Le Classique (French pronunciation: [lə klasik], The Classic), also known as the Derby de France, is a football match contested between French top-flight clubs Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique de Marseille. Unlike most derbies, the rivalry is not a product of close proximities—it involves the two largest cities in France. The PSG vs. OM rivalry transcends the boundaries of the pitch 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 Lyon 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 big history pre-millennium, 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.
Since their first meeting in 1971, these two clubs have squared off in what many believe is France's biggest rivalry. PSG vs. OM is also considered to be one of the greatest in club football. At the very least, it is France’s most violent. Le Classique increased in importance and ferocity during the late 1980s 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. Important security measures are taken to prevent confrontations between the fans, but violent episodes still often occur when the duo meet.
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.
The rivalry has been marred with injuries and arrests over the years. In 1995, fighting during the semifinal of the Coupe de France between PSG and Marseille resulted in 146 arrests and nine policemen hospitalized. In 2000, a Marseille fan was paralyzed for life after being struck by a seat thrown from the PSG section in Paris. Even fans of the same team have turned on each other as in 2010 a PSG supporter was put into a coma and eventually died after being attacked by members of another PSG supporters group. Despite the hostilities, many players have worn the shirt of both clubs and have subsequently suffered abuses from the rival supporters.
The 2004 French Cup Final was marred by the persistent barracking of 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 PSG after a confrontation with then manager Vahid Halilhodžić. He was transferred to 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.
Over the years, Le Classique has had a large 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. A long-range strike by Franck Sauzée, however, gave Les Phocéens the points and set them on the road to their first league crown since 1972.
An equally unforgettable incident came just three years later when then-PSG 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 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. 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 discernible 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, 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.
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. They fell to mid-table in 2012 as internal bickering and tensions between then coach Didier Deschamps and the board came to a head.