THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

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

Comments (1)
Comment by danielmak 2010-07-22 20:13:41

This is an interesting piece, which implicitly highlights some of the gaps between Ligue 1 and EPL/La Liga/Serie A. I would add, though, that the biggest problem for the French sides might end up being depth rather than acquiring or keeping frontline players. For example, Morientes barely played at OM last season and when he did play it was usually very late in a match and Deschamps was just giving Morientes some love, so to speak. All of that is to say that letting Morientes go is really no big deal and this is likely representative of moves other big Ligue 1 clubs will make relative to bench players who are low in the pecking order. Also, Bordeaux won the league two seasons ago but I don't think they were widely picked to win the league when they did; they had a good squad that played well together. Similarly, and Bordeaux fans would know more about this, I don't think Chamakh was as hot the season they won the league as he was last year in the CL. If I remember correctly, David Bellion was the team's leading scorer for the first half of the season (but I might be confusing that with 3 seasons ago). My point with all of this is that if Bordeaux gels well they could easily challenge--losing Chamakh won't kill them, losing Morientes won't affect OM, Lyon having to sell a player or 2 won't kill them. The problems will likely surface more in Europe, where the teams from the wealthier leagues have deeper squads and can handle the trials of multiple competitions. But the last couple years have shown us that Ligue 1 is full of surprises, and I hope we're in for more of the same. Now if one of the football channels in the US would purchase the rights to Ligue 1 life would be good.

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