Money Can’t buy you everything – Particularly in Paris
By Danny Ryan, guest Sports Correspondent and French football pundit
In football, money can buy you the world’s finest players, 100,000 capacity stadiums and heck – even a state of the art training facility… but in the realms of the French League, money cannot buy you glory.
Paris St Germain entered the 2011/2012 campaign swimming in Qatari oil money. They were ready to complete a Man City-esque financial takeover of the domestic league in France, but with all the Euro’s nestled in their oil rich bank accounts, the Paris outfit were unable to claim the coveted Ligue 1 title.
Instead the French crown of football fell upon the relatively unknown heads of Montpellier FC, a club located in the South of France. With a very low transfer budget and a batch of almost unknown players, this French outfit claimed the coveted title. This will surely go down as a modern day underdog story. When you look at the sheer wealth and spending power of their rivals, and consider the start of the campaign when bookies forecasted Montpellier were 80/1 to claim the French title – it’s no wonder that this was thrillingly unexpected.
Montpellier’s rise to football superstardom and the opportunity to play in Europe’s elite competition has unveiled to the world several superstars who were perhaps unheard of – but not now. The top scorer for Montpellier and indeed the whole of the domestic league was heavy-set French striker Olivier Giroud. He has notched up 21 goals for the season – he has also notched up an incredible amount of interest from major clubs in Europe, even high prestige clubs like Arsenal and Real Madrid are in for signing the burly 25 year old target man, praise from Caesar I say.
Elsewhere in Ligue 1, previous domestic champions Lille secured themselves European football for next season, by finishing in 3rd place. Belgian starlet Eden Hazard was once again Lille’s player of the season, and indeed the player of the year for the entire French league. However with Hazard’s big £32 million move to Chelsea all but secured, Lille may find it very difficult next season to compete without their star man. Still, saying that, with £32 million nestling in the pockets of the Lille management it’s feasible they will attract another top European player – the possibilities could be endless, if you’ll excuse the cliché.
Aside from the great underdogs Montpellier stealing the French crown from their oil rich rivals, another huge shock for the season was the demise of Auxerre. This was a club that 5 years ago was competing in the Champions League but will now have to settle for playing football in France’s second tier, after a howler of a season which ended with the club finishing 20th in the league. Dennis Oliceh was the only bright spark for the relegated outfit, the Kenyan striker managed to rack up 12 goals in total for the season. However his strikes clearly came to no avail.
Speaking of teams in decline, and that’s not a phrase you hear enough, Olympique Lyonnais the French giants we often associate with extended runs in Europe and collecting domestic trophies by the dozen, had by their standards a dreadful campaign. By the end of it the ex-French giants had to settle for Europe’s second rate competition, the Europa League.
So, what does this season spell for the future of Ligue 1?
For me the French domestic league is in danger of slipping beneath other European leagues such as Serie A, the Bundesliga and perhaps to a lesser extent the Eredevise in the Netherlands. With the almost guaranteed exodus of many stars of Ligue 1, including Giroud, Marvin Martin of Sochaux, Younes Belhanda of Montpellier and Ryad Boudebouz also of Sochaux. They are being considered by many of the European elite and minnows such as Liverpool and Barcelona are supposedly interested (hint of sarcasm).
There’s one ray of hope that perhaps many a French football fan can hang on to, and that is the oil money of the one and only Paris St Germain. With their new wealthy presence, many will hope they can attract some of Europe’s elite talents, with Eziquiel Lavezzi and Thiago Silva of Napoli and AC Milan rife on the rumour list at the Paris club. Who’s to say the French league may not invigorate itself.
One thing is for certain, the next season of Ligue 1 is looking more unpredictable than even the 2011/12 campaign, and that is saying something. However it is hard to see Paris St Germain not finally claiming their long awaited crown. Many have been proved wrong before – expect a strong challenge from both Lille and Montpellier.
You heard it here first.