Impact of Foreign players in European leagues – Ligue 1
Football has truly become a global game. With its spread across the world – never so prominent than in this millennium – every major European league is able to attract hidden talent from every corner of the planet. Subsequently it has changed the demographics of the best leagues in terms of its first XI as well as the full squad. Debojyoti Chakraborty brings to you a whole new series on these foreign imports. Seat back, relax and rejoice with Goalden Times. Starting with Ligue 1
Ligue 1 (League 1) – formerly known as Division 1 – is the professional league for association football clubs in France. It is the top division of the French football league system and naturally hailed as the country’s premier football competition. Considered as one of the main powerhouses of European football till the ‘90s, the league has gradually gone downhill and now finds itself ranked sixth in Europe behind the Spanish La Liga, English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, the Portuguese Primeira Liga and the Italian Serie A. Nevertheless Ligue 1 in itself is an exciting league and has now cemented its place as a fertile scouting ground for bigger clubs.
Ligue 1 clubs’ finances are monitored by a professional organisation called Direction Nationale du Contrôle de Gestion (DNCG). Founded in 1984, as an administrative directorate of the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP), the main objective of the DNCG is to supervise all financial activities of the 44 member clubs – across two tiers of French football – of the LFP.
In 2005-06, DNCG published a report which stated a 39% increase in the collective budget of Ligue 1 clubs to €910 million from that in the 2002–03 season. The key reason for this rise was the television rights deal thanks to the increasing reach of broadcasters. Except Paris Saint-Germain – more on that later – many of the top division clubs are extremely well run with clubs such as Auxerre, Bordeaux, Lille, and Lyon being referred to as “managed to perfection”. However things have gone downhill since then. In 2010-11, after the LFP clubs accounts were cumulatively in the red for the third consecutive season, the DNCG cautioned the clubs to concentrate on restricting their “skyrocketing wage bills and the magnitude of their debts” when the estimated deficit reached close to €130 million.
So let us try to see, with the influx of investment in French league, how the top teams have performed. Our sample size is five – the top five clubs since 2009-10 season.
AS Monaco FC
French football was shaken upside down when as famous a club like Monaco was alleged in a financial crisis leading to their eventual relegation to Ligue 2. Still they feature in our sample space having finished runners-up last season. Foreign ownership and sizable investment is a very important reason behind their change in fortune. Notably, they have a sharp decline in the number of domestic players in the squad because with the backing of financial power, it has not been very difficult to sign foreign players even for a newly promoted club. Not strange, actually – at least, in modern day football.
Olympiqe de Marseille
Next up is Olympique de Marseille. Barring 2010-11 season, this club has steadily promoted domestic players. And quite ironically, their league standing has suffered almost in unison. Once a league winner in 2009-10, Marseille finished in a disappointing sixth place last season. They have found the going tough in cup competitions also. They had won three back-to-back Copa de la Ligue starting from 2009-10 but since then success has eluded them in that cup run as well. Needless to say, Marseille have not done themselves any favour in the continental front too – they lost all of their six group stage matches in UEFA Champions League in their last appearance in 2013-14.
Olympique Lyon had established a monopoly in French domestic football with back-to-back seven League 1 titles at the start of the century. But since then they have not won anything beyond a solitary Coupe de France title in 2011-12. Their dependence, rather steady increase in dependence, on domestic player is a very striking feature in this period. Lyon, however, should be lauded for holding onto their own and for not going down too alarmingly. But just consider the fact that they held off the mighty Real Madrid at home in a Champions League match back in 2010-11. Just imagine the gap now.
Lille Olympique Sporting Club
Although they are the third club in a row which has “Olympique” featuring in its official name, the club is better known as Lille. A steady performance over the years has helped Lille cement its place in French top division but they have barely threatened to go beyond the also-ran category. Lille traditionally operate with a smaller pool of players and hence the fluctuations – true to its ambitions – are never dramatic. That is reflected in their league standing in the recent past which reads like 4, 1, 3, 6, 3 – a good performance but never really looked like challenging for the top spot consistently. Their shallow squad depth has been found out in Europe though. They have finished rock bottom in the group stages in their last two attempts in European competitions.
Paris Saint-Germain FC
We wrap up our French clubs’ coverage with Paris Saint-German, popularly known as PSG. No club exemplifies the power of financial muscles, at least domestically, as this one. Buoyed by the investments from Qatar, PSG have rapidly bought marquee players, sometimes for absurd fees. No wonder that their domestic players have to make way, but who cares when they are on a mission to en route becoming the unprecedented number one club in France. Even when PSG increased their squad strength drastically in 2012-13, that was solely contributed by the foreign imports as even then the % of domestic players continued to decline steadily. They were able to achieve considerable success following the massive increase in foreign contingent and won consecutive league titles. In continental front also, PSG has emerged as a force to reckon with. They had topped their groups two times in a row prior to this year and now look set for bigger glories.
