Like all the game's major rivalries, the enmity between Paris Saint-Germain and 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 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 Etienne, the only French clubs with a truly national fan base, adding to the appeal of the country's biggest fixture. FIFA.com tells the story of French football's most bitter power struggle.
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.
With the arrival of Bernard Tapie as the president of l'OM and television station Canal + as the owners of PSG, the two sides began to flex their muscles in the transfer market. Stars of the stature of Chris Waddle, Jean-Pierre Papin, Carlos Mozer, Rudi Voller, Basile Boli and Enzo Francescoli checked in at the Stade Velodrome, while Paris responded with the signings of Safet Susic, Luis Fernandez, David Ginola, Youri Djorkaeff, George Weah and Rai. Having long been enemies for a variety of historical and cultural reasons, the cities of Paris and Marseille now had another outlet for their mutual antipathy, with constant sniping in the press adding to the tension whenever the two sides met.
Facts and figures
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 in the last five games since October 2012, the Parisians took their tally of wins to 32, to equal Marseille.
When l'OM became the first French side to win the European Cup 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 Velodrome, one of them a 3-0 triumph made memorable by a superlative performance from Ronaldinho.
Tales of derbies past
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 Velodrome, 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 Sauzee 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 AC 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.
The rivalry today
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 Qatari investors in control of PSG. 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 begin each meeting as favourites, whether at Parc des Princes or at the Velodrome.
The 2014 clash in Paris on Sunday 9 November will be interesting for several reasons. Besides the usual rivalry between both teams and supporters, it will be a crucial game between first and second in the table. But contrary to what could be expected, Marseille is the better ranked side after 12 games, mostly thanks to their new coach Marcelo Bielsa, and the ten goals of Andre-Pierre Gignac. Still unbeaten, Paris is, however, four points behind, and can’t afford losing three more if they want to retain their Ligue 1 crown at the end of the season.