Le Classique (French pronunciation: [lə klasik], The Classic), also known as Derby de France, is a football match contested between Frenchtop-flight clubs Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique de Marseille. Unlike most derbies, Le Classique is not a product of close proximities—it involves the two largest cities in France. It features the hub of French society and style in Paris against the port city of the working class in Marseille. North against south and the kingpin of the southern provinces against the political center of the capital city adds the political dimension to this rivalry.
The duo are the only two French clubs to have won European trophies and were the dominant forces in the land prior to the emergence of Olympique Lyonnais at the start of the millennium. Yet despite their recent travails, PSG and l'OM remain, along with Saint-Étienne, the only French clubs with a truly national fan base, adding to the appeal of the country's biggest fixture. They are the two most popular clubs in France, and are also the most followed French clubs outside the country. Both teams are at or near the top of the attendance lists every year as well.
OM and PSG fans have tense relations, and various groups of Marseille and Parisian supporters have hated and battled each other. Important security measures are taken to prevent confrontations between the fans, but violent episodes still often occur when the duo meet. Despite the hostilities, many players have worn the shirt of both clubs and have subsequently suffered abuses from the supporters.
Like all the game's major rivalries, the enmity between Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique de Marseille extends beyond the pitch. The so-called French clásico has a historical, cultural and social importance that makes it more than just a football match, pitting as it does north against south, capital against province and the chosen ones of French football against its enfants terribles. The fixture may have produced plenty of talking points and great goals over the years, but as football duels go, it is a relatively recent one. While the southerners have been around for over a century now, the Parisians only came into being in 1970 and in their early meetings there was little indication the two would become deadly adversaries. All that would change in the mid-1980s when PSG began to collect silverware and harbour ambitions that reflected their status as a big team from the capital.
Marseille dominated the fixture for many years and did not lose to their northern rivals between 1990 and 1999, although they did spend two seasons in the second division during that time. Since then PSG have all but caught up, putting together a spectacular run of eight consecutive wins between 2002 and 2004. And when they prevailed at the Vélodrome in October 2013, the Parisians took their tally of wins to 31, just one behind Marseille.
When l'OM became the first French side to win the UEFA Champions League in 1993, their fans greeted the triumph by chanting "A jamais les premiers" (Forever First). Those words could just as easily apply to the inaugural meeting between the two teams in 1971, which ended in a comprehensive 4-2 win for a Marseille side inspired by the strike duo of Roger Magnusson and Josip Skoblar. For their part, PSG fans have fond memories of 2003, when their heroes came out on top three times in all, including two wins at the Vélodrome, one of them a 3-0 triumph made memorable by a superlative performance from Ronaldinho.
Over the years the French clásico has had a big impact on the domestic game, determining the fate of many a piece of silverware. The 1989 clash at the Vélodrome, for example, played a major part in shaping the rivalry as we know it today. With just three games left in the season, the match was a virtual title decider. And the championship looked to be heading the visitors' way when the score remained locked at 0-0 with just a few seconds remaining. An unstoppable long-range strike by Franck Sauzée gave Les Phocéens the points, however, and set them on the road to their first league crown since 1972.
An equally unforgettable incident came just three years later when the then PSG Portuguese coach Artur Jorge announced in the build-up that his side would "walk all over" their opponents. Seizing the opportunity to motivate his players, President Tapie cut out the offending newspaper article and stuck it up in the Marseille dressing room. Sure enough, 90 minutes later they walked away with the points.
Another memorable Marseille date is 29 May 1993, a mere three days after they had defeated A.C. Milan in the UEFA Champions League final. The newly crowned continental kings and championship leaders welcomed their closest challengers in a match that would determine the destiny of the title. Drained by their European celebrations, l'OM quickly fell behind only to hit back with three quick goals. Among them was undoubtedly the finest goal ever scored in the fixture to date: a sumptuous team move capped by a stunning 18-yard header from Basile Boli.
The men from the Parc des Princes can console themselves with two dramatic victories of their own. In 1999 a struggling PSG side earned a 2-1 win over championship contenders Marseille, their first over their rivals in many years. What made the triumph even more special for the Parisians was the fact that Marseille would finish the season a point behind eventual champions Bordeaux. And when the two sides met in the 2006 French Cup final, Paris made light of their relegation worries to upset the final favourites 2-1, with Vikash Dhorasoo scoring the goal of the night.
Since the mid-1990s, with rare exceptions, both teams have rarely been at their best at the same time. And though OM were generally more frequent challengers over the past decade, there has been a discernable power-shift since the arrival of Qatar Investment Authority in control of PSG during 2011. Now with the financial resources that have allowed them to build a squad that can compete with the best clubs in Europe, the capital club are clear favourites, whether at Parc des Princes or at the Vélodrome.
