Ligue One Preview
In an attempt to prove to the group that I have some soccer knowledge, (lord knows my pick ‘em results tell the opposite story) and to educate some of the less cultured among us, I’ve undertaken a bit of a preview of a league defined by exciting youth talent, elegant technical skill, rapid pace, and oodles of oil money. Welcome to Ligue 1.
Ligue 1 has seen a recent upsurge in popularity due to the dominance of a team defined by money and superstars (now that sounds familiar, although I can’t quite place what kind of club would rely on middle eastern investors and big names, huh).
However, much like Rachel Dratch, you can dress them up and put them in all the makeup you wan, and they are entertaining as hell, but there are still some serious flaws.
While the influx of money into the league has certainly created a more dynamic competition with the ability to offer playing time to budding superstars, the problem continues to be the dominance of a "Big Three" that unlike other countries pantheons has proven almost impossible to crack beyond a season or two.
The Big Three
Ligue 1 has traditionally had about as much parity as the SEC football conference. There are often a number of talented teams, darlings that draw national media attention, and seemingly strong contenders looking to unseat the reigning champion. But at the end of the day, Alabama wins, and nobody with a full set of teeth is happy. In Ligue 1, the role of Alabama has been taken on by three different teams in the modern era.
In the 90s, Olympique de Marseille was a dominant force. They kicked off the decade by winning the Ligue four times in a row, and complimented it with a top 2 finish in three other seasons. This era of dominance is exemplified by their Champions League trophy from the 1993 tournament. Unfortunately, this would prove to be an aberration for Ligue 1, as European success would prove fleeting.
Remaining the only French team to win this honor, (a feat Marseille fans won't let anyone forget), one would think that the OM would be in a great position to explode back onto the continental scene. This year, however, things are not looking good for Les Marseillais. The past two seasons have been defined by spectacular implosions, firings, and more than a few sales.
In 2015, after a single game, Marseille coach Marcelo Bielsa resigned citing conflicts with club management (look for this to occur at Foley and Foley LLC in the next year or so). Marseille then tried desperately to hold on to their customary position at the top of the table while going through two more managers. Marseille’s owner eventually gave interim manager Franck Passi the job and then promptly undercut him by selling every player worth a damn.
NO. Seriously. Check out the last three seasons worth of transfers.
For those of you that aren't math majors, that is £112.3 million IN, and only 17.7 million SPENT.
What the hell??? Throw in solid attendance at a big stadium and apparel and you start to wonder where all the money is going? Who is steering this ship??
The answer: Margarita Louis- Dreyfuss
No, not her.
Marseille was hit with a match-fixing scandal in 1995, and were sent down a division. Robert Louis-Dreyfuss, Adidas chairman and pharmaceutical entrepreneur , and yes, Julia's cousin, (she is also loaded), purchased OM. He quickly re-branded them to appeal to the growing immigrant population in the community, became a hero, sold a shit ton of jerseys and brought the team back to respectability.
Then it was discovered he set up a $7 million dollar slush fund for the 2006 German World Cup Bid to pay people off, and was repaid by FIFA into a Swiss account. It was pretty blatant.
He died in 2009, leaving EVERYTHING to his Russian wife, who grew up and ORPHAN, is now the richest Russian woman alive. She has increased her share of the club to 65% , turned a huge profit on transfers, and now is trying (sort of) to sell the club.
Ok, back on track.
While ligue 1 is usually considered a glorified feeder league for more established countries, the amount of talent sold by l’OM in the past three years is staggering, Look at the players as well as the clubs they move on to.
Mathieu Valbuena, brothers Andre and Jordan Ayew, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Gianelli Imbula, Michy Batshuayi, Nicholas N’Koulou, Benjamin Mendy, captain Steve Mandanda (to a certain south London football club beloved by blondes), and Dim Payet, a man even you heathens should recognize due to his performance last season in the Premier League, backed up with starring for France in the Euros.
In return for all of these losses, the team has brought in a washed up (when was he NOT washed up?) Bafetembi Gomis, and Florian Thauvin on loan from Newcastle, a team which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Additionally, with fucking Little Russian Orphan Annie wavering like Brett Farve on retirement on whether or not to sell the team, if Marseille doesn’t start the season off running, look for them to explode quicker than Chip during a sexual encounter.
While Marseille was trying to get their shit together, another team stepped in to fill the vacuum of champions.
The early 2000s were dominated by Olympique Lyonnais, or just Lyon for you single language plebs.
Their most impressive run was from 2001-2008 when they ran off seven straight titles. Incidentally, since 1999 they have finished outside of the top 3 only once!
Recently, however, it has been third, as they do their best Liverpool impression and wallow in mediocrity just outside of the Champions League spots. They have not made many additions this season, but have had one major departure.
Due to his incredible performance at the Euros this year, Barcelona has waltzed in like an entitled toddler and snatched Samuel Umtiti from his hometown club. (Here is him scoring a sick goal against Tottenham in Europa League)
(HE'S A CENTERBACK BY THE WAY!)
Umtiti is young, so this isn’t as major a loss for Lyon as those suffered by Marseille, but he is obviously talented and would have been a huge piece if Lyon seriously wanted to challenge for the top spot.
