Bernard Tapie, French Businessman and Soccer Club President, Dies at 78

Bernard Tapie, French Businessman and Soccer Club President, Dies at 78

Bernard Tapie,

a flamboyant businessman who was beloved by sports fans for leading French soccer club Marseille to glory but also dogged by legal battles and corruption investigations, died at age 78.

A feature of French life for decades, Mr. Tapie’s death Sunday unleashed tributes from across the worlds of sports, politics, business and entertainment in France, reflecting the wide, storied and repeatedly controversial variety of his multiple careers and endeavors.

“He led a thousand lives,” the office of French President

Emmanuel Macron

said in a message of condolence to his family. Mr. Macron said Mr. Tapie’s “ambition, energy and enthusiasm were a source of inspiration for generations of French.”

Mr. Tapie’s wife, Dominique, and their two children announced his death to the Marseille newspaper La Provence, which he owned. Mr. Tapie had been fighting cancer, diagnosed in 2017.

The family’s statement said Mr. Tapie wanted to be buried in Marseille, “the city of his heart.” He was adored there by fans of the city’s soccer club, which counts Mr. Macron among its supporters. The club tweeted that “he will leave a great void in the hearts of the people of Marseille.”

Mr. Tapie’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 European soccer’s showcase club competition.

Mr. Tapie was extremely demanding of his players but also close to them. Among his star recruits were dazzling winger Enzo Francescoli, ruthless finisher Rudi Voeller and imposing central defender Carlos Mozer. Long before the days of social networks and camera phones, Mr. Tapie would be filmed opening Champagne with his players in the dressing room after a big win.

Players were devoted to him and played electrifying attacking soccer that lit up stadiums in France and abroad.

Marseille also won five French league titles between 1989-93 and the league and French Cup double in 1989. But the 1993 title was stripped and Marseille relegated to the second tier because of a match-fixing scandal. Players for league rival Valenciennes were paid to throw a game, with a lump sum of money buried in the garden of one of the players. Mr. Tapie was convicted of rigging the match and served more than five months in jail. Marseille wasn’t able to defend its European crown.

Marseille fans, however, continued to adore Mr. Tapie. Admirers on Sunday attached bouquets of flowers to a portrait of Mr. Tapie erected outside the club’s stadium.

Marseille supporters paid homage on Sunday to Bernard Tapie, former president of the French soccer club.


clement mahoudeau/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Known by the nickname “Nanar,” the gregarious Mr. Tapie started his career as a singer and made his fortune by buying out struggling companies. He was a familiar figure for decades, known for his tailored suits and a broad lower jaw.

A multifaceted businessman, Mr. Tapie was also an actor who looked comfortable in the limelight when on the Paris theater stage and as a politician. Appearing frequently on television, Mr. Tapie became a celebrity with his excesses, successes and failures that led to bankruptcy and legal battles.

Mr. Tapie was born in Paris in 1943. After a short and unsuccessful stint as a pop singer, Mr. 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 Mr. 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.

Mr. Tapie, who briefly served as minister of city affairs under the late French President François 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. Mr. 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 ($449 million) that he was awarded in 2008 for the disputed sale of the company.

Mr. Tapie’s huge appetite for enterprise also led him into sports beyond soccer. He managed star cyclists Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond to victories in the Tour de France with the La Vie Claire team.

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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