After the success in the fag end of the last millennium at the international level, France has gradually lost its shine. Dearth of true world-class talent following the departure of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry has not helped. This is reflected in the FIFA World ranking where France slipped from fourth in 2006 to outside top ten for the first time in 13 years in 2008. The results became even worse and France found themselves at a lowly 20th position in 2013. All this called for a revival of enthusiasm among the fans and French football badly needed to look beyond their homegrown talent in club football. Not only marquee players, but also above average players were hunted for to help and guide a generation of French footballers who were found out time and again at a bigger stage. So, it is not surprising that the percentage of domestic players in the squads of eminent clubs kept on diminishing. In fact the correlation between the percentage of foreign players in these clubs and their respective league standing over the last five years stands close to 0.80.
So, that was it for the French revolution. Watch this space for more in our next instalment.
Nouveau Pompier – The Month of Égalité
Ligue 1 has captured everyone’s imagination with Paris Saint-Germain splashing the cash. But here in this regular column, Ogo Sylla takes you through the league and shows there’s more to it than just oil money
The main thing we can take away from last month is that there are no more unbeaten teams in Ligue 1. Bordeaux and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) were the last two teams left unbeaten and they both lost their status of invincibility within a week of each other. In the meantime, Marseille had the time to lose their title lead to PSG but only to go even on points with them later. So today, PSG still lead but Marseille has a game in hand while there are only four points separating the top 9 sides.
We could not begin discussing the month of October without mentioning the big Le Classique clash between (the then) first-placed Marseille and second-placed PSG, as the Paris club travelled to the Vélodrome, trailing Marseille by a mere three points. At the end of the day, both clubs shared the spoils following a flying start to the first half. The second half petered out however, as both teams settled for the point. The hallmark of the game was also the goals scored by the clubs’ two symbols this season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG) and Andre-Pierre Gignac (Marseille), who both scored a brace. The draw, however, did allow PSG to take the lead at the top of the table, courtesy of a more favourable goal difference.
Lyon and Toulouse have hung on well though to stay close to the two French giants. Following Lyon’s loss to Bordeaux, they went on a good run after a tricky fixture against high-flying Lorient where they could only manage a draw. However, a 1-0 win over Brest followed by an impressive 5-2 win against Bastia allowed Les Gones to move to third spot, a point behind Marseille and PSG. Toulouse have also enjoyed great form and vanquished that bad cliché they had of being an overly defensive team that scored few goals. Indeed, Toulouse have scored nine goals this month. It was that man, Wissam Ben Yedder, who was the main artisan of this goal-glut, having netted three times and lifting his current Ligue 1 tally to seven. The Toulouse forward now sits in the third spot behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (AS Saint-Étienne) in the goal-scoring chart. Their good October form would however come to an end, travelling to Bordeaux as Les Girondins snatched a late winner. However, Toulouse are still today within three points of the Champions League qualifying spot.
Bordeaux is one club who flattered to deceive and was riding high on their undefeated run. But there were far more draws in this run and a 3-1 loss away to Bastia would turn everything into a rather negative run where Bordeaux lost far more points than they gained and slipped to seventh position. Indeed, Bordeaux had been very inconsistent since the start of the season and, for the most part, unable to fight on multiple fronts with demanding mid-week Europa League excursions. However, Bordeaux coach Francis Gillot refused to blame the extra games and fatigue for his team’s inconsistency. In fact, following the defeat to Bastia, the French coach publically berated his players accusing some of being ‘too comfortable’ and pushing them to focus and work harder. Gillot’s message got through apparently, as Bordeaux hosted the in-form Toulouse and won 1-0, thanks to Yoan Gouffran’s late goal. Their good run continued as they came up with an impressive 4-0 away win against FC Lorient to move up to the sixth place.
Another team that was also inconsistent at first but turned it all around this month was Saint-Étienne. After a 4-0 rout against hapless Nancy, Les Verts went on to draw Nice but convincingly beat Rennes (2-0) before getting the biggest scalp of them all when they travelled to the Parc des Princes and beat the (then) undefeated PSG 2-1. Another win against ESTAC Troyes saw them climb up to the fourth spot in the league table. The secret of Christophe Galtier this month has simply been the new striking partnership of their new Brazilian (and ex-Marseille player) Brandão and the prolific Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
There is another team that has been full of goals, this season’s surprise package, and keeps growing in confidence: Valenciennes. It is all due to the great work of their coach, Daniel Sanchez, whose attacking philosophy is really bearing fruit this start of the season. And despite a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Lille in the derby, we will remember the North of France’s club impressive 6-1 dismantling of Lorient. Valenciennes have scored 15 goals in total in their last five matches.
