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.