Why France's Ligue 1 Can Be Europe's Next Hot League
After years of not so quietly prospering and gradually turning into a highly entertaining competition, the Bundesliga finally blossomed in 2012/13. It captured wider European attention thanks largely to Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund’s continental exploits in the Champions League.
Since Bayern trounced Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate and Dortmund eliminated another Spanish side in giants Real Madrid thanks to a thumping 4-1 first leg win, it has been seen as something akin to a changing of the guard in European football.
With the German game now expected to take centre stage over the next few years at least, people are starting to wonder where the next surprise might come from.
Considering everything that has been happening in Ligue 1 lately, France would be a good bet.
Monaco have now joined Paris Saint-Germain as the country’s financial heavyweights, and with the advantage, they have already started to rival the capital club by bringing in a host of star names.
The "PSG effect" of having money took time to work to the Qatari-owned club’s advantage. But with the legwork done by their rivals, Les Monegasques have wasted little time in adding to the French top flight’s prestige with the addition of a second set of stars.
Although the approach cannot for one minute be considered as organic as the growth of the Bundesliga, the presence of the likes of Falcao, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, James Rodriguez, Lucas Moura, Joao Moutinho and Javier Pastore is a tantalising spectacle.
When it was only PSG, it was not so much.
Not because they were not entertaining or that the club did not attract enough attention, they did plenty of that. It was just very difficult for a wider audience outside of France, less familiar with the nuances of Ligue 1, to appreciate a league with no clear rival for the Parisians.
Now they have them in Monaco.
The Principality outfit are still facing a potential legal wrangle over their highly favourable tax status that puts them at an immediate advantage over their domestic rivals.
Despite that and the fact that they are not Marseille, PSG’s traditional rivals, it is shaping up to be a fascinating battle.
People with no relation to Ligue 1 look in from the outside and think that there is no real dominant French force in Europe since the demise of Lyon. With the addition of Monaco to PSG, this misconception will change and Le Championnat will be able to prove to those outside of France how competitive it is as a league.
Six different winners in the past six years tells its own story, but until Monaco or PSG both struggle to beat some of the so-called lesser sides, the majority of players and teams in the French top flight will remain largely unknown.
Also, with the likes of FC Nantes returning to Ligue 1 after a lengthy absence, French football has one of its more traditional sides back in the fold.
In fact, Les Canaris were the last side to win the title before Lyon’s domestic hegemony of seven years. Monaco won it the season before that and northern powerhouse but currently fallen giants in Ligue 2, RC Lens, won it two years prior to that.
With the return of those sorts of big sides to the top flight, the general football-going public of old will return in time, as those teams boast some of the most traditional support.
Of course, one of Monaco’s main flaws is their miniscule fanbase and they will inevitably pick up new fans. As have PSG, with the influx of new money, although the capital club already had a strong following prior to that.
Until the league is populated with some of the more traditional and well-supported sides, attendances will be one major drawback. The issue of stadia is being dealt with as Euro 2016, due to be held in France, edges closer.
Youth development, another of Germany’s strong suits that has contributed massively to the Bundesliga, is on par if not superior in France.
But with the lure of PSG and Monaco comes intrigue and those sides that struggle to regularly fill their stadia will be guaranteed a capacity crowd when the pair comes to town.
That is the beginning.
Once this becomes a more regular occurrence, the league will be able to thrive on its own, but so much rests on the new money in Paris and the Principality to start with.
If success in Europe is forthcoming for either side, as has looked likely with PSG in the Champions League last season, that will only serve to help French football develop even faster.
For now, though, the likes of Lyon, Saint-Etienne, Marseille, Lille, Nice, Bordeaux and Rennes all have the chance to show the world what they can do when up against PSG and Monaco.
Next season, all eyes turn to France for the first time since the 1990s, when Marseille briefly ruled Europe and the capital club were in the prime of their limited existence.
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