With the money pumped in from Qatari ownership, it has looked like PSG will have the upper hand in this rivalry for years to come. Zlatan Ibrahimović and Thiago Silva are part of an all star lineup that Ligue 1 has not seen since the early 1990s Marseille squads. The financial expenditures have made PSG public enemy number one for the supporters of the rest of Ligue 1. They are the team everyone is expected to chase and the club that on paper should run away with the 2013 title.
On the flip side, Marseille is only a few years removed from claiming the title and finishing second to Lille during the defense of that title. Last season they fell to mid-table as internal bickering and tensions between then coach Didier Deschamps and the board came to a head. Mounting financial problems saw Marseille as a seller instead of buyer in the 2012 summer as Élie Baup took the reins as Deschamps replacement. The talent remaining was still enough to see them regarded as a dark horse for a European spot, but not as a true challenger to their hated rivals in Paris.
The PSG vs. OM rivalry transcends the boundaries of the pitch in France. Since the first meeting in 1971, these two clubs have squared off in what many believe is France’s biggest rivalry. At the very least, it is France’s most violent. The Derby de France (as it's sometimes called) increased in importance and ferocity during the late 1980’s as PSG and Marseille battled each other for the Ligue 1 title. The rivalry grew into the national spotlight as PSG owners Canal + and Marseille’s Bernard Tapie promoted the matches between these clubs to a confrontational level. Since then, the rivalry has been marred with injuries and arrests over the years:
11 April 1995 : 146 arrests and 9 policemen hospitalized due to fighting in the semi-final of the Coupe de France.
13 October 2000 : an 18-year-old Marseille supporter was paralyzed for life after being struck by a seat thrown from the Parisians section of the Parc des Princes.
10 February 2002 : a 16-year-old Marseille fan was half decapitated (his head was out the window of a moving bus when it slammed into a bridge abutment); a Parisian fan suffered a broken arm after falling into the ditch that separates the turn Auteuil from the lawn; 15 arrests; 2 provisional detentions; several vehicles damaged; a fire inside the Parc des Princes.
47 players have worn the shirt of both Olympique Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain. Sometimes through a direct transfer, sometimes after many years and some have even found their way back. Abel Braga played for PSG from 1979 to 1981 and then managed OM in 2000, and Tomislav Ivić managed both clubs. The large amount of players who have represented for both sides is surprisingly high considering the enmity between the clubs. Only four players have left one club for the other and then returned. Jérôme Leroy left PSG in 1999 for OM and then returned to the French capital in 2002. Xavier Gravelaine, meanwhile, left Paris Saint-Germain in 1995 to join Guingamp before signing for Marseille in 1996. Three years later, he returned to Paris. Bruno Germain was directly transferred from Marseille to PSG in 1991. He returned to the south of France in 1994. Saar Boubacar had the same experience, arriving at the capital club from Olympique Marseille in 1979 before returning to his first club in 1983. The rivalry has never prevented the business. Many players have crossed the bridge without knowing or caring about the intense rivalry between both clubs and have subsequently suffered abuses from the supporters.
Love and passion for the shirt is a figment of the imagination and career choices from the players have ended in sounded failures. The 2004 French Cup Final was marred by the persistent barracking of the PSG captain, Frédéric Déhu, who, it had been revealed earlier in the week would be joining Marseille when his contract expired at the end of the season. He was even jeered when he collected the trophy and subsequently disappeared straight down the tunnel in tears, failing to return for the lap of honour.
Months later, Fabrice Fiorèse slammed the door at Paris Saint-Germain after a confrontation with then manager Vahid Halilhodžić. He was transferred to Olympique Marseille in stormy conditions and went from being a fan favorite to being the most hated. Considered to be the new Christophe Dugarry at the time, Fiorèse insisted on the fact that Halilhodžić had refused his request to miss a match when his wife gave birth. A player's transferring directly from one club to another is seen as high treason, as Fabrice Fiorèse discovered when he was effectively whistled and chanted out of a Clasico by Paris fans outraged by his transfer to their arch-rivals.
"Treason" has in fact happened in different ways: transfers, players out of contract or exchange. During the 1990s, we witnessed the record shuffles between the two cities, when the sporting and media rivalry was at its peak. French football hope Jocelyn Angloma from PSG was exchanged for l'OM players Bernard Pardo, Bruno Germain and Laurent Fournier. Laurent Fournier replaced Vahid Halilhodžić as PSG coach and midfielder Lorik Cana fell out of favour in 2005. This prompted him to move to the south of France. Although previously declaring they will never play for Marseille, PSG players Modeste M'bami and Gabriel Heinze joined "Les Phocéens" in 2006 and 2009, respectively.