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Le Championnat: The Story of Power,Wealth and Youth development

“If Barca pay the buy-out clause of Thiago Silva then I will meet Messi’s buy-out clause,” this wasn’t a quote that the French media could put aside and laugh upon, extremely ambitious but completely true. Nasser Al-Khelaifi has revolutionized Paris Saint-Germain since buying the club back in 2011. Once a former professional tennis player now turned sports businessman thanks to his vast wealth, has put the Parisians on the map of European Football, and after nearly coming close to beating Barcelona in last season’s Champions League, the investment off the pitch look certainly ever more like paying off on the pitch.

Take last season for example, after spending a combined fee of 161 million Euros in 2012, including signing marquee players Thiago Silva and Swedish genius Zlatan Ibrahimović from Milan, France’s Capital club was able to finally claim domestic glory under  their president Al-Khelaifi after a slow start, by winning Ligue 1 twelve points ahead of main rivals Marseille. The money doesn’t seem an issue for the owner at any circumstance,(Marquinhos a perfect example where money is no object) the club have gone from a youth filled side who struggled to survive the last decade in the top division, to France’s version of Los Galácticos.

With new coach Laurent Blanc taking control of the club after being appointed following the departure of Carlo Ancelotti to Madrid, PSG look almost certain to defend their Championship crown successfully, with forward Edinson Cavani being brought in from Napoli for 64 million Euros, the goals department should be firing them in from every angle if the towering duo of Ibrahimović and Cavani can form a mean striking partnership.

Besides being able to live in a modern, picturesque and vibrant city, PSG can offer you all of this along with a chance of being part of this huge project, plus the immense financial benefits the club can provide, joining the Parisian club possibly over the once great Madrid side could be a sight we may start seeing in the foreseeable future if all goes to plan. What does this show? Power and wealth has a lot to do with how the beautiful game is played in the world today.

The predicted finish for PSG in my opinion will be again seeing Thiago Silva lift the coveted Ligue 1 trophy, but Champions League glory is obviously the next step for their European take-over, but with the Germans showing last season how potentially superior they could be against the rest of the teams in the Champions League, Paris may yet have to wait half a decade to finally lift the cup with big ears.

The Principality of Monaco, the elite prestigious state that reached the 2004 Champions League final. That side had consisted of Morientes, Giuly and was led by French legend Didier Deschamps as Manager, became a joy to watch and a team that put fear into everyone’s eyes who they played that season, this was particularly shown by beating Real Madrid and Chelsea on the way to finally meeting The Special One’s Porto who eventually beat Les Rouge et Blanc 3-0.

So what happened to this magnificent AS Monaco side? If you’re not an avid French League fan then you might be completely shocked to know that AS Monaco were relegated back in 2011 after going into major decline from their glory days seven years before. 2011 wasn’t all doom and gloom for the club though; Russian Billionaire and 119th richest man on the Forbes list of Billionaires bought a controlling stake in the club, taking over AS Monaco. Immediately gaining promotion back to Ligue 1, this summer Dmitry Rybolovlev has vastly spent and shocked the Footballing world by signing Radamel Falcao for 53 million pounds. Will the price tag be too much weight on the Colombian’s shoulders? Or can he somehow justify his full price by leading AS Monaco to their eighth title.

After watching many of Atlético Madrid’s games in La Liga last season, I came to the conclusion that Falcao is most definitely a world beater and probably the best natural forward presently, a huge call made on my behalf but seeing him score against both Classico teams this season including taking his side to the final of the Copa del Rey final against Madrid rivals Real at the Bernabeu, a seriously daunting task for any Atlético side. A superb performance from the forward including an assist to fellow forward Diego Costa shows that he can rise to the big occasion. Big game players are every manager’s need, and Radamel Falcao falls exactly under this category. Possibly my highlight of last season was seeing Falcao break through the Barcelona defence and smartly chip the advancing Víctor Valdés putting the red and whites a goal up. The goal showed pace, natural ability and class.

This combination will perfectly suit Monaco, and the amount spent on the Colombian really shows that they mean business. A title challenge may be too much of a stretch for the newly promoted side, with a 1-0 loss to FC Augsburg in their second pre-season match; it shows much work is needed before they start their domestic campaign in France. Most likely due to the huge uncertainty that the French league contains over league positions each season AS Monaco could potentially push for a Champions League spot at best.

