If you ask someone to give you their opinion best leagues in the world they’ll most likely wax lyrical about the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, German Bundesliga and the Italian Serie A, but what about the French and Ligue 1? Is it valued as highly? Does it deserve to be?
By Kierran Allardice – @kierrywierry
Some will endorse the league, but there may be others who completely write-off one of Europe’s elite competitions. Why?
Well, because there isn’t a whole lot going for it.
Firstly, other than Paris Saint Germain, Lyon and Marseille, money is not in abundance for French teams as it is for many of their European counterparts. Montpellier, who only returned to the top flight in 2009, won the title last season with a team that cost significantly less than £35million (the money spent by PSG on Zlatan Ibrahimovic), compare that to English champions Manchester City, whose squad cost well over £300million and the difference is quite remarkable.
As for Montpellier’s achievements last season; yes it was remarkable but does it act as a good advert for Ligue 1? The most they spent on one player was £1.75million on Olivier Giroud from Tours – surely that says something about the quality and level of football played in France when a team with such little experience and financial clout can win the league? Sure it’s a fairy-tale, but Montpellier have been found wanting this season among the Champions League big boys and that must be more down to a poor squad rather than Giroud’s exit to Arsenal?
Maybe that shows that Lyon, Marseille and the likes are not the force some think. The past four titles have gone to Bordeaux, Marseille, Lille and Montpellier respectively – it’s undoubtedly an entertaining league, but what does that say for the quality?
The lack of money available in the French league certainly makes it much harder to attract world-class players. Other than PSG’s summer signings, Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, plus their playmaker, Javier Pastore, world-class players in Ligue 1 are few and far between. In recent years there have been some incredible talents such as Yoann Gourcuff, Loic Remy and Michel Bastos but their true pedigree is questionable.
Then there were players like Patrice Evra, Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, Patrick Vieira and Eric Cantona who lead the way in those who have made the journey across the English Channel. This has become a growing trend and doesn’t help Ligue 1 as teams continue struggling to keep their players from leaving the country.
More recently, Gervinho, Eden Hazard, Yohan Cabaye and Giroud have all crossed the water after playing influential roles in their respective teams. This is the problem that teams in Ligue 1 have to deal with; the standard of football in the league is not at a level to match that of its competitors.
This is perhaps best exemplified by the French failure in European competition. The sole Ligue 1 club to win the UEFA Champions League/European Cup is Marseille, when they won it in 1992/93, defeating AC Milan 1-0 in the final. Even supposed ‘inferior’ leagues such as Holland’s Eredivisie and Portugal’s Primeira Liga have better records in European competitions. Although French clubs have finished runners-up on five occasions – Stade de Reims twice, Monaco, Marseille and Saint-Etienne once. As for the UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League, three French sides have finished runners-up – Bastia, Bordeaux and Marseille.
This year’s Champions League hasn’t been great for French sides overall. PSG emerged top of their group with no problem while Montpellier and Lille both finished at the foot of their groups. In the Europa League, Marseille crashed out in the group stage finishing third only for pride to be restored as Lyon and Bordeaux topped their groups. Can this be the year French clubs have some success in Europe? There’s a chance, but if past performances are anything to go by then it will all end dismally again.
The stature of Ligue 1 may not be helped by the underperformance of the French national side lately either. In 2010, the national team fell to its lowest ever FIFA ranking of 27, although they currently sit in 18th position which is still below expectations. Since France’s World Cup triumph on home turf in 1998 they have fallen short in the group stage in 2002 and 2010 while finishing runners-up to Italy in 2006. Since their European Championship success in 2000 they have gone out in the quarter-finals on two occasions – 2004 and 2012. In 2008 they didn’t even make it out of their group. France’s failure to perform at international level may well be affecting their nation at club level.
There are a number of reasons that Ligue 1 doesn’t match other leagues but will it ever reach the level of the four top leagues?
Would you rank the French top division among the best in the world? Tweet us @talkingbaws or comment below.