Is a French Football Renaissance On The Horizon?

Is a French Football Renaissance On The Horizon?

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Article by Jeremy Waller and Yinka Aboaba

 

A renaissance for French football?

There is cause for optimism in French football as ‘Les Bleus’ go from strength to strength under the tutelage of World Cup winner Laurent Blanc and an influx of new money from Qatari investors suggests brighter times ahead. The recent takeover of Paris Saint Germain by Qatari Group, who bought a 70% stake in the club at the end of May, has certainly raised eyebrows and, coupled with the recent Al Jazeera television rights deal – in which the media giants will pay €510 million per year from 2012-2016 to show Ligue 1 matches – could see the French domestic league join Europe’s footballing elite.

Although recent the successes of Bordeaux and Lille have ended Olympique Lyonnais’ monopoly over Le Championnat, this is arguably further evidence of the recession in which French football finds itself. It has been several years since a French side has seriously challenged for European honours and a lack of prestige and money has persuaded the more gifted players to ply their trade in Spain, Italy or England. A revival of the capital’s side could well breathe new life into a jaded domestic setup.

Last season was relatively successful for PSG; a fourth place finish in Ligue 1 was their highest league finish for seven years and they narrowly missed out on a trophy, suffering a last-gasp defeat in the Cup Final against Lille.  Although cynics cite the main reason for the takeover as a strengthening of Qatar’s links with sport to improve their expertise in preparation for the 2022 world cup in home country, as highlighted by other deals with Malaga and Barcelona, it is clear that they have seen some potential in the Parisian outfit. With sufficient funds and its attractive location, there should be no reason why PSG can’t attract world stars. Furthermore, PSG already enjoys a large fanbase, prominence in the French media and possesses some promising young players, notably centre-back Mamadou Sakho, Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year. The result of the deal will enable PSG to retain their brightest talents as well as giving them real pulling power in the summer transfer market. Less predictability, the deal includes a complete revamp of their current training and youth facilities. Additionally, the Parc des Princes is set to undergo major renovation in preparation for France’s 2022 World Cup bid, again with a view to making the club’s infrastructure that of a European giant.

 

A potential stumbling block with PSG is their ongoing problem with hooliganism that has perhaps tarnished their reputation over the years.  However, the Qatar Group clearly aims to change this and the general perception of the French League being a selling club.  This is emphasised the departures of Rami, and Yohan Cabaye of Lille and the anticipated departures of Gervinho and Eden Hazard during this summer’s transfer window as well as the young gifted centre back Raphael Varane to Real Madrid.  Already, PSG have been linked with a wealth of players this summer.  These include the best players who plied their trade in Ligue 1 last season which include Gervinho which the deal is very unlikely to come into fruition since Lille have expressed a preference to sell the player abroad and other players and the completed signing of the forward Kevin Gameiro from Lorient.  They have also been linked with players in the so-called ‘better’ leagues such Dimitar Berbatov, Younès Kaboul and Samual Eto’o.

The principal fear of this substantial investment in Ligue 1 is that it may create a monopoly effect where PSG may simply dominate over the coming years, perhaps eclipsing Olympique Lyonnais’ seven consecutive title wins, which may dissuade top players from playing in Ligue 1.  However, one could argue that the Al Jazeera deal may earn other clubs a decent TV sponsorship package, provided that the money is evenly distributed and more so than that of La Liga which is dominated so much by Barcelona and Real Madrid that they even have the power to negotiate their own match dates.  One clear conclusion from the recent deals to both PSG and the French League is that as long as Qatar provides sustained, responsible investment to both projects, this will only benefit French football in the long-term. Whether this means either PSG or French teams will compete amongst the very best remains to be seen.