How to build Ligue 1. Part I – Players.

Sessegnon's hijacking of PSG hurting Ligue 1?

Every year