Should Rising French Stars Stay in Ligue 1 or Move to Other Top Leagues?
Ligue 1 has experienced something of a mass exodus in recent times with a number of its rising stars leaving French shores, many with much success.
The most publicized example of the apparent desire of a range of players to leave 'Le Championnat' has been English Premier League side Newcastle United's recruitment drive, which has seen them attract the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Mathieu Debuchy and Moussa Sissoko to St. James' Park.
It is a strategy that has paid off for the Magpies—Alan Pardew's side finished fifth and qualified for the Europa League last season, with Cabaye and Ben Arfa playing pivotal roles in their success, while this term the decision to bring in five Ligue 1 players in the January transfer window has enabled them to recover from a poor start and move away from the relegation zone.
However, Ligue 1's loss has been more than just Newcastle's gain. Former Marseille man Loic Remy has already found the net three times in just six games for new club Queens Park Rangers, but perhaps the most startling stories have been those of Raphael Varane, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Paul Pogba, three young players who are all beginning to shine after opting to kick-start their careers away from the French game.
Perhaps the best-known route is the one taken by Pogba. The 20-year-old caused shock back in August of last year when he turned down a new contract at Manchester United—who he joined from Le Havre at the age of 16—to join Serie A side Juventus.
The decision appears to have paid dividends for the France under-20 international, who has become a firm fan favorite in Turin, netting five times in 21 league appearances, and he could well become part of the spine of the national team in years to come.
Pogba will be expected to be joined as a future member of the Les Bleus' squad by Varane and Kondogbia, two products of the excellent youth academy at Ligue 2 side Lens who are making a name for themselves in La Liga.
Indeed, Kondogbia is now a mainstay in the Sevilla midfield and has been widely praised for an array of combative and efficient performances, while Varane has received acclaim from a multitude of commentators after displaying supreme composure for Real Madrid in recent games with Barcelona and Manchester United.
Still, although a myriad of French players are enjoying life away from Ligue 1, the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Blaise Matuidi are showing that there is value in staying in France.
Both players were in action in a pulsating 2-2 draw between Saint-Etienne and Paris Saint-Germain this weekend, Matuidi having a hand in the PSG's opener and Aubameyang providing the assist for Les Verts' first goal.
Both have gained many compliments for their performances. Matuidi, often underrated by many observers, has been arguably the capital club's best player this term, producing a series of excellent displays in both domestic and European competition. Meanwhile, Aubameyang has fired his side to the brink of the Champions League with 16 goals and eight assists.
Their form will likely be an inspiration to the likes of Florian Thauvin, the Lille midfielder on loan at former club Bastia, Nice's teenage sensation Neal Maupay and Lyon midfielder Maxime Gonalons, who are just a few of a host of talented prospects aiming to further their careers in the years to come.
Thauvin's decision to join Lille from the Corsican club in January instead of leaving Ligue 1 despite high levels of interest from foreign clubs was admirable, but anyone hoping that all of the emerging talent in the division will progress within France should temper their expectations.
Kevin Gameiro is another that opted to reject a move to another country, but after choosing PSG over Valencia his fortunes have stagnated, scoring 11 times in his first season with the club before falling behind in the pecking order. Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre-Pierre Gignac are others that have also struggled to make an impact since deciding to stay in their homeland.
So when posed with the decision of whether to move abroad or stay at home, French players should not panic—the increase in exposure and obvious financial benefits of competing in the Premier League and La Liga will always draw French players away from Ligue 1.
However, while the quality of football on show in the top European leagues has allowed many Gallic players to improve their games, the form of Aubameyang and Matuidi demonstrate that players can make progress by staying in Ligue 1.
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