AS Monaco’s main weakness in terms will be in the defensive department, signing veterans Ricardo Carvalho and Éric Abidal will of course encourage the fans by knowing they have two former European Cup winners in their side but the age factor is the problem, they simply aren’t the two defenders they once were, Monaco is most likely their last big pay check. Of course they bring tonnes of leadership qualities and experience to the side but most opposition will know that a quick counter-attack will test the tired legs of the pair. Maybe they should follow the Paris Project and sign a World class centre-half and start to build the core of the team?

Potentially Monaco’s off-pitch problems concern their average attendance. Last season they peaked at 6,102 against Dijon, and their average was around the 5000 mark, now with the mega money signings coming in, surely they can get closer to filling the stadium to the full 18,000 mark. To become a dominant force they will almost certainly want a full packed stadium each week to boost the team’s morale during the tough league games. Perhaps Rybolovlev could further back his dynasty by extending the stadium’s capacity?

So is this added wealth to Ligue 1 a platform that can be used to make the competition ranked among the top three in Europe? Of course with Monaco coming up and possibly providing a strong opposition that could block PSG from winning back to back titles then obviously the league will only gain from the money that has arrived. Money and reputation go hand in hand, but sometimes it can be a long life cycle that has to occur before the two favour each other. Most likely it will be at least a couple of years before Ligue 1 has the chance to improve its own European coefficient ranking, but with this extra economy coming to France it will help it become even more competitive and then be able to draw in the players and fans from around the world. The last thing Ligue 1 would want would be a copy of the Spanish disaster that occurred in Malaga especially. Some clubs in Spain have experienced near financial meltdowns because of owners not putting their money in the right places. But look at the Spanish financial crisis, as a country they have suffered more than most in Europe, and really it’s only their sporting achievements that have put them on the news for the right reasons over the last few years.

Another aspect is the upcoming 2016 European Championships, the first major competition that they’ll be hosting since the 98′ World Cup Finals, which famously ended up being their first and only World Cup to date. French Football seems like it can only grow in stature, through them hosting the Euro’s. This has also had a positive factor as it has allowed stadiums to get a new look and has generally benefited all of the clubs that have been chosen to host a few games, especially Lille who were lucky enough to have the chance to play in a brand new state of the art modern stadium that can contain 50,000 people. The club will only financially prosper from this added amount of seats which will also allow Lille to build upon and try to make their club a force in European football , but only if they are able to spend the added money and reinforce their squad.

Relegation is always as close as the title race at the top. The desperate race for them last few points. Will it be tears of joy and survival on the last day or tears of anguish and pain due to your club being relegated? A football fans worst nightmare.  This season’s relegation battle in France will be like last seasons and most likely go to the last round of fixtures, this year I believe FC Sochaux, Guingamp and AC Ajaccio could face a difficult season ahead and fall in my favourite picks for being the bottom three clubs at the end of the season. Why haven’t I chosen FC Nantes? Well due to the fact that the club is one of the most successful in French Football, along with the fact that the clubs support will be up there as one of the strongest in the league, who is to say FC Nantes can’t do it and beat the drop to Ligue 2?

Away from all the glitz and glamour of Ligue 1 we have the remaining group of teams that simply can’t cope with Paris and Monaco in their wildest of dreams financially, but in terms of youth development stand a great chance of making France a great hub to develop future talent. The under-20 World Cup held over the last month shows that maybe France could have yet another golden generation coming through their ranks.  Star players such as Florian Thauvin and Kurt Zouma both play their football at French clubs at this current moment, but for how long? In previous years the league has definitely suffered with the exodus of letting huge prospects go to bigger clubs in Europe. In my eyes this is the downfall of the whole league, seeing stars being made then quickly shipped away is something many French Football fans have grown accustomed to over the last few seasons. For the league to grow and gain recognition as a top league in Europe, the clubs such as Lyon, Lille and especially Marseille need to hang onto their star players of the future and show that Ligue 1 isn’t just a generating league where younger players of good quality go and play for two seasons max then pack up and leave France altogether.

Can I assure you that this season’s Ligue 1 title race will be as dramatic as the Premier League in recent years? Most likely not but I can almost guarantee that you will witness lots of stunning goals, a desperate race to survival and a hint of some World Class talent doing what they do best. Sounds like a perfect French recipe. Au Revoir.

This article was a guest piece by Jimmy Booth. You can follow him on Twitter @JimmyBooth94

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