No other major European league depends on transfer income as heavily as Ligue 1, and the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic is likely to further entrench that trend.
Clubs in the French top flight earned €635 million from player sales in the 2018-19 season (down from €840 million the previous season), and with revenue streams being slashed left, right and centre during the current crisis, it has become an even more precious income source than before.
Although it remains to be seen exactly how the COVID-19 outbreak will affect the transfer market, clubs from around Europe will already be sizing up the best talent in Ligue 1.
Featuring the thoughts of a former Ligue 1 scout from a major Premier League club, here are seven players who could find themselves in pastures new by the end of the summer.
Thomas Meunier, 28, Right-Back, Paris Saint-Germain
If Paris Saint-Germain are able to play their Champions League quarter-final at some point in the coming months, there is no guarantee that Thomas Meunier will be in their starting lineup when they do.
A 2016 signing from Club Brugge, the Belgium international will be out of contract at the end of June, and there seems no prospect of his deal being extended. He has failed to convince PSG coach Thomas Tuchel of his worth during the two years that they have worked together, and while Meunier has repeatedly declared that he wants to stay at the Parc des Princes, he is also confident that he will not be short of offers if he does leave.
"A 28-year-old player, who's out of contract, who's free, who's an international in the world's number one team [according to the latest FIFA rankings], it can't be a bad deal," Meunier said during an Instagram Live interview with Belgian broadcaster RTBF in April. "In terms of the investment, even if I develop gangrene and they have to cut off one of my legs, they won't have much money to lose."
An avowed Anglophile, Meunier grew up supporting Manchester United and has been reading Peter Crouch's autobiography during lockdown. He has regularly been linked with a move to the Premier League, and with few international-class right-backs on the market, this summer could be the time for him to finally cross the Channel.
The scout's view: "I'm surprised and not surprised that PSG don't want to keep him. Surprised because he's 28, he's a Belgium international and he's been effective in some of their biggest games. But I'm not surprised because if they want to go to the next level, PSG probably feel they need to have a better player in that position. I think he'd be a good option for a Premier League club, particularly as he's free."
Victor Osimhen, 21, Striker, Lille
Lille have mastered the art of buying low and selling high—as demonstrated by Nicolas Pepe's £72 million transfer to Arsenal last year—and Victor Osimhen looks set to become the latest player to walk that well-trodden path.
Signed from Charleroi for a reported fee of €12 million last July, Osimhen burst on to the scene in France with a brace on his debut against Nantes and went on to score 18 goals in all competitions—including strikes against Chelsea and Valencia in the Champions League—before the French season was curtailed.
A blisteringly quick and explosive striker, Osimhen has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe and has reportedly been the subject of a £75 million bid from an unnamed suitor, per Telefoot. While Lille president Gerard Lopez vowed on RTL in February (h/t RMC) that "Osimhen will be a Lille player next season," a hefty bid would seriously test the club's resolve.
The Nigeria international, who grew up in abject poverty in Lagos, has expressed an ambition to play in the Premier League, but at this stage of his career, he is not prepared to sit on the bench.
"My priority is to play a lot of games," Osimhen told The Independent last month. "Signing for a big club and being on the bench is not exciting for me."
The scout's view: "Osimhen's main traits are that he's quick and he's shown that he can score goals. You can compare him to someone like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Like Aubameyang, he needs to find a team that will suit his way of playing. I think he'll have a move because Lille want to sell him and their business plan is based on selling players."
Axel Disasi, 22, Centre-Back, Reims
It does not take too much imagination to picture reported Arsenal target Axel Disasi in the north London club's colours—and not only because Reims play in the same red shirts and white sleeves as his potential future employers.
Disasi, who turned 22 in March, got his big break at Reims last summer when Bjorn Engels left the club to join Aston Villa. Drafted into central defence alongside the experienced Yunis Abdelhamid, Disasi helped to turn the side from champagne country into the most formidable defensive unit in France, with only 21 goals conceded over the course of the curtailed Ligue 1 campaign.
Tall and powerfully built, the dreadlocked Disasi is a front-foot defender who relies on his sense of anticipation to attack the ball in the air and on the ground. Although he has a tendency to dive into tackles, his physicality and authoritative playing style have prompted comparisons with Chelsea's Kurt Zouma. Once in possession, he tends to keep things simple, but he is fond of hitting across the ball with his right foot to send long raking passes up the pitch.
The France under-20 international has been linked with Arsenal and Monaco and is reportedly being tracked by a number of leading German clubs, per Goal. L'Equipe reported in April that he will be allowed to leave Reims if the club receive a "suitable offer."
The scout's view: "From my point of view, there's been a lot of talk about him. He only has one year left on his contract, and Reims want to sell him for as much money as they can. He's performed well this season, but I don't think he's a top centre-back. I have doubts about him."
Stephane Ruffier, 33, Goalkeeper, Saint-Etienne
Had the season panned out as Stephane Ruffier would have hoped, he would be closing in on his 400th appearance for Saint-Etienne. But those ambitions hit the skids even before the coronavirus outbreak brought the season to a premature conclusion.
With Saint-Etienne struggling towards the bottom of the Ligue 1 table, manager Claude Puel elected to drop Ruffier for a home game against Reims in late February in favour of perennial back-up goalkeeper Jessy Moulin. Ruffier's agent, Patrick Glanz, was outraged, accusing Puel in L'Equipe of "spitting on a Saint-Etienne legend," and matters have scarcely improved since.
