With France’s economy, and football teams, in a dire state, it looks unlikely that Ligue Une will threaten Europe again. Certainly, French football’s standard is plummeting, with interest declining and player quality dropping. However, this seasons winners Paris Saint-Germain and newly promoted AS Monaco might become established Champions League clubs, as they were in the past.
AS Monaco were once a dominant French football club, winning the league 7 times, with their most recent victories coming in 1997 and 2000. Arsène Wenger spent the years 1987 to 1994 at Monaco, and laid the foundations for more success. He also nurtured young talent, allowing them to germinate. He won the league in his debut season and the cup in 1985. He also won the French equivalent of the Community Shield, Les Trophée des champions, in 1985. Monaco did well in Europe under Wenger too, with Wenger guiding Monaco to the UEFA Cup Winners Cup, where they lost 2-0 to Werder Bremen. The quality of Monaco’s players was reflected when Wenger brought Emmanuel Petit and Gilles Grimandi from his old club to Arsenal. David Trézéguet and Thierry Henry also left Monaco for Juventus. The infrastructure that Wenger created made Monaco into a powerhouse of French football, and they would soon challenge for top European honours. In 2004, under the management of Didier Deschamps, Monaco reached the UEFA Champions League final. Though they lost to FC Porto, it looked like Monaco were on the rise. This wasn’t to be, and Monaco struggled to replicate any previous successes, suffering relegation in the 2010-2011 season. This caused Monaco to lose all of their young talent, such as Nicolas N’Koulou, (now a leading Ligue 1 centre back), Dieumerci Mbokani (considered by many as the best striker in the Belgian league-with RSC Anderlecht), Stéphane Ruffier (now an established goalkeeper with Saint-Étienne,), and, Yohan Mollo (a quick, quality winger).
While this isn’t really news, Paris Saint-Germain, like Monaco now, are very rich. Owned and run by the Qatar Investment Authority, who became the majority shareholder of PSG after buying a controlling 70% of the shares in 2011, they have spent BIG. Creator Javier Pastore, dribbler Lucas Moura, captain Thiago Silva and complete forward Zlatan Ibrahimović were brought for a combined fee of £127,600,000! (Figures according to http://www.transfermarkt.co.uk) Le PSG’s big spending has paid dividends; with them winning their first league title in 19 years. The rate of spending looks like it will not decline, with various other signatures being linked with Les Parisiens. (Mentioned later) Les Rouge-et-Bleu were also unlucky not to go further in the Champions League; but for a heroic Messi super-sub performance, PSG might have gone all the way to Wembley. Another indicator of their vast wealth is the fact that they were paying for David Beckham’s €15,000 a night hotel room, which was where Beckham stayed while in Paris. This was on top of Beckham’s wages, which were donated to charity.
As mentioned, Monaco have huge riches. They were taken over in December 2011 by an investment group led by the Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev. Rybolovlev, who is best known for successfully globalising Russian potash company Uralkali, has a net worth of $9.1 billion according to Forbes. The Russian billionaire is president of Monaco, trying to re-develop Monaco back into the great club it once was. The ‘Sugar Daddy’ has invested large amounts of money in players already, with one highlight: Lucas Ocampos. Ocampos, who was 17 at the time, was brought from River Plate for £ 9,680,000. Now just 18, the Argentine is supremely talented, scoring 5 goals and assisting 3, with 18 of his 30 appearances being off the bench. While the statistics are not that impressive, he will be a future world star if he receives enough game time. His playing style, rather like Cristiano Ronaldo’s, is one which combines pace, power and shooting to devastating effect. The youngsters 6ft2 frame also means that he is deadly in the air. He can play, again like Ronaldo, left, attacking or right midfield, and can also be deployed up front. Again, the investment has worked for Monaco, who will return to Ligue 1 next season, after winning the Ligue 2 with a game to spare. Claudio Ranieri is currently coach, with his impressive CV and tactical experience being a perfect blend for Monaco. He also has great know-how in dealing with new signings and big egos, vital for a money-rich, pro-transfers club. Monaco clearly have the attributes for a title challenge, in just their first season back in the top flight.
While regaining the title next season for PSG should be an easy task, ‘second season syndrome’ and, the integration period for the new manager, could cause the title defence to be harder than expected. Carlo Ancelotti looks certain to leave PSG for Real Madrid, meaning that PSG will need to find a replacement fast. The new coach, and it really could be anyone, will need time for his ideas to settle. This could potentially let the chasing pack; Marseilles, Lyon and Lille, catch up. Maybe Monaco might sneak the title. Transfer wise, PSG have been linked with lots of players, an inevitable thing due to their wealth. Want away striker Wayne Rooney, who handed in a transfer request to Manchester United, has been linked daily with a move to the French capital. Rooney would bring even more attacking options to the PSG line-up, but may not receive as much game time as he would like. It also looks like David Moyes is keen to try and retain Rooney at Manchester United. Alex Song, who would add more defensive rigour to the offensive PSG midfield, has been linked, as has Étienne Capoue-another defensive midfielder. Florent Malouda, João Moutinho, Kaká, Keisuke Honda, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nani have also all been linked with PSG.
With Monaco back in the first division, numerous world class players have been linked with the Principality. Sky Italia recently reported that the definitely departing Vicente Valdes had agreed a deal with Les Rouge et Blanc. The goalkeeper, while prone to high profile mistakes, would be a brilliant acquisition. He is still, in my opinion, the best sweeper-keeper in the world. The Colombian trio of James Rodriguez, Jackson Martinez and, the highly courted Radamel Falcao have all been rumoured to be interested in a move. Rodriguez would bring direct dribbling and brilliant vision to Monaco, and would be a perfect playmaker for them. He has had a really impressive season for Porto. Jackson Martinez is powerful striker; however, FC Porto may be unwilling to allow two of their star players to leave the club. If the price is right though, Porto can hardly refuse. Falcao, who is Europe’s most wanted, would bring potent finishing and power to Monaco. While Monaco may be considered outside shots to buy the Atlético Madrid talisman, they would be willing to pay the biggest wages. Monaco have reportedly agreed a £50,000,000 fee with Falcao’s club. The Manchester City striker, Carlos Tevez, also seems to want to leave Manchester, and looks quite likely to join Monaco aswell. The celebrity lifestyle, sun, glamour and low taxes of the Principality are features which would appeal to any professional footballer.(Foreigners do not have to pay income tax in Monaco). Perhaps even Wayne Rooney might be tempted with a move to Monaco. What is certain is that Monaco will have a whole host of attacking options by the end of the summer transfer window, and they will probably be France’s most exciting club to watch.
It looks like the other 18 French clubs can do nothing to stop the monopolisation of the French league. While PSG and Monaco will keep investing, all the other French clubs are selling their best players due to their poor financial situations. Other French clubs can only hope that some Sheikh or Oligarch invests in them; otherwise 3rd spot will be the equivalent of 1st place to the non-rich clubs. Interest levels in Ligue 1 are waning, with attendances dropping. It says a lot that Loïc Rémy chose to leave Marseilles for Queens Park Rangers. Marseilles are going to finish 2nd in the league this year, whereas QPR are going to finish 20th. Money was undoubtedly a factor in Rémy joining the west-London club. Ligue 1 will soon be completely dominated by the two mega rich clubs; PSG and Monaco will basically form their own mini-league, a bit like Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain. There is a slither of hope for the remaining 18 clubs, and that is Fifa Financial Fair play. FFP, in basic terms, aims to stop teams spending obscene amounts of money. The rule will try and punish teams who spend more money than their annual turnover, stopping ridiculous losses and large debts. Fifa have shown some enforcement, banning the following teams from Europe next season: Malaga from Spain, Hadjuk Split and Osijek from Croatia, Rapid Bucharest and Dinamo Bucharest from Romania, and Partizan Belgrade from Serbia. However, it has been argued that UEFA cannot afford to ban a high profile team, such as Real Madrid, from Europe. There are also potential ways around the rule. For example, an owner could just get his/her rich friend to ‘sponsor’ his/her club, magically wiping all debts. The owner could then repay his/her friend outside of the footballing world. While this is basically smoke and mirrors stuff, it would be very hard for the authorities to regulate. Fifa Financial Fair play also suffered a big set-back, with Jean-Louis Dupont (an eminent football lawyer) arguing the rule would probably lose any legal challenge. Dupont has much authority on the subject of football, having been part of the legal team that won the Bosman ruling.
So, the slither of hope is wafer thin for the other French clubs. The competitive outlook for Ligue 1 is really rather gloomy. In the next few years, PSG and Monaco will slowly pull away, creating a big gulf in class. While this may enable them to challenge continentally again, it means that Ligue 1 will become an even more drab and dreary league, outside of the top two. The last bit of hope for the Ligue 1 is that PSG and Monaco are not the most supported teams in the division. Olympique Marseilles have a large following, and this could stop the complete domination. In Spain, over 66% of people support/follow Real Madrid or Barcelona, and this is one major reason why the two Spanish giants dominate domestically. While this is not the case in France, it soon might be, as the majority follow the team who wins the most trophies. It is thus imperative that French parents up and down the country force their children to love any team other than PSG or Monaco, for the sake of the Ligue 1! For now though, it looks like French football is going to be dominated by whoever the biggest spender is.