The PSG-Olympique Marseille 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The list of violent acts and arrests during this rivalry is long. The scars left have been a reminder of the total dislike of each other these clubs and their fans have.
With all the bad blood between the two off the pitch, the rivalry has had its share of magical performances on the pitch. With players like Djorkaeff, Rai, Ronaldinho and Pauletta for PSG, and Waddle, Papin, Drogba and Voller for Marseille, the rivalry has provided some of the most memorable moments in the history of French soccer.
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 Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and recent addition Gregory Van der Wiel are part of an all star lineup that Ligue 1 has not seen the likes of since the early 1990 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 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 this summer as Elie Baup took the reins as Deschamps replacement. With bright young talents like Cesar Azpilicueta sold to Chelsea, and French international Alou Diarra sent to England, L’OM seemed to be in a downward spiral.
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.
Marseille jumped out to a tremendous start capturing all 12 points from their first four matches. With ownership looking to improve the squad on a limited budget, the options looked slim for adding a talent to help them try and keep pace with PSG. Enter the controversial Joey Barton.
The former Manchester City player has been a lightning rod for many of the wrong reasons in his career. Marseille acquired the QPR bad boy on loan for this season. The question remains on how many games from his 12-game suspension he will have to miss in Ligue 1.
Barton’s reputation in England preceded him, and had led to him needing a fresh start. Barton is hopeful that Marseille can give him just that. Barton is looking to emulate former Marseille Englishman Chris Waddle’s impact on Ligue 1.
In Barton, Marseille is acquiring a player whose talents have long been overshadowed by his antics. He is a physical presence in the midfield, but beyond the hard tackling there is a player with a great deal of skill. It is the combination of English steel and technical aptitude that made him an attractive option for Marseille.
Barton is a ball winner in the midfield who has never met a tackle he was afraid to try. Often overlooked is the passing ability he has. This is a key component to why teams have given him another chance despite his missteps. He's a ball winner who can distribute is a need for every team.
Joey Barton will likely miss at least eight games (including the October 7 match with PSG) due to the suspension. The absence should give him time to acclimate himself to his new surroundings. His eventual inclusion into the Marseille squad will bring experience and the hard-nosed all out effort Barton is known for.
With plenty of talent around him, Barton could be the disruptive force Marseille needs in what may be a pivotal match up with PSG in February. That match may end up being the determining points in what may shape up as a tight race to the title.
Joey Barton is a high risk/high reward player. Depending on how Barton utilizes his energy on the pitch, Marseille may have put the punch both literally and figuratively back into the Le Classique.