The new French drama show on Netflix, Class Act, presents a dramatized version of the life and works of Bernard Tapie, one of the most divisive businessmen in recent French history. While the series claims to be loosely based on real incidents, it also reminds us that the events are mostly known to the public, and therefore, the fictional elements of drama are the only new coat added to it. Overall, the series sticks to the real events of history as the skeleton, on which it adds the flesh of fictional storytelling, adding shades to the characters and spectacle to the situations.
Who was Bernard Tapie?
Born on January 26, 1943, to Jean-Baptiste and Raymonde Tapie, Bernard hailed from a common Parisian family but had big dreams and aspirations in life from the very beginning. Jean-Baptiste worked as a plumber and perhaps wanted his son to follow suit, at least according to Class Act, but Bernard’s wishes were completely different. After trying out a few subscription-based business models, the man wanted to help Parisians along with making a business, so he created the Heart Assistance company. This endeavor was aimed at reaching households with medical emergencies before any ambulance could and providing treatment to the patients in time. However, this business did not take off either.
In the 1970s, the French economy was struggling as a number of factories and companies were on the verge of shutting down, posing a direct threat to the livelihood of many workers. Tapie realized that this was the ideal time to acquire businesses instead of building them, and so he shifted his focus towards this means. After buying a well-known bookbinding company called Diguet-Deny and then the renowned Wonder Tires, Tapie became quite well-known in his trade. Originally aspiring to be a singer, he was always quite interested in the entertainment profession, having worked occasionally as a show host and actor as well. Tapie’s image became widely known in France over time, and the man was also noticed by the erstwhile President of France, Francois Mitterrand.
Under the guidance of Mitterrand, Tapie joined politics as a member of the Socialist Party. After some time, he was made Minister of City Affairs and thus became a Member of the National Assembly. But the man’s stint in politics did not last too long, as scandals regarding previous shady dealings marred his image. Later on, too, he intended to return to politics and joined the Radical Party of the Left for a brief period. Tapie’s greatest renown came when he managed to buy the historic football club, Olympique Marseille, in 1986, and also Adidas in 1990. The man had investments in other sports teams as well, like a cycling team that participated in the Tour de France and other competitions. In terms of European football competitions, no French team had yet won the prestigious Champions League trophy, and Tapie targeted this mega prize.
Along with the Champions League, he also wanted Marseille to defeat the bigger Parisian club, Paris Saint-Germain, in the French Ligue 1 competition. Ultimately, in the 1992–93 season, Olympique Marseille successfully won both these competitions and still continues to be the only French club to have won the Champions League. But a match-fixing scandal soon followed, and Tapie immediately resigned from his role as the director of the football club.
Following the scandal, the man returned to his earlier passion for acting and performing, and after 1995, he spent his entire time in these fields. Tapie was unable to run any business any more, and so he dedicated his time to these other involvements. Bernard Tapie went on to act in a number of stage plays and in some films as well. He also regularly appeared in TV shows at the time. The man unfortunately developed double cancer in his esophagus and stomach, leading to a painful time since 2018. He finally died on October 3, 2021 at the age of 78.
How true are the events shown in Netflix Series?
Class Act keeps itself restricted to showing Bernard Tapie’s role only as a businessman, starting from the ’70s until the match-fixing case in 1994. Most of the events shown in the series did indeed happen, like the business dealings that are shown in the initial career of Tapie, but the manner in which they are shown to have happened in the series is mostly fictional. The disclaimer at the beginning does state that the conversations and dialogues are obviously dramatized, so there is no reason to hold the show responsible in this case. However, the Class Act also avoids certain major events from the man’s business career, like the controversy after his sale of Adidas in 1993. Following the sale, Tapie claimed that the intermediary, Credit Lyonnais Bank, had intentionally undervalued his company. A long and arduous legal battle followed, but the Netflix show does not cover it at all.
The character of Bernard Tapie, as shown in the series, is also much more dramatized than he actually was, as claimed by his living family members. The character of Tapie in Class Act is extremely driven by ambitions and emotions, to the point that he is sometimes inconsiderate to people around him and their struggles. Although he makes tall promises of protection and welfare for his workers, the man is shown to have ultimately behaved as a ruthless businessman, not bothering to put people’s livelihoods in jeopardy because of his business dealings. Similarly, he is shown to be inconsiderate towards his father for most of the time, only because the man’s ambitions and expectations from life did not match his.
Tapie is, of course, given character progression and development as well since he gradually learns from his experiences and also corrects his ways. In the end, he accepts that he has done very little for his parents, who actually deserve much more from him, and wishes to reconcile with them. Similarly, he is also mostly distant from the deepest feelings and emotions of his girlfriend Dominique, who for a long time wished that he would marry her and give her the respect of a wife. Dominique’s character is also given layers of fiction over how the woman has been in her real life, and the over-dramatization does sometimes show. Finally, towards the end, Tapie is shown to realize his shortcomings and proposes to Dominique, following which they marry in 1993.
Other than this, Class Act also treats the characters and the story as the subject of a semi-fictional tale, and so it changes the plot accordingly. For example, at the very end, when Dominique visits her husband in prison, Tapie expresses his desire to step away from all the involvements in his life and have a calm domestic life instead. But in reality, the man did not really have any other option since he was financially bankrupt and could not really start any more businesses. He was also deemed unfit to remain in politics and was also banned from football forever because of the match-fixing scandal. However, the series has to portray a change in character for the man and thus chooses to show him giving up everything in life only to be with his family.
It should also be mentioned in this context that the living members of the Tapie family, mostly Dominique and her daughter Sophie, have greatly objected to the Netflix series, mainly because they were not consulted or notified about its making. Shortly before his passing, Bernard Tapie had also apparently shown objection to a series of this sort on him, and he did not want the show to be made. Dominique has been mentioning this in recent times as well, since the show is not a documentary but rather treats real people as characters only to add drama and spice to its presentation.
What was the infamous Marseille match-fixing scandal?
The Marseille bribery and match-fixing scandal is the biggest infamy covered in Class Act, and it was also the biggest reason that ultimately brought down Tapie’s reputation and business empire. Just like shown in the series, Olympique Marseille was in a great position towards the end of the 1992–93 football season. Having reached the finals of the Champions League, they were still at the top of the French Ligue 1 table with only one match day to go. It was the Ligue 1 match against Valenciennes that would be played first, and then the Champions League final would follow. Since winning the European competition would be a dream come true moment, the coaches advised that Marseille’s star players be rested against Valenciennes and given more energy for the European final against the difficult AC Milan side.
Valenciennes was not a difficult opponent, as they were facing relegation into the 2nd division, but if by chance Marseille failed to win the match, then PSG could overtake them in the league standings and win the league. In order to avoid such a situation, Tapie wanted his first team to play the match, despite the warnings of the coaches, since Valenciennes was known to play a very aggressive style of football. Valenciennes also needed to win in order to avoid relegation, so they would also give it their all to try and stay in the first division.
As a way to deal with the situation, Bernard Tapie arranged with his general manager, Jean-Pierre Bernes, a very shady and illegal plan. One of the Marseille players, Jean-Jacques Eydelie, was known to be good friends with the Valenciennes players, and through him, Bernes established communication with three of the opposing side’s players. Valenciennes captains Christophe Robert, Jorge Burruchaga, and Jacques Glassman were offered a sum of 500,000 francs for intentionally playing badly and letting Marseille win easily. They were also promised that a newly promoted side would buy them in the next season, meaning that they would still earn top-division salaries even though Valenciennes would get relegated. The players agreed to this deal, and half the promised money was sent over by Tapie, with the other half to be paid after the match week.
During the match, Marseille won by a single goal, scored by their forward Alen Boksic. However, Jacques Glassman grew resentful over the decision to intentionally play bad, and he told the referee about the whole bribery incident during the halftime break. After the match, an official complaint was filed, and this eventually reached a magistrate, Eric de Montgolfier. Once the investigation began, 250,000 francs were found in the back garden at the house of Cristophe Robert’s aunt, and soon, the captain confessed to the bribery as well. Montgolfier started criminal proceedings, and a case was lodged against Marseille director Bernard Tapie when he was found guilty of the crime.
After the incident came to light, the French Football Federation stripped Marseille of their 1992–93 league title, which was instead offered to second-placed PSG. However, since PSG turned down the offer, no official winner was announced for the season. Marseille also faced severe financial difficulties following the scandal, and in the 1994–95 season, they were forcibly relegated to the 2nd division. Although their Champions League win remained intact, since there was technically no foul play in that specific competition, the European football association, UEFA, banned Marseille from all European competitions for the following year. Bernard Tapie was forced to give up his position as director of the club in 1994, and Jean-Pierre Bernes also resigned from the club in 1993. While both men had been banned from football by FIFA, Bernes’ ban was later overturned in 1996.
Meanwhile, this scandal marked the beginning of the end for Tapie’s business empire, as the man was sentenced to six months in prison by the court. By the time he was out, Tapie had lost the majority of his fortune and was banned from football as well. Despite winning the Champions League, Olympique Marseille has failed to maintain its footballing prowess, and a lot can be pinned on the 1993 bribery scandal even now.