22 July ~ "We have no money. We built a team and a budget to play in the Champions League and we wasted the opportunity. We have to accept it." Bordeaux president Jean-Louis Triaud's words from earlier this summer will strike a chord with fans of any club that has gambled its future on Champions League participation and lost. The 2009 French champions collapsed completely in the second half of last season, missing out on even the consolation prize of a Europa League berth. New coach Jean Tigana has already lost Marouane Chamakh to Arsenal on a free transfer, looks set to lose captain Alou Diarra to Marseille and faces a fight to keep Yoann Gourcuff at the club.
It seems a long time since last summer, when Les Girondins broke the bank to make Gourcuff's move from AC Milan permanent for a fee of around €15 million (£12.6m). Lyon and Marseille both established new transfer records too, pillaging Porto for Lisandro López and Lucho González in deals rising to €28m and €24m respectively.
The massive spending helped Marseille end an 18-year wait for the League title, while Lyon reached the last four of the Champions League for the first time ever, but conspicuous consumption has given way to caution in the current transfer window. Amid financial uncertainty across the championship, many teams will have to sell before they can buy and Bordeaux are not the only ones who have had to tighten the purse strings.
"I'm not going to go fishing for whales if all I'm going to catch is sardines," warned Didier Deschamps, à la Cantona, ahead of the World Cup. Marseille's acquisition of Spain Under-21 captain César Azpilicueta from Osasuna was a real coup, but it represents their only significant piece of business to date. Like many other Ligue 1 coaches, Deschamps has been obliged to cut the wage bill, meaning under-achieving high-earners such as Fernando Morientes have already been shown the door.
French teams are traditionally more reliant on selling players to balance the books than sides from other major European leagues, so they have been hit particularly hard by the impact of the economic downturn and the huge debts accumulated by Europe's most prolific buying clubs. Between 2008-09 and 2009-10, the aggregate deficit of clubs in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 tripled from €34m to around €100m.
Lyon's €6m capture of Jimmy Briand from Rennes could prove to be the steal of the summer, yet it's their acknowledged interest in Gourcuff on which this summer's transfer merry-go-round may ultimately hinge. There's no Manchester City or Real Madrid in Ligue 1 to splash money about and stimulate the market, but Lyon's number one priority is a top-class playmaker and they would likely provoke a domino effect if they met the €26.5m asking price for the France international. In any case, just like the disgraced national team, France's elite clubs face a trying and uncertain future. Tom Williams twitter.com/tomwfootball