Losing love for Ligue 1? Are transfers killing the league or helping it?

Remy's move to OM started the last four days of craziness. (AFP)

(I have awaken from my writing coma).

Before the start of the Ligue 1 season, there wasn’t really any transfer news to talk about. The only “real” transfers of any significance was Nene moving from Monaco to PSG, giving the Capital side a little more depth, and Jimmy Briand to Lyon. Still, most of us had a feeling Briand was moving to Lyon anyway. All the other moves were just free agents, like Sidney Govou and Marouane Chamakh making moves abroad. Again, not much of a shock.

But then the Ligue 1 season started, and it became interesting.

If you have lived in a cave the past couple of days (which I have because of work, family, a ton of other stuff), the transfer market has gone from boring to being quite lively.

The first big move of any significance was the departure of Mamadou Niang from Marseille to Fenerbahçe for 8 million euros on August 14th. Surely the seaside club could have sold Niang for a little big more cash (even with his age), but decided to go with the 8 million figure. And with the departure of Niang, Ligue 1’s leading scorer last year, there were many questions in the air. Will OM get a replacement? Will Hatem Ben Arfa become a starter? Will OM raise or fall? Honestly, we just didn’t know.

But it wasn’t long before the questions were answered. A mere five days later, Marseille announced the addition of Nice’s Loic Remy, who has been itching for a transfer out of Nice, for a price of 15 million Euros. This seemed to be the “Niang replacement” we were expecting. But in the days following the transfer, Marseille announced that their physical showed that Remy possibly had a heart defect. Further tests are going to be done today. He missed the recent game against Lorient, but hopefully we will see him on the pitch for OM very soon.

And if the Remy transfer wasn’t enough, Marseille also acquired Toulouse striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, paying a transfer fee of 12 million Euros, one day after the Remy signing. Gignac, who has been plagued with injuries since his 24-goal season in 2008-09, will return to his boyhood team, saying that playing for OM was always a dream of his. And if Remy passes his physical, Marseille could have one of the top 5 most potent striking forces in worldwide football. These two moves (which cost the loss of Niang) have already made Marseille a better, and deeper, team than last year.

So, were the moves Marseille made over the last few days enough?

No.

Lyon, a team that in the past was known more for exporting talent, is now starting to import talent. Today, they acquired Yoann Gourcuff from Bordeaux for a transfer fee of 22 million Euros. Lyon, a team that has been struggling to find solid midfielders, has now signed one of the best offensive midfielders in the game. In addition, his free kick ability makes him look more like David Beckham each and every day.

And, with the transfer deadline approaching, we could even see a few more moves.

But here is my question, is this what Ligue 1 really needs?

There are a few positives about these transfers. First, Lyon and Marseille have shown that they could compete with the big boys in Europe as far as bringing talent into the team. Unlike the past, where a player like Didier Drogba would spend a one season at Marseille and then move to England, these two teams are able to sign these players to long-term deals and, possibly, keep them there without having to worry about financial hardship.

The second positive aspect is that these players are staying in Ligue 1. In the past, we have heard all three of the players (Remy, Gignac and Gourcuff) rumored to be transferring to Arsenal. We heard in the last weeks about a possible transfer of Remy to Liverpool or Tottenham. But instead, they pick Lyon and Marseille. Why? Easy…Ligue 1 has finally proved itself as a viable league amongst its European counterparts.

Third, now that both Marseille and Lyon have been able to secure these top-notch players, who else will they be able to transfer in? Will they be able to transfer in some ELP and La Liga superstars in the near future, reversing the trend of these leagues plucking players from the Ligue 1 pool? The possibilities are endless. We shall see in the coming years if Lyon and Marseille have what it takes to become the next Barcelona, Real Madrid or Manchester United.

While  there are some positive aspects, which really help Ligue 1 on the European level, there are a number of downsides as well, which I really think weigh heavier.

The first down side is smaller clubs selling their players to larger clubs. At Montpellier, we saw a small-time operation cave in to bigger clubs (Valencia and Rennes) because the money these clubs were offering for two of their players, Victor Montano and Alberto Costa, we too good to reject. And if we look at two of the transfers last week (both players going to Marseille), it seems to be another case of an “Uberclub” taking advantage of smaller clubs. Ligue 1 fans, including myself, have been enraged when EPL and La Liga clubs do this. But now, we see it in our own league.

This brings me to my second question. Will Ligue 1 become the next La Liga? In our “start of the season” podcast, I stated that I had a feeling that Ligue 1 was going down this road. And with these transfers, I feel that this has just confirmed my position. Has Marseille become Barcelona and Lyon become Real Madrid? With the addition of only three players to these teams, they have made it nearly impossible for any other team to compete for the Ligue 1 title. While both teams have started off slow, nobody should not expect the two automatic qualifying spots for the Champions League not to be occupied by Marseille and Lyon.

With this being said, what is the future of Ligue 1?

In the past, Ligue 1 fans have always asked the same question…which is more important, winning the Champions League or winning the Ligue 1 title? This question even became move pivotal last season, with Lyon concentration on the Champions League while Marseille worried about the League Cup and Ligue 1 title. But now Ligue 1 has two teams that can concentrate on both without missing a beat. Again, Barcelona and Real Madrid all over again.

But my biggest worry is about the third place team and beyond. There is not a single team that will be able to compete with these two in the foreseeable future. PSG has done a good job in adding depth to their team. Rennes were also very busy in the offseason, strengthening their team, and finding a suitable replacement for Jimmy Briand in Victor Montano. But could either of these teams take on Lyon or Marseille for the Ligue 1 title? The simple answer…no.

