Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
Brazil international Neymar was living his dream – playing for Barcelona alongside Lionel Messi and winning trophies season on season.
But before the start of the 2017 season, after 123 outings for the Catalan club, Neymar decided his time in Spain was over. Signing a massive 222 mn euro deal that broke all records, the 27-year-old decided it was time to move away from the arch-lights of La Liga and onto the lesser known Ligue 1 of France.
That’s the power Paris Saint-Germain holds. Or, at least they do now, since Qatar bought the club in 2011.
The club solidified their position at the top of French football the following season by converting Kylian Mbappe’s ‘on loan’ status with another big multi-million pay-cheque. The results are there to see, with PSG winning Ligue 1 last year round and holding a more than comfortable lead over Lille OSC this April as well.
But, is Paris Saint-Germain so all-encompassing that Paris is where the interest in Ligue 1 ends? Who are the other big clubs in France? Are they capable of giving PSG a fight for the title?
France’s Ligue de Football Professionnel invited us to the country to take a closer look.
Our first stop the Parc des Princes – PSG’s home stadium. You know you’ve arrive at the home of the stars because staring right at you are life-size posters of the club’s dazzling star-cast. Neymar, Mbappe, Cavani, di Maria, Dani Alves, Buffon - young stars and old stalwarts but all of whom have joined the club since Qatar brought with it a massive financial boost in 2011. While the Champions League still remains a sore topic of discussion with any local football fan, PSG’s heroes have still done enough to ensure the team’s last 50-odd home matches have been sold out and their trophy cabinet too
gets frequent additions with PSG on the verge of sealing a sixth league title in the last 7 seasons.
All domestic success aside, French World Cup winner and former PSG star Youri Djorkaeff though addressed the issue of a missing title-competitor that could help not just PSG but also the league, in pulling up its profile.
"“Today, what PSG needs is competition. Barcelona and Madrid have each other in Spain. In England, a club like Liverpool has City, Arsenal and United to compete with. What we are missing in France right now is a second or third big club to compete with PSG and make the league harder and more aggressive in the Champions League.”" - Youri Djorkaeff, Former World Cup winner
Over 20 trophies in the last eight seasons and 17 points between them and second-placed Lille this year round and the ‘big fish in a small pond’ syndrome could be something that would haunt a club.
If, two seasons back, Monaco hadn't disrupted PSG’s power-run and bagged the Ligue 1 title by a margin of 8 points. Their second-highest scorer that year was a very young Kylian Mbappe who had come through the ranks of the team’s youth setup. But once the title was won big clubs and bigger contracts saw most of Monaco’s core move away, including Mbappe who brought his skills to Paris and got PSG on top of
podiums once again.
Monaco though are struggling to get back among the contenders and even Thierry Henry’s brief stint as manager this last winter could not prove to be the impetus they needed to move up from the second half of the table.
While the downfall is unprecedented, Monaco’s success in 2017 could find a parallel in PSG’s with both clubs getting foreign investors in 2011.
Since then, 5 more Ligue 1 teams have changed ownership and benefitted from the financial boost. While Lyon is a regular top 5 team, Marseille changed hands in 2016 and one season later, reached Europa Cup final. There is also Lille, the surprise package of this season that’s placed second behind PSG, after finishing a disastrous 17th last year.
And while not all 7 teams got the financial backing of a country to change their fortunes, teams like Lille utilised their new – but limited– resources to invest in improving facilities and buying smart. On our visit to their training centre, LOSC’s CEO Marc Ingla shared his thoughts on the current status quo in French domestic football.
"“On one hand, its a joy to have a team (PSG) at that level who we can compete against. There is always the threat of a Super League. Of top clubs competing against each other so I only see positives. We have a chance to challenge them with our means and its doable. Maybe one day the Qataris will move onto another sport but for the short and long term, I believe the landscape will be quite similar.”" - Marc Ingla, CEO - Lille OSCIndia On Their Mind?
While the domestic league may not see much change in the immediate future, France’s football team ensured the focus was brought back onto the country after they won the FIFA World Cup title in the summer.
Ligue 1 was one of the best represented leagues in the tournament with 50 players in action. 14 were from PSG alone while 8 members of the French World Cup winning squad were playing football their native country.
But even as the world raised a toast to France at the start of this season, India blanked out on Ligue 1 with no live broadcast of the league. However, as the LFP CEO informed us on our trip, India is now high on their agenda with talks on with broadcasters to bring the game back live to India.
"“We need broadcasters, we need help from the media and the Indian football ecosystem because Ligue 1 is a growing league and it is catching up with the big leagues like EPL and La Liga. Investing in India is a priority for us. It is part of our international strategic plan but we need help in your country.”" - Didier Quillot, Chief Executive - LFP
With the realisation that the Premier League and La Liga are years ahead as far as popularity in the subcontinent is concerned, one of Ligue 1’s big steps in the coming seasons will be to move one game every Sunday to 1:30pm IST.
But will India be able to tune into a channel to watch that match live? The coming few months should tell us.
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