Puel confirmed recently that Moulin will remain his first-choice goalkeeper next season and indicated that the club would consider offers for Ruffier.
"Stephane still has a year left on his contract, and I'll respect his decision," Puel told regional newspaper Le Progres. "If he so wishes, we'll look at whichever possibilities present themselves."
The shaven-headed Ruffier joined Saint-Etienne from 2011 and has made 315 top-flight appearances for the club, which is more than any other goalkeeper in Les Verts' history. Renowned for his consistency, he possesses spectacular goal-line reflexes, although he does not dominate his penalty area and is not completely at ease with the ball at his feet. Capped three times by France, Ruffier would suit a club looking for some experience and reliability between the posts.
The scout's view: "I don't see him going to a top club. He's not that tall—he's only 1.88m (6'2"). Most clubs in England, for example, would like a very tall goalkeeper. He's already 33, so there'd be no return on the investment in this kind of player. And I'm not sure how he would adapt [to a new league]. But he has one of the biggest salaries at Saint-Etienne and he only has one year left on his contract. Saint-Etienne are struggling for money, so they're not going to let him go for free [in 2021]."
Ibrahima Diallo, 21, Defensive Midfielder, Brest
Ibrahima Diallo is still to play a full campaign of top-level football, but he made a striking impression in his first half-season in Ligue 1 with Brest.
France Football magazine picked Diallo to anchor the midfield in its "Nice Surprises" team of the season's first half and described the former Monaco youth-team player as "one of the revelations of the start of the season."
Diallo, who is the younger brother of PSG centre-back Abdou Diallo, is an all-action defensive midfielder who has been likened to N'Golo Kante. Prior to being sidelined by a hamstring injury at the end of January, he had generally played alongside Haris Belkebla in a midfield two, but he has also been deployed as a solitary holding midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation.
Capped by France at under-20 level, according to Brest On Air, Diallo was linked with a move to Leicester City in January and is reportedly being tracked by Everton, Sevilla and Nice, per L'Equipe. In an interview with Ultimo Diez, he cited the Premier League and the Bundesliga as two leagues he would like to play in, and at Brest, there is an acceptance that he will not be playing at Stade Francis-Le Ble forever.
"He's a mature and grounded boy," Brest coach Olivier Dall'Oglio said in March. "It's not surprising that clubs more glamorous than Stade Brestois have been coming to find out about him."
The scout's view: "There's a question mark over him, for me. But let's see. He and his brother didn't come from the Paris area, so they've not had to fight in the same way. Nampalys Mendy was also compared to N'Golo Kante when he came from Nice and look what happened there. Could he cope with the standards in the Premier League? Every week is a battle."
Morgan Sanson, 25, Central Midfielder, Marseille
With Marseille facing financial fair play sanctions from UEFA after racking up cumulative losses of €170 million between 2017 and 2019, they will find it difficult to turn down bids for their star players this summer, even with a Champions League campaign to prepare for.
Three-and-a-half years after arriving from Montpellier, midfielder Morgan Sanson is seen as one of the players most likely to help Marseille hit their target of €60 million in incoming transfer fees.
A box-to-box midfielder with an excellent first touch, a good engine and an eye for goal, the former France under-21 international was a virtual ever-present in 2019-20 as OM unexpectedly secured a return to the Champions League.
"He's a creator," Sanson's Marseille team-mate Boubacar Kamara told the Ligue 1 website earlier this year. "He has lots of character and covers lots of ground. It's like he has three lungs—he makes runs from the first minute to the last."
Per L'Equipe, Sanson has been linked with several Premier League clubs, including Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and West Ham United, and has reportedly engaged the services of Israeli super-agent Pini Zahavi to help him find a club in England.
The scout's view: "Would Morgan Sanson suit the style of play of an English club? I don't know. He'd need a Latin coach—someone like Mikel Arteta at Arsenal. He has good technical abilities, but on a physical level, he might find playing in the Premier League difficult."
Serhou Guirassy, 24, Striker, Amiens
Like Marseille, Amiens are another club in need of funds, although in their case it is because of their bitterly contested demotion to Ligue 2 following the curtailment of the Ligue 1 season. Having scored nine times in 23 matches, including a coolly taken brace in a 4-4 draw against PSG in February, Serhou Guirassy takes pride of place in the club's shop window.
Something of an old-fashioned target man, Guirassy is tall and strong and excels with his back to goal, making him a useful out-ball. His ability to shield the ball makes him particularly adept at winning free-kicks, and out of all the forwards who played in Ligue 1 this season, only PSG's Neymar and Bordeaux's Nicolas de Preville suffered more fouls per 90 game than the Amiens No. 9 (2.7, per WhoScored).
Guirassy, who previously spent two-and-a-half years at Cologne, has been linked with Arsenal, Chelsea Tottenham and West Ham, per Metro. He is represented by London-based French agent Moussa Sissoko, whose clients include Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele and Rennes starlet Eduardo Camavinga.
"We have an arrangement with Serhou," Amiens president Bernard Joannin told L'Equipe's television channel in May. "He had some really significant offers from English clubs. He wanted to stay in order to save the club—that's what he told me. He wanted to finish the story with his team-mates. We have significant offers from England and France."
The scout's view: "He's performed well this season and is physically strong. I think he would do well in England. He could perform for a Premier League club. I think he's ready because he's already played abroad, at Cologne. He'll be more prepared to succeed if he goes to a foreign country again."