Ligue 1 has long been a league comprised of homegrown and French colonial talent. The makeup of the league has kept it dear to the hearts of the fan base in France, but the lack of significant foreign influence has kept Ligue 1 out of the view of fans outside of France.
The dominant proportion of the French talent has given Ligue 1 its own style of play. The style of play has mirrored the French National Team with a strength based in defense supported by technical ability. Even during the most successful years of the French National Team from 1998-2000 with Zidane's massive talents leading the way, defense was the backbone of the squad.
The French style of play has consistently been to rely on defensive strength while looking to score on the counter or through build up play. This style of play may be a result of a shortage of consistent creative influence in Ligue 1 in recent times. The best talents in Ligue 1 are typically sold to the higher profile leagues by the time they reach their early twenties. With the difficulty Ligue 1 has had in attracting star players in their prime, the result has been a diluted pool of high level players in their prime.
The cure for this lack of creativity and talent in its prime in the French game may have started to arrive in Ligue 1 in the form of an influx of South American players. Ligue 1 has been home to many South American players in the past, but the quantity of quality talents has been relatively low.
PSG has a history of being home to Brazilian talents like Rai, Ronaldinho, Leonardo and Nene. The Parisian outfit is leading the current charge in acquiring talent from South America under the direction of Leonardo and backed by the financing of their Qatari ownership. The additions of Javier Pastore, and Ezequiel Lavezzi from Argentina combined with the capture of Alex, Maxwell, Thiago Silva, and most recently Lucas Moura from Brazil, has greatly changed the dynamic of the PSG squad.
With the high number of high level South American talents in Paris, PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti has the squad needed to play a free flowing attack minded game. The creativity of these players could go a long way in shaping the development of French starlets Adrien Rabiot and Mamadou Sakho at PSG. Training with players like Silva and Pastore every day in an open style of play will enhance current abilities of these young players, while helping them develop the other dimensions of their game. It is a potential game changing combination for both club and country.
While PSG has made the most headlines with their high priced additions, they are not the only club in France to look to South America for strengthening their squad. Defending champion Montpellier looked to Argentine Emmanuel Herrera to replace last season’s Golden Boot winner Olivier Giroud who left for Arsenal. Montpellier also relies on Vitorino Hilton (Brazil) and Marco Estrada (Chile) as key components in their squad.
Lyon also boasts a lineup full of South American influence. Michel Bastos (Brazil) is joined by Lisandro Lopez (Argentina) as a big part of the offensive equation at Lyon. Some of the other South American players in Ligue 1 include Lille’s Tulio de Melo (Brazil), Saint Etienne’s Brandao (Brazil) and Alejandro Alonso (Argentina), Nancy’s Andre Silva (Brazil) and Nice’s David Ospin (Columbia).
There are currently no less than forty South American players in Ligue 1. While that number is an average of two per team, and not far removed from the levels of previous seasons, the quality level of the players is the big difference. Instead of only a couple of players at a high level of talent, this current crop of South American players is more skilled as a group.
If this trend continues, we may see a shift from a league which develops great talent and sells it to a league that acquires established talent to accompany their homegrown talent. This type of change would open the doors for increased interest from abroad. Increased interest leads to new markets, increased jersey sales and opportunities for more revenue through television rights.
The PSG project has been a significant catalyst for putting Ligue 1 on the radar of soccer fans worldwide. The next step is for more Ligue 1 clubs to attract high level talents to continue building the Ligue 1 brand. Tapping the wealth of talent in South America is perhaps the most economical route for the league as a whole in this process.
If the majority of Ligue 1 clubs buy into this step they may usher in a period of growth while transforming the French game both domestically and internationally.