Similar to the MLS struggle for international respect, France’s Ligue 1 is clawing tooth and nail, spending every ounce of gold it can get it’s hands on in order to sit on the highest throne of European soccer. A seat currently being crowded by the likes of England, Germany and Spain – no team outside of these countries has won the UEFA Champions League since 2010.
Upsetting this world order is not something for the weak hearted and thin-pocketed to take on. Other than relentless hard work, success in such a quest depends on three things: luck, money, talent.
Ligue 1 is very lucky. Mostly because it’s hard to argue against the idea that France is one of the most well equipped countries in terms of scenery, daily life experience, and general cultural quality. To be anywhere in France at any time is usually a pristine experience.
What does this have to do with football? A world-class footballer has the rare ability to afford any way of life he desires. And as Neymar has just shown to be true, little is better than life as a young superstar in the capital city of France. With the entire future of his career and legend being risked, the opportunity of life in Paris was understandably enough to make him take the chance. And as the process of this piece’s focus continues to unroll with time, only more will be looking for a reason to not live in Paris or the South of France.
Say what you want of the Qatari Sport Investment (QSI) takeover of Paris Saint Germain, but it was one of the most brilliant pieces of sport investment business ever done. QSI bought PSG in 2011 for something vaguely reported to be around 100 million euros. Compare that to the 2 billion dollars spent in 2016 to buy the Los Angeles Clippers. If there’s one city more marketable than LA it’s Paris, and if there’s one sport more global than basketball it’s European football.
Despite the loud cries and condemnations that came from the rest of Ligue 1 following the takeover, since then, most of the French League has done nothing but follow PSG’s lead. Later in 2011, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the team in Monaco with ambitions to match and even outdo the project in Paris. In 2016, Chinese and American investors bought the team in Nice. One year later, Nice has Mario Balotelli and Wesley Sneijder lining up for them. Also in 2016, the former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt bought the historically decorated team in Marseille, with a strong vocal determination to own French European Champions. Money has poured into Ligue 1 over the last six years at an unprecedented rate because a massive opportunity was made obvious to investors around the world.
The French League has historically been a modest operation. The modus operandi was always to cultivate players and sell high. Veterans only came to still be competitive or say goodbye at home. But not anymore, all this money has changed that. Some teams continue to cry out, and say the charm of the humble league is being stained with greed. Those teams just haven’t been properly invested in yet. Can’t really blame them for trying though. It’s hard to fight money with money you don’t have.
The only player other than the Argentine Lionel Messi to win three consecutive Ballon d’Or’s is the Frenchman Michel Platini, who did it in the eighties. Messi also has a top five legend to call a fellow countryman in Diego Maradona, just as Platini does with arguably the classiest and most skilled midfielder to ever play the game, Zinedine Zidane. But unlike Zidane and Platini, the Argentines don’t have a World Cup trophy resting peacefully in their country. We could go country by country, and except for maybe Italy or Brazil, no one is historically more complete than France. From overall talent to its eventual success representing European clubs and the national team.
France’s current national team manager Didier Deschamp has to pick one striker every game from a list that goes, at this time: Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette, and Kylian Mbappe. National teams usually present themselves more humbly than wealthy clubs full of high priced galacticos, but that’s never been the case with France. If anything, there’s been too much talent. Like at the 2010 World Cup, when the manager then (Raymond Domenech) literally couldn’t convince the bus-full of superstars in his charge to get off and go practice.
Back to the list of striker options, all of them currently play for clubs in either England or Spain. Except for the youngest one (Kylian Mbappe) who represents the movement of this piece more than anyone else. Just 18 years of age, after a star-lit second half season at Monaco last year, every capable team in the world called him this summer with an open checkbook. But recently he decided to join Neymar in Paris, the city Mbappe was born and raised in.
Ligue 1 was never a destination. It was a place to get away from once you got good enough. Overnight, it turned into where Neymar decided he would become the best player in the world. Just like that. There’s no turning back.
Only more money will be spent. Only more players will consider the rain of Manchester versus the blue skies of St Tropez. Combine that with the continuing overflow of French talent at the beginning of a new golden era. Add the fact that this entire generation will be more tempted to stay home, or come back home, connecting themselves even more with the tri-colored flag of France. Throw it all together, and what we have is a strong French tide slowly crashing over the world order of soccer. With a fighting determination to remove the controlling powers that have had their time for long enough.
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