Bernard Tapie, the charismatic president of French football club Marseille during his glory era, died during whose reign the match-fixing scandal took place.
PARIS — Bernard Tapi, a flamboyant businessman who was beloved by sports fans for leading French soccer club Marseille but also ravaged by legal battles and corruption investigations, has died. He was 78 years old.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in a condolence message to his family, “They took a thousand lives.” It said that Tapi’s “ambition, energy and enthusiasm were a source of inspiration for generations of French.”
Tapi’s wife, Dominique, and their two children announced his death to the Marseille newspaper La Provence, which he owned. Tapi was fighting cancer, which was diagnosed in 2017.
The family statement said Tapi was to be buried in Marseille, the “city of his heart”. He is loved by fans of the city’s soccer club, who count Macron among their supporters. The club tweeted that “he will leave a great void in the hearts of the people of Marseille.”
Tapi’s popularity peaked during the 1980s and 90s when, as club president, he guided Marseille to victory in the 1993 Champions League. Marseille is the only French club to have won the Showcase Club competition of European football.
Euphoric Marseille fans sang “We Are the Champions” late into the night when defender Basil Boli’s bullet header beat Italian giants AC Milan 1-0 in Munich. The team was captained by Didier Deschamps, a midfielder whose expansive work ethic matched that of TAPI who then led Marseille to league titles in 2010 and France to World Cup glory in 2018.
Tapi was very demanding of his players but was also close to them. His star recruits included dazzling winger Enzo Francescoli, brutal finisher Rudy Voeller and central defender Carlos Moser. Long before the days of social networks and camera phones, Tapi would be filmed opening champagne with her players in the dressing room after a big win.
Players were devoted to him and electrified attacking footballs lighting up stadiums in France and abroad.
Marseille won five French league titles between 1989–93 and a league and French Cup double in ’89. But the ’93 title was taken away due to the match-fixing scandal and Marseille was relegated to another level. Players from league rival Valenciennes were paid to throw a game, with a lump sum of money buried in a player’s garden. Tapi was convicted of match rigging and was in jail for more than five months. Marseille was not able to defend its European crown.
However, Marseille fans continued to like Tapi. Fans put bouquets of flowers on Tapi’s portrait outside the club’s stadium on Sunday.
Known by the nickname “Nanar”, the gorgeous Tapi started his career as a singer and made his fortune by buying struggling companies. He was a familiar figure for decades, known for his tailored suits and wide lower jaw.
A multi-faceted businessman, Taapsee was also an actor who seemed comfortable on the Paris theater stage and in the limelight as a politician. A frequent appearance on television, Taapsee became a celebrity with her excesses, successes and failures, which led to bankruptcy and legal battles.
Tapi was born in 1943 in Paris. After a short and unsuccessful stint as a pop singer, Taapsee considered pursuing a career in auto racing, before a serious accident left her in a coma.
He sold TVs and then specialized in recovery and resale companies. One of the first businesses TAPI bought was battery manufacturer Leclanche Wonder.
His masterstroke came in 1990 when he bought the German sporting goods company Adidas, a move that also proved to be his downfall.
Tapie, who served as Minister of City Affairs under the late French President François Mitterrand and was a member of the French Parliament for many years, sold his majority stake in Adidas through the French bank Credit Lyonnais in 1992. Tappy 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 appeals court ordered him to repay the 404 million euros ($449 million) awarded in 2008 for the disputed sale of the company.
Tapi’s overwhelming appetite for venture inspired him into sports beyond football. He managed star cyclists Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond to victory in the Tour de France with the La Vie Claire team.
Associated Press writer John Leicester in Paris contributed to this report.
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