit to Benfica in 1990 (see link at the bottom of the profile), in 1991 they reached the European Cup final in Bari, where they were beaten on penalties against a disappointingly negative Red Star Belgrade. As Marseille continued to build towards that elusive European triumph, Waddle also played alongside players such as Basile Boli, Eric Cantona, Abedi Pelé, and Dragan Stojkovic.
Despite all this success, Waddle’s career at this time went largely unnoticed in the UK. England manager Graham Taylor awarded him just one cap during England’s failures in Euro 92 and World Cup 94 qualifying. An interview with the Daily Telegraph in 2001 showed Waddle’s disappointment at this: “It’s curious I was considered a luxury player until I went to France. I was never expected to defend at Marseille; my role was to make goals for Papin and entertain. I was playing in the European Cup final against Red Star Belgrade but I couldn’t get in the England team under Graham Taylor. But Michel Platini [French national team coach in 1992] went on record as saying that if [Glenn] Hoddle and I were French, he’d pick us tomorrow.”
Indeed, Waddle was probably more infamous than famous in this country regarding his time abroad – it was during this period that he missed the crucial penalty for England against West Germany in the 1990 World Cup semi-final shoot-out.
In 1992 Waddle returned to England with Sheffield Wednesday, reaching two cup finals and being voted Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year in 1993. It was only then that l’OM finally achieved their European ambition by winning the inaugural Champions League, a Basile Boli goal seeing off Milan 1-0 in Munich. However, Waddle certainly wasn’t forgotten in France, and was voted as Marseille’s second-best player of the 20th century, behind only Papin.
Chris Waddle – Olympique Marseille Career Statistics
Debut: 21.07.89 vs. Lyon (a) 1-4 win – 44 minutes as a substitute
1st Start & 1st Goal: 02.08.89 vs. Toulouse (a) 2-1 defeat – scored after 6 minutes
Final Appearance: 25.04.92 vs. Cannes (h) 2-0 win – 13 minutes as a substitute
|Coupe de France||5||434||2||0||0|
|Coupe de France||5||435||0||0||0|
|Coupe de France||3||242||0||0||0|
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• 1990 French Championship
• 1991 European Cup finalist
• 1991 French Championship
• 1992 French Championship
Chris Waddle Q&A: Marseille
In October 2008 Four Four Two Magazine published a one on one interview with Chris Waddle. Below are the specific questions that relate to his time in France.
Q: What were your reasons for leaving Spurs for Marseille? When you joined, you became the third most expensive player of all time – was this a burden or an ego boost?
A: It took me three months to get used to the language, the heat, the fitness. All this time, I was under scrutiny because of the price tag – the third most expensive player of all time is expected to perform. It all changed when I scored a goal against Paris Saint Germain where I lifted it over the keeper’s head and back-heeled it into the net. Suddenly everything kicked into gear and the next three years were like playing in Fantasy Island and I was Tattoo [pint-sized character from the ’70s show].
Q: At Marseille, you were vying for a spot in the team with a young Eric Cantona. Did you ever have any run-ins with him?
A: Eric used to come into training every day on a Harley-Davidson but otherwise he was a quiet lad. I’d heard stories about him where he’d flown off the handle, but I got on well with him. We actually went out for dinner and a beer a couple of times.
Q: Your Marseille team-mate Jean-Pierre Papin was voted European Footballer of the Year in 1991, but I gather you set up the majority of his goals. How miffed were you not to even make the top three?
A: Before the European Cup final when we lost to Red Star Belgrade, I got told by a lot of French journalists that if we won the game, I’d win the European Footballer of the Year. But we lost and it went to Jean-Pierre. I was glad for him though; he was a great goal scorer and helped me a lot when I first joined the club.
Q: After a less than comfortable experience with Diamond Lights, why oh why did you go back for more pop action with Basile Boli in We’ve Got a Feeling? Also what the hell was that video all about? It’s one of the best/worst pop videos I’ve ever seen…
A: Err, money. Next question…I had to play an English gent, wear a bowler hat and twirl an umbrella around. Basically, I had to make a tit of myself. It did get to number one in Albania though. Unfortunately, the video’s recently been posted on YouTube, so it’s been re-born. I just hope it doesn’t get re-released!
Q: What kind of reception do you get when you go back to Marseille? Oh, and how’s your French?
A: I’ve been back on four or five occasions and every time the fans are brilliant – I get treated like a king. The good thing is, it’s not just Marseille, I can go anywhere in France and everyone treats me very well. As for my French, it’s terrible.
Q: 1990-91 for Marseille or 1992-93 for Sheffield Wednesday: which was your best season?
A: I would probably say Marseille but to win Footballer of The Year was a great achievement. The football at Marseille though, was impossible to describe. If they played stuff like that now, they’d win the European Cup.
Q: You played in the 1991 European Cup final for Marseille and were Footballer of the Year in 1993 but still couldn’t get into the England team – why was this?
A: I was obviously disappointed and didn’t agree with Graham’s selection. It was frustrating watching England against Sweden during Euro 1992 from my sofa at home when I knew I should have been on the pitch. Graham has since said that he had John Barnes on the left and he was looking for something different. Graham – who I get on with very well now – might admit he was wrong, he might not, but as a manager, I understand that you can’t please everyone.
For the rest of the Four Four Two Magazine Q&A with Waddle speaking on his whole career click here.