Big spenders will dominate Ligue 1
7 August ~ After 40 years of doomed attempts to establish Paris Saint-Germain as a dominant force in French football, this season, which begins with PSG's trip to Montpellier on Friday, will tell whether the influx of Qatari money has finally done the trick. If, as seems likely, Laurent Blanc can break their pattern of one-off successes, it will bring to an end one of the regular periods of unpredictability that mark out Ligue 1. Since Lyon’s run of success came to an end in 2008 there have been six different champions in as many years. But few of those teams look to be doing more than battling for European slots.
Barring any late transfer activity, PSG will have outspent 18 of the others put together to strengthen a squad that might just steal some of the media’s attention away from Zlatan Ibrahimovic this year.
Their main threat is perennial rich man’s plaything Monaco, who could just be a seventh different recent champion. Though he started from a division down, their Russian owner Dmitry Rybolovlev has taken a similar approach to PSG and a €100m-plus new squad will pretty much replace those who won promotion under Claudio Ranieri last year. History suggests that Radamel Falcao and João Moutinho will be playing in front of an average crowd of little more than 10,000 (still twice what Monaco got in Ligue 2 last year). That will make financial fair play calculations interesting even were they to win their fight to maintain their tax advantages, which the LFP (French football league) have ruled they must give up by basing their operations in France from next year.
That would be galling for the other clubs, for whom sustainability is the watchword. French football’s financial watchdog, the DNCG, has been notably inactive in Ligue 1 over the summer, with clubs taking steps to rein in their spending. (Its focus has been lower down, placing wage and transfer restrictions on former top-flight clubs, relegating Rouen and Sedan and most notably booting Le Mans out of the League entirely).
This prudence means that even the stronger clubs such as Lyon and Marseille are selling their better players to mid-ranking Premier League teams and avowedly setting their sights no higher than third. Montpellier coach Jean Fernandez has admitted mid-table is their natural place just one season after their unlikely title win. Saint Etienne are linked to Carlton Cole, despite finishing fifth and taking part in the Europa League thanks to a League Cup win which marked their first major trophy since their heyday in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
With another big club, Nantes, also climbing back out of Ligue 2 and looking a reasonable bet for survival, a number of last season’s survivors will be gearing up for a struggle to stay up. The most notable (especially if you’re a Middlesbrough fan with an eye on future managerial candidates) might well be Ajaccio, who have given a first managerial post to Fabrizio Ravanelli. With the Corsicans having escaped relegation on the final day of last season he is likely to find impressing in Ligue 1 as a coach harder than he did as a player. Matt Hopkinson