This makes me revert back to one of my “past” favorite sports, baseball. Forgive me, my readers abroad, as I dip into my nation’s former past time. I grew up as a Toronto Blue Jays fans (yes, I am from Chicago, but lived in a house divided, so I went with the “new” team). From the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, the Blue Jays were contenders for the AL East title year after year. They even won the World Series in 1992 and 1993 (the Joe Carter home run still is my second favorite all-time sport’s moment, after the Patrick Kane overtime goal, of course).

But since the large infusion of money into the sport in the mid-1990s (specifically starting in 1996 with the battle of the money giants, Atlanta and the Yankees, in the World Series), it has been nearly impossible for a smaller club, like Toronto, to take on the giants of Major League Baseball. Toronto happens to be in the same division as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, teams who spent a boatload of money on players. This has now made it nearly impossible for Toronto to ever see a post season again. And, basically, this has made it that I don’t even watch football anymore. Why watch something that I know the result of the game before I even turn it on. Yes, there might be an upset, but that is rare.

And I am afraid that Ligue 1 is treading down the same path as the MLB, EPL and La Liga. And if it does that, do I really want to watch a league where I already know who is going to win, year after year. At this point, I really don’t know.

For years, Ligue 1 has been able to pride itself on being one of the best “top to bottom” leagues the in footballing world. But in a matter of a couple of days, we have seen that all destroyed.

While Marseille and Lyon might go on to win the Champions League within the next few years, almost all the other teams will suffer.

So why watch Ligue 1 then?

I really don’t have a good answer to that question right now.

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17 Responses

  1. I’m very happy that Remy, Gignac and Gourcufff are staying in Ligue 1, we need to be happy for that, however as you said it is turning the league into La Liga, Bordeaux can take the place of Valencia, hold onto talented players for a few years only to watch them move up the league (villa/gourcuff) Lille can take Sevilla’s place, constantly produce talent, only to be sold to the big teams (Hazard-Bastos/Navas-Dani Alves)

    We need Bordeaux, Lille, Rennes, Toulouse etc to continue to produce talent and hope that they can challenge the big two. I will always continue to watch Ligue 1, a great chance to watch some great up and coming talent.

  2. The more I think about it, the more I see that Gourcuff went to play in the CL more than to join his friends…I have become so disillusioned.

    Everyone thinks the next big move will be of Cabaye to Bordeaux. I think the good thing is that a lot of these moves are within L1 compared to a lot of outward movement in previous seasons. While I am concerned with OM and OL getting so many quality players, I think the quality of the league is improving as well, and of course will be better represented in champions League

    Of course, as with last season it’s obvious that this league can continue to surprise, and with the big clubs stumbling a bit this season, I can see Toulouse or even PSG topping the tables. PSG’s offense is very explosive and I was very shocked by the difference compared to last season.

  3. Interesting theory, but I don’t think it’s gonna work that way. Most smaller teams in Ligue 1 have spectacular academies (Lens, Auxerre, Rennes), as opposed to many La Liga and EPL bottom feeders, so that talent is gonna keep appearing and all the money in the world can’t buy it off. Sure this year teams like Nice and Lorient might struggle, along with Bordeaux if they don’t strengthen, but other teams like Monaco, Caen, Arles (who have all strengthened considerably) might fare better. It’s a trade off. A lot of small money talent has been brought into the league this year, and big names and large transfer fees do not a title guarantee.

  4. Whoa whoa whoa, are you really going to give up on a league just like that? To watch the league grow and now ditch it? Don’t you want to see Marseille or Lyon win Champions League to be the kings of Europe?

    • Not as much as I want to see Toulouse win the Ligue 1 title, which will now be impossible.

      • Impossible is not a word, take that out of you vocabulary.

        Yes, it will be extremely difficult for Toulouse to win a title but not impossible.

        The Arizona Dimondbacks, a team that was around for 4 years beat the Yankees in the World Series in 2001.

  5. More annoying to me is a team that should have the resources to spend, PSG, does not spend more. Ligue 1 should truly have a big 3 or 4, not just 2.

    • Agreed. And I really think it is important to French football to have a strong Paris team.

      • I don’t know about PSG guys… The capital of a country is not entitled to have a strong team, especially a big country like France that has so many regions where people care more about football than in Paris.

        People in Lens, Rennes, and Saint-Etienne are more deserving of a strong team than Parisians.

  6. Oh Marc, remember Luis Gonzalez lofting that ball over Jeter to win it all! Good times!

    Still, that Diamondbacks team was good. If Byung-Hyun Kim didn’t keep blowing saves, Arizona would have won it earlier in the series.

  7. Very well written!

    I found an english forum for Lyon supporters
    http://www.lyon-forums.com
    Just wanted to spread the words

  8. can anyone direct me to an English speaking contact with an intimate knowledge of Ligue 2 football – specifically Nimes Olympique?

    Thank you
    Paul S. Hendren
    cansportswtiting.com
    cansportswriting@gmail.com

  9. Good decision on staying in Ligue 1 with Marseille, i think this is the best option for him.

  10. Justin, you are just speaking as a OM fan 🙂

  11. I think they really need to go down to 18 teams. There are too many mediocre low budget teams. You can cut 2 of them with no problem.

    I was surprised OM wasnt able to attract the big foreign name that was being circulated in the media. DD doesnt pull that much weight I guess. Gignac would still be at Tououse if they were able to pull the trigger on L.Fabiano. Remy is more of a replacement for Niang I think. Its a shame they mishandled the Niang and Ben Arfa situatons so badly.

    • If Ligue 1 needs to be reduced to 18 teams, then the EPL need to be reduced to about five teams.

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