An eventful 2016/17 season of the French Championnat was concluded a few weeks back with this season witnessing a departure from the perceived and almost acceptable norm. A new champion crowned for the first time in five years as young Monaco team capitalized on an unsettled Unai Emery tutored PSG to lift their first Ligue 1 title since 2000 ironically Paris Saint Germain finished second as well that year.
The French elite division is growing in leaps and bounds with the ability of some of the elite teams been able to compete favourably on the European scene and also for some of Europe’s top talents. It is no surprise that this season; Ligue 1 had a team each at the Semi Finals stage of the Champions League and the Europa League for the first time since 2004 when Marseille and Monaco made it to the Semi finals of the Old UEFA Cup and the Champions League respectively.
To appreciate the strides made in the French game is to view it from four varying perspectives; which include:
Over the last six to seven years; Ligue 1 has proven to be an ideal destination for core investors in Football; comparing favourably with similar investments in the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A. The main catalyst had to be the take over of Paris Saint Germain by the Oryx Qatari Sports Investment as well as the investment of Dmitry Rybolovlev in the principality club Monaco; which positioned both clubs as aiming for a duopoly of some sorts.
However; the league has been able to attract further investments into Lyon from the Chinese as well as the take over of Marseille by American investors. Now what’s encouraging about all these is that the investments have also been spread around to include development and building of new stadia (Bordeaux and Lyon opened new stadia); which invariably increases the clubs match day revenues.
Ligue 1 clubs are able to make big statements in the transfer market in acquiring new players due to this new injection of funds; take for example Nice been able to sign Mario Balotelli from Liverpool or Marseille and Lyon sealing winter transfer window deals for Patrice Evra, Dmitri Payet and Memphis Depay respectively; coupled with the attraction of top rated coaches such as Unai Emery at PSG; Marcelo Bielsa making a return at Lille and Rudi Garcia taking over at Marseille.
All these positives is aided by the continued investment in youth development across all the big teams; showing that despite their renewed financial muscle; the clubs have not departed from their time honoured tradition of grooming and blooding the best young talents in Europe. Just take for example the number of kids who had their breakthrough years this season; from Mbappe to Kimpembe to Blin; just to name a few; the future continues to be bright for the French game.
Style of Play
En-route to winning their first title in 17 years; Monaco played some thrilling attacking football, leading to a total 107 goals scored for the principality side; second only to Barcelona when you consider the Top Six leagues in Europe.
Goals scored across seasons have been on the up in absolute terms as well as in percentages. For instance, a total of 991 goals was scored this past season as against 960 the season before; 947 in 2014/15 and 931 in 2013/14 with the penalties scored also increasing from 66 in 2015/16 to 98 in 2016/17; there by leading to an increase in the average goals scored with improved from 2.53 to 2.61 goals per game in the last two season.
The improved attacking style of play is further buttressed by four of the top ten Top goals scorers in Ligue 1 finishing with 20 or more goals for the first time in ages and there are another four scoring fifteen goals. With this improved goals scoring haul; the games become a lot more attractive and open, hence drawing more attention and greater fan apathy.
Ligue 1 has to be one of the biggest exporters of young, vibrant and refreshing football talent; with each passing year; observers as well as scouts and some of Europe’s elite clubs cast an eye to this conveyor belt for the next superstar from the land of the Eiffel Tower. Just like clock work the French do not disappoint; this season it has been all about Kylian Mbappe and Monaco’s new breed of youngsters.
However, Monaco are not the only ones getting all the attention; Lyon have Maxwel Cornet, alongside the versatile Corentin Tolisso (who I believe is ready for the next step up); Toulouse have Alban Lafont; the Young Goalie has turned a lot of heads this past season along with Alexis Blin; at Bordeaux, Adam Ounas has lit up the new stadium with his trickery and he is destined for great things.
Just imagine; one of Europe’s elite clubs summoning up enough courage to couch out a potential £150 Million to sign Kylian Mbappe as he is the next big thing coming out of France and the young man has not been ruffled by all the attention he has been getting; a huge windfall is obviously heading Monaco’s way with the sale of Bernando Silva and the potential sale of Benjamin Mendy to Manchester City as well.
Improved European Performances
This season probably showcased the best Ligue 1 performance on the European scene since Monaco and Marseille made it to the finals of Europe’s elite club competitions in 2004. This year, it was Lyon and Monaco leading the charge for the French; both teams suffered at the hands of a young Ajax side and a highly experienced Juventus respectively.
Like it or not; Paris Saint Germain were just a few minutes of defensive madness aware from getting past Barcelona after probably the single most dominant performance you would ever see against any kind of Barcelona side in the first leg. It was sad to see; PSG crack under the pressure; but that first leg performance showed how far French football has come and how much ground a team like PSG have made in closing the gap on a number Europe’s elite clubs.
This past season’s performances demonstrates; how far Ligue 1 teams have come and how much more they need to be taken seriously by the whole of Europe. I make bold to say that within the next five years or so, we may be crowning a French European Champion.