Can Ibrahimovic inspire PSG to their first title since 1994, and Ligue 1 to widespread recognition?
France's Ligue 1 is an exciting, unpredictable competition that regularly throws up surprise results in which the big guns get toppled by smaller, competitive sides. This season is a particularly fascinating campaign.
Contrasting the wealth of Paris Saint-Germain you have enterprising outfits such as Saint-Étienne, FC Lorient and Nice looking to break into contention at the top end of the table. Add to that France´s most decorated and well-supported club sides in Olympique Marseille and Olympique Lyonnais and you have a potent and enthralling spectacle.
Paris Saint-Germain-The Perennial Sleeping Giant Finally Strike Gold:
Since the summer of 2011 le Championnat has been illuminated by the presence of Paris Saint-Germain and their new-found wealth. French football giants, yet perennial underachievers, PSG hit the headlines last year with a spate of big-money moves including the €42million capture of Argentine sensation Javier Pastore.
A year on and the capital club made another splash in the transfer market but this time a more considerable one. Les Parisiens, led by former AC Milan and Brazil midfielder Leonardo as Sporting Director, captured Zlatan Ibrahimović, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi in a sensational triple swoop that has transformed the landscape of French domestic football.
With Carlo Ancelotti in charge of a star-studded squad, PSG are no doubt the team to beat in France, but it is the talismanic Swede who has really set Ligue 1 on fire in the opening part of the current campaign. With Olivier Giroud and Eden Hazard departing for England over the summer, the league looked short of genuine star talent but Ibra's arrival has coincided with an upturn in interest surrounding domestic French football. Now the superstar attraction in France, Ibrahimović has so far netted 17 goals in 15 league games in a prolific start to the season.
Europe's Most Fertile Breeding Ground:
The capital club aside, Ligue 1 has been evolving steadily over the last few years and this season it stands on the brink of being able to compete with the bigger European leagues. PSG’s finances obviously help, but the competition in recent years has produced some great teams and French sides have enjoyed memorable showings in Europe. Although their continental presence is something that drastically needs developing (something that PSG will address in time), Ligue 1 in recent seasons has boasted strong teams from Lyon, Bordeaux and Lille.
Ligue 1 - An Unpredictable Entity:
People unfamiliar with French football claim that the style of football exhibited is boring and that there are only a handful of sides worth watching in the league. This is untrue.
Since Lyon’s domestic hegemony of seven consecutive titles ended four years ago there have been four different champions. How about that for unpredictability? Granted, an eight-goal thriller won’t be a regular occurrence but with PSG and Lyon as well as Lille and Bordeaux playing out memorable games last year, and Lorient and Ajaccio sharing a 4-4 tie this term, Ligue 1 can now claim to compete with the Bundesliga, Premier League and La Liga in terms of entertainment.
Last season is further proof that French football is under-appreciated and anything but dull and predictable. The title race was decided on the final day of the campaign when unheralded Montpellier Hérault stole the title from PSG on the last day of the season, when eight sides were battling it out to avoid relegation. This storyline made the last day of the season a tense and frantic affair with teams swapping positions in the bottom three at different points of the games.
The league enjoys a mixture of styles with players from France, Africa, South America and other European nations coming together to form an exciting, vibrant brand of football.
This variety of talent helps throw up great stories like last season’s heroic efforts from Montpellier in winning the league, newly-promoted Évian Thonon Gaillard finishing just shy of European qualification and Nancy launching an improbably comeback to claim a mid-table finish after being second bottom at Christmas. Minnows Ajaccio went one better though, overturning a six-point deficit to move off the bottom of the table in January to avoid the drop on the last day.
Why Ligue 1 Right Now:
Although PSG undoubtedly attract most people’s attention to Ligue 1, hopefully that interest will then expose those viewers to the other entertaining teams in the league. The progress made by teams such as Lorient and Saint-Étienne demonstrate just how far the competition has come in the past few years and how close it is to being on an even footing with other European leagues in terms of entertainment and value for money.