A quick look at the history books doesn’t make for much good reading when it involves the presence and participation of French clubs in European competition. Yes; you can not write the history of French Club football without mentioning the great Saint Etienne and Stade de Reims sides of the Seventies and Fifties; who made it to the finals of the Old European Cup; but then there’s the great Marseille side of 1993 who against all odds won France its first European title (the only other European success by a French team was PSG’s triumph in the now defunct Cup Winners Cup in 1996). For such a top footballing nation, you would probably term this as a really poor European record; well the French are back and they do look like they mean business.
This current crop of French teams comprise of youthful exuberance, unbelievable pace and a keen eye for goal. What is particularly interesting and distinctive about the two French teams left in Europe’s club competitions is their focus on producing young talent. Lyon and Monaco; fly the French flag, these are exciting times for French football; despite the huge investments made into Paris Saint Germain; its those who have deep rooted youth development programs that are getting all the plaudits; it would be naive to write off Lyon in the Europa League or Monaco in the Champions League.
Both teams come face to face with two of Europe’s Historical heavyweights in Ajax Amsterdam and Juventus; it would be foolish to say they stand no chance. Yes Juventus are on course for their sixth consecutive Scudetto with a Barcelona shut out over two legs still very fresh in the minds; the Old Lady hasn’t faced an animal like these young French lads; who have so far scored over 100 goals in all competitions; the highest of any European team. Ajax on the other hand have been quietly operating under the radar; but if their performance against Schalke is anything to go by; Lyon won’t take them for granted; OL have probably had the toughest route to get to this point; so both teams can relate to the adversity.
The Monaco and Lyon youth production line is right now the envy of the European scene; a few years back Lyon in the days when they won Ligue 1, seven straight times could buy the best talent in Ligue 1; depriving or stealing off their rivals, but still kept true to the conveyor belt that produced Benzia, Ben Arfa and Benzema. Monaco took a different path; yes in the mid Nineties they were responsible for bringing Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet to lime light; but with the inflow of Russian money, a change of ownership, the philosophy changed with the Principality side going on a spending spree; bringing in Falcao, James Rodriguez, Joao Moutinho to name a few; the Parisians were still able to out muscle and out maneuver Monaco; very little in terms of success was achieved. Now Leonardo Jardim changed things a little bit and started giving the boys from the academy a chance; the likes of Anthony Martial came through and caught the eye of bigger clubs in mainstream Europe; that year Monaco caused a few upsets in the Champions League; this year they are replicating the same thing with the emergence of Kylian Mbappe along with other young, fresh and French youngsters taking Europe by storm. Mbappe plays with a poise and guile beyond his years, his eye for goal is truly majestic and the young man is definitely on his way to one of Europe’s top top teams.
Lyon have introduced Tolisso, Lacazette and Fekir to the European limelight; so has Monaco with Mbappe, Bakayoko, Lemar and Mendy; all French Internationals at Senior or youth levels; their youthfulness, openness and free spirited style of play will cause Ajax and Juventus tonnes of problems; both teams are top scorers in both the Champions League and Europa League; I won’t write them off; if I were you, these French lads can smell blood and they are coming for the meal.