And while Lyon did turn down a HUGE offer from Everton for Rachid Gehzall, a young, exciting Algerian winger, but I would put big money on him moving in the January window as his contract only has one year left on it.
However, Lyon have not brought in any marquee transfers as of yet, so look for them to continue plugging away in the shadow of the bigger, blingier, Paris Saint Germain.
Which brings me to the reason some of you are reading this (Chase). In recent years, PSG has been completely and totally dominant over the rest of ligue 1.
For the past four years, they have won the league title, and for the past two years they have won literally every French domestic trophy (league championship, two domestic cups, and the trophée des champions). With all of the investment in the club this was obviously the return they were looking for and locked down their coach with a long term contract!
What? They fired him?!?!
Yup, as a reward for all of this hardware, the Qatar Investment group fired Laurent Blanc. It appears the aforementioned trophies weren't quite enough success.
The hierarchy of soccer is determined by Champions League, and the loss to Manchester City and subsequent CL exit was apparently enough to merit his dismissal.
This left PSG with a conundrum. It appeared the Deschamp/ Zlatan era had reached it's ceiling and they needed to change it up. Firing the coach was a start but what about their star?
Well, as you obviously know, in the biggest news of the summer for Ligue 1, and the reason Chase has already forgotten where PSG is located, is the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. No bones about it, Ibra was an absolute monster in the French League, and is a huge reason for their dominance. However, much like his experience with Sweden, he was incapable of taking a flawed teams beyond what is expected of them.
Toss in the fact he is slower than Ryan Lochte and not known for his work rate, it was time for everyone to go their separate ways.
So where did they turn?
The Qataris immediately made their European intentions clear by hiring Unai Emery, the man who has won Sevilla three Europa League trophies in a row. Emery has been forced to adapt to a new look PSG squad, and has introduced a style of high pressure, fast transition, counterattacking soccer.
“But wait Scott!” you say “PSG is filled with players older than dirt! How can they possibly adapt to a fast paced offense?” Well dear readers, that’s where the transfers come into play.
While losing Ibra hurt, the team was still in good shape.
His strike partner Edinson Cavani, a good player (with the yips??) in his own right, remains and is joined by new signing Jese from Real Madrid. Jese fits Emery’s counterattacking style to a tee, and at 23 is certainly young enough to run a little bit more than big Z.
PSG has also picked up the hilariously Polish Grzegorz Krychowiak, Club Brugge right-back Thomas Munier, and the formerly talented Hatem Ben Arfa.
Ben Arfa is the most exciting of the lot due to his recent resurgence with Nice. If he can be less of a brat, his talent should fit right in with the diamond studded roster and could be the biggest addition of them all. Check out his moves. .
At the moment, soccer journalists are still viewing the upcoming season with Leicester City tinted glasses and saying that any team may win the league this year. I however, am going to make a bold prediction. PSG’s recent additions are more than enough to outweigh the loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and they will undoubtedly and unequivocally win the league this year. The only question that remains is when and by how much.
The three recently promoted clubs this season are Dijon, Metz, and Nancy. In a stroke of luck for the three of them, this is the first year in which the bottom three do not automatically get relegated. This is important because, barring a catastrophic season by Marseille, these three will likely be the bottom three.
With the new rules though, the bottom two get relegated, and the third plays in a playoff game against the third place team from ligue 2.
This is an obvious attempt to emulate the Premier League's final playoff match, aka "The most expensive match in the world".
This all smacks of communism to me and/or is a result of the “everyone gets a trophy generation.” Either way, I have decided not to like it.
Another potential force is AS Monaco, which has quietly made a few good signings over the summer. They have signed Benjamin Mendy from Marseille, Djibril Sidibe from Lille, and Kamil Glik from Torino (that’s in Italy).
They have also brought Radamel Falcao back from loan after his “wildly successful” foray into English soccer. Hilariously, people are optimistic about Falcao’s return to form after witnessing his preseason performance. The consensus opinion seems to be that “you can’t forget how to score goals” (although Christian Benteke begs to differ).
I am less optimistic about Falcao’s chances this year, and think he will end up putting up middling numbers before eventually getting injured again. Monaco may outperform Falcao however, because they are a quietly good team with a solid defensive corps.
But Really Scott, Why Should I Care
Ultimately, French soccer doesn’t excite everyone.
However, one thing we can all agree on is that Olympic Soccer sure as hell isn’t scratching the itch that good old professional soccer can.
Look around the Premier League and you see talent all around that developed in the French League. ;Leicester's head scout, now Everton's director of soccer, built their championship team on the back of Ligue 1 stars no one knew about (Kante, Mahrez etc....)
With increased money, perhaps some of the younger stars will stay in the league and bring attention to themselves, their teams, and ultimately the league.
The exclusive rights to Ligue 1 are owned by BeIN Sports, which most self-respecting soccer fans subscribe to. Both BeIN and BeIN Espanol televise the game. For those of you without a TV, ligue 1 is radio broadcast on Sirius XM FC (Channel 85).
Happy Watching, and Allez L’OM!
- Professeur Trois Tactile