Lorient was one of the great surprises of this start of the season but have really slipped this month. Where Valenciennes have been able to maintain themselves in fifth spot, Christian Gourcuff’s men have slipped all the way down to 11th. In fact, they are winless since mid-September across all competitions with three defeats against the aforementioned Valenciennes, a 2-0 away loss to Brest and a 4-0 loss to Bordeaux. The highlight of Lorient this month, however, would be their improbable comeback to snatch a point at home to Ajaccio, after having trailed 4-1 at halftime.
So we will remember today that Marseille’s weekend draw with Nice was enough for them to remain at the joint-top with PSG, who were held themselves by Montpellier Hérault SC. What we will also remember is that the still inconsistent French champions Montpellier still sit in the second half of the table (14th) and Lille’s slowly improving form lifted them to seventh place. The midweek Coupe de la Ligue rounds were also noteworthy, when we had another Le Classique, but this time when PSG beat (holders) Marseille 2-0, and that too without Ibrahimovic, to set up a mouth-watering next round tie against Saint Étienne. But it was Marseille’s form that has looked quite worrying too, as their Coupe de la Ligue elimination had been their third defeat on the trot in all competitions, including the 1-0 loss to basement-boys Troyes and the loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach in Europa League. Nancy and Troyes keep struggling at the bottom, with Sochaux completing the trio. It has been a fascinating October month and the race for the Ligue 1 title continues to be ever so close. The questions we now all ask are: will PSG manage to pull away and who will be able to stay close to them long enough to worry them?
Nouveau Pompier – A Fascinating Start
Ligue 1 has captured everyone’s imagination with Paris Saint-Germain splashing the cash. But here in this regular column, Ogo Sylla takes you through the league and shows there’s more to it than just oil money
It has been a fascinating Ligue 1 season so far, as many pundits had anticipated. We are only seven games in but we already have much drama and many talking points. League favourites, PSG, have raised the bar having now found their right rhythm. Ligue 1 giants Marseille have come out of the gates running and have shocked most observers with a blistering start to their season. Alongside them, however, as always, we have the customary surprise packages and disappointments of the season.
Let us begin with league-leaders, Marseille. After a disappointing end of last season when they ended tenth and a tumultuous summer with some departures – most notably Didier Deschamps (France national team), Alou Diarra (West Ham), Stéphane Mbia (QPR) and César Azpilicueta (Chelsea) – and a few big arrivals, Marseille went on a six-game unbeaten run. It is significant in the sense that good starts to a season are not customary for Marseille, and for them to record their best start of a season in the club’s history and the best in Ligue 1 since Monaco some half a century ago is quite extraordinary, given the circumstances. It all started with an away 1-0 win to newly promoted Reims, and Marseille have just gone from strength to strength since then. Their most accomplished win has been away to Nancy. Although the adversary was not of equal quality, the Marseille performance was a complete one. Many had berated Deschamps’ rigid style but under Élie Baup, the team seems liberated and more fluid in their style. Marseille’s unbeaten run would, however, come to an end at the hands of their bogey team of the last few years, Valenciennes. Marseilles suffered a heavy 4-1 defeat to the North of France club, and that only a week away from the much-awaited clash against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at the Vélodrome.
PSG under Carlo Ancelotti, however, had a much more difficult start to their season. Indeed, the Paris club failed to win in their opening three games, being held by Lorient, Ajaccio, and Bordeaux. But the month of September would prove the turning point, with the first test of the season arriving in the shape of Lille. It proved a masterclass by PSG who, thanks to their star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, rolled over the former French champions. The 2-1 victory also marked a triumphant return to the Champions League with a 4-1 win over Dynamo Kyiv. Their Ligue 1 form also vastly improved with consecutive wins against Toulouse (2-0), Bastia (4-0) and Sochaux (2-0). Ibrahimovic was the main architect, netting six times (in all competitions) to keep their good run of form going. Like Marseille, however, this run of invincibility would come to an end just before the penultimate clash against the great rival, as PSG fell 1-0 to Porto in their midweek Champions League fixture.
Of course for each season, fortunes are as differing from one team to the next. The aforementioned Lille is one of the great disappointments of this season. In fact Lille now sit 15th in Ligue 1, with no more than a solitary win (on opening day to Saint-Étienne). Four draws and two defeats (to PSG and Rennes) don’t do much to improve the picture as Lille seem to not be living the loss of Eden Hazard (to Chelsea) very well. The Belgian was quite instrumental indeed, scoring 20 goals and providing sixteen assists. New signings, Salomon Kalou (Chelsea) and Marvin Martin (Sochaux), are also struggling to adapt to Rudi Garcia’s system. Especially in the latter’s case, considering his difficult season for Sochaux last season, the talented playmaker’s best form still seems to evade him. Moreover, Garcia seems to be hesitant to choose between Nolan Roux and Tulio De Melo for the striker position, making it difficult for his front three to gel together. The unexpected dip in form of Florent Balmont, a key figure of Garcia’s engine room last season, is also proving to be an issue as personal problems have been distracting the French midfielder. Dimitri Payet, a player now looked upon as Lille’s new technical leader is proving to be short in quality – despite his obvious talent – and especially consistency to replace the departed Belgian’s impact. Finally, the most recent injury (meniscus) to club captain Rio Mavuba is a particularly troublesome absence for the coming few weeks for Rudi Garcia.
Amongst the season’s disappointments have been Montpellier, who lived a difficult start of the season. It has more been an issue of inconsistency (two wins, 1 draw and one loss in September) for the French champions. This past month has been more clement to them, however, as they seem to be finding their better form once again. The return of the defence has indeed coincided with the team’s improvement in form, as injuries to Garry Bocaly forced René Girard to break up the central midfield partnership of Hilton and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa (by moving the latter at right-back to cover for the injured Bocaly). Suspensions – rolling over from last season – to Younès Belhanda and Marco Estrada in midfield had also been to blame at the start of the season. Today, after a heavy defeat 3-1 to Reims, the team seems much more fluent, especially considering a valiant draw they snatched away to Schalke 04 whilst being a man down. The only issue still remaining for Montpellier is new signing Emanuel Herrera, replacing the departed Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), who is struggling to adapt to Ligue 1 despite his promising pre-season form.
The surprise packages so far are surely Lyon and Lorient. Although the former’s performances have been on the wane, they remained unbeaten before last weekend’s 2-0 loss to Bordeaux and now sit third of Ligue 1. After many departures and a low-budget recruitment, Lyon have performed above expectations as their current league position might suggest. Indeed, despite the departures of Cris, Kim Källström, and Hugo Lloris, the maturing of youngsters such as Clément Grenier and clever signings like Steed Malbranque keep Lyon a coherent team with some aspirations to finishing in the top three. As for Lorient, the start of this season has been a great one in comparison to the difficult year they had when they flirted with relegation. The new arrival of Alain Traoré from relegated Auxerre has proven a massive boost to Christian Gourcuff’s men. The Burkina Faso international has provided three goals this past month (four goals and an assist in total, so far) and has fit in perfectly into Les Merlus’ system. Gourcuff has also brought back Ludovic Giuly (who had been let go by Monaco) and the former French international is bringing all his experiences to this young Lorient team, having helped them onto fourth spot and a single point behind Lyon.
Of course, for each season we have to have the teams who are already looking in danger. Newly promoted Troyes have to be first on that list, rooted to the ground with only a paltry two points on the board so far and thus winless in the first 7 games of this season. Nancy are in just as much trouble, winless since their opening day win against Brest. September has been particularly tough on Nancy in fact, as they have the unwanted record to have strung together five consecutive defeats. Evian Thonon Gaillard join the basement-boys but it is Sochaux (a point above the relegation zone) who I would like to bring attention to. After a very difficult season last year when they narrowly escaped relegation, Les Lionceaux don’t seem like they will be able to repeat the feat this time around. In effect, with two wins amongst 5 defeats this season so far, it could likely turn out to be a very difficult season for Sochaux who hold the record of being the longest lasting club in Ligue 1 without having been relegated (64 seasons).
We would also do well to discuss some of the players who have shone so far. Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be the top scorer with seven strikes to his name, but it is Toulouse’s Wissam Ben Yedder who is catching some of the spotlight. With his unique background of having come on the football scene just a couple years ago from a futsal background, he already has five goals and an assist to his name. But Ligue 1 is under the charm of young 19-year-old Marco Verratti, who has – beyond all expectations – become an immovable piece of Carlo Ancelotti’s midfield at PSG. But this year’s Ligue 1 is mostly marked by the unlikely return of Marseille’s André-Pierre Gignac, who seems to have refound his best form after some injury-plagued seasons. The Marseille striker has three goals so far this year. Appropriate indeed that we would conclude with PSG and Marseille, as the month of September ended with the Paris club having clawed its way back up the table to set up a first against second clash in Le Classique against archrivals, Marseille.