Jean-Pierre Papin played for some of the world’s biggest clubs, is the only Frenchman to win the Ballon d’Or at a Ligue 1 Conforama club, and made such an impression at Olympique de Marseille, he earned himself a unique place in the French language.
There is the Cruyff turn, the Panenka penalty and – for French football fans – the ‘Papinade’ to describe the spectacular volleys that helped Marseille become the dominant force in France and one of the most formidable clubs in Europe.
“He wanted a regular scorer and he got that with me. But every year he surrounded me with better and better players,” Papin told The Ligue 1 Show on beIN SPORTS, describing how OM’s legendary president, Bernard Tapie, had built a successful side around the pocket-sized striker he had signed from Club Brugge in 1986.
‘Waddle drove them crazy’
Four top-flight titles came in six years at the Stade Orange Vélodrome, thanks in large part to 184 goals in 311 appearances for the team’s star striker, who was ably assisted by Abedi Pele, the father of André and Jordan Ayew, and Chris Waddle.
“Chris and I was very close, we were good friends. I’ve seen Chris bamboozle defenders without even touching the ball, just by his body movements. The defender would go left, right or try and tackle, and the ball hadn’t even moved. He drove them crazy. I’ve got those pictures in my head and it’s just magic.”
OM fell just short of lifting the Holy Grail of the UEFA Champions League as they were beaten on penalties by Red Star Belgrade in 1991, the year Papin was named the world’s best player.
“When I see what it represents today, you can look back and think ‘I was the best player in the world’, and I’m the only one to have done that with a French club, that’s bigger honour.”
Marseille would become European champions in 1992/93, a bittersweet moment for Papin who had left for their beaten opponents, AC Milan, less than 12 months earlier.
He would go on to play for Bayern Munich, Bordeaux and Guingamp, but in the hearts of Marseille’s passionate fans, he will always be one of theirs, especially after he had bade them an emotional farewell.
“I owed those amazing fans that at the very least,” said Papin, 54, who – after coaching jobs at Strasbourg, Lens and Chateauroux – now works as a TV pundit. “It was painful, but we won the title and that’s how the story ended.”