6 August 2014 18:24
After years of being derided as one of European football’s worst elite leagues, Ligue 1 is now home to some of the best players in the game.
The respective fortunes of Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco have attracted a plethora of world-class players to French shores.
Household names such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Radamel Falcao all now call Ligue 1 home.
There is no doubt that the level of talent present in the division has increased markedly and, despite the financial fair play sanctions that were handed down to PSG in May, neither the defending champions nor Monaco are likely to stop their spending any time soon.
However, the adverse effect of PSG and Monaco’s financial power is that it has left the rest of the league, which features a number of proud and historically successful clubs, trying and failing to play catch-up.
PSG have eased to the back-to-back titles in the last two campaigns, losing just three games in 2013-14 as they won by nine points from Monaco, with Lille a further nine points back.
Lille’s effort was admirable considering their disparity in funds in comparison the top two, and the disappointing thing for fans of Ligue 1 is that the title race will undoubtedly take a similar shape in the coming season.
The reason for this is that clubs trying to compete with PSG and Monaco have to deal with a talent drain of French players from the league in addition to the monetary resources of the leading pair.
Indeed, while foreign players are now flocking to play for for France’s two current heavyweights, home-grown stars continue to see their future away from France.
It is a fact that is illustrated perfectly by the transfer business of Premier League side Newcastle United.
Newcastle added to their legion of Gallic players last Sunday by signing highly rated France international Remy Cabella from Montpellier, who just two years ago were celebrating a maiden Ligue 1 title after somehow keeping PSG at bay in the capital club’s first season under the guidance of their Qatari owners.
Much of that side, which included Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud and Newcastle defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, has been cherry-picked by foreign clubs, leaving Montpellier with a squad that finished way down in 15th last term.
Every team in the division outside of PSG and Monaco face the same issue as Montpellier and are powerless to resist offers from bigger clubs due to their limited financial resources.
The result of that combination of problems is that, heading into 2014-15, there are virtually no teams capable of challenging the leading duo for the biggest prize, meaning that for 18 clubs the title race is already practically over.
Lille, led by Rene Girard – the architect of Montpellier’s stunning triumph in 2011-12 – are one of the few sides that could potentially stay in the running for an extended period given their coach’s proven record of succeeding on a low budget.
Meanwhile, Marseille will hope that the charismatic tactician Marcelo Bielsa will be able to guide France’s most successful club to a brighter campaign.
Lyon’s superb academy system continues to keep them in the upper echelons of the table, while Rhone derby rivals Saint-Etienne – backed by a fearsome home crowd at the Stade Geoffory Guichard – can be a test for anyone on their day.
Yet all of that quartet will have to perform well beyond expectations in order to have any chance of challenging for the French crown, and the cold hard truth is that, with Monaco now also backed by revenue from the UEFA Champions League, France’s duopoly is set to go from strength to strength.