In Depth

Drogba and Nasri deal fears as Marseille face transfer probe

Three former presidents of the French league leaders detained as part of police investigation

Didier Drogba

Was it a dodgy deal that took Didier Drogba to Chelsea? That's one of the questions being investigated by French police after Marseille FC president Vincent Labrune, and his two predecessors, Jean-Claude Dassier and Pape Diouf, were detained on Tuesday night. French paper Le Parisien reports that the trio were released from custody in the early hours of Thursday but that the investigation – which has been running for three years – continues.

The police action has rocked French football and plunged Marseille – currently top of Ligue 1 – into a crisis 20 years after they were found guilty of match-fixing.

On that occasion they were stripped of the 1992-1993 league title and banned from the Champions League the season after they had won the competition after 'buying' a league match against Valenciennes. Two decades on and the Mediterranean club are under scrutiny again, this time facing over allegations of illicit payments involving transfers.

According to ESPN, Labrune and Dassier were the first two taken into custody over allegations of wrongdoing in the transfer of Andre-Pierre Gignac from Toulouse to Marseille in 2010 and that of Souleymane Diawara, who arrived at Marseille a year earlier from Bordeaux. Associated French Press reports that "gangland figures" are suspected of "receiving commission from several major transfers". At the time of Gignac's move Labrune was chief of Marseille's supervisory board and Dassier the club president.

But the news that Diouf was also detained by police has increased speculation that police are investigating transfers stretching back to the time Diouf was involved in the buying and selling of players.

ESPN reports that the 62-year-old Diouf was an agent at the time of Drogba's arrival at Marseille from Guingamp in 2003 and his departure to Chelsea for a fee of around estimated £26m a year later. In addition, Diouf had become president of Marseille by the time Samir Nasri was sold to Arsenal for £13.5m in 2008.

Christophe Bouchet, president of Marseille when Drogba arrived in 2003, told French radio station RMC of his surprise at Diouf's detention. "When I see comments which go back to Drogba it's a little worrying, because I don't really see what they're looking for," explained Bouchet. "I have only worked with one of them, Pape Diouf, and in the many different deals we were involved in, I found him to be fair, clear and precise."

A Marseille official, speaking to RMC on condition of anonymity, told the broadcaster that he believed the arrests involved some "fantasising" on the part of investigators. He continued: "Take Drogba's transfer. The police don't understand why the €36m that were talked about ended up only being €33m in the bank. It's simple. It's not that €3m just disappeared into thin air. It's just that Chelsea, who weren't as solid financially then as they are now, finally decided to pay us in one transaction, and so we gave them a €3m reduction."

Meanwhile just up the Mediterranean coast in Nimes, another scandal has engulfed French football with allegations that the second division side fixed matches  last season to avoid relegation. The president of Nimes, Jean-Marc Conrad, has been arrested – along with six other people – as police investigate allegations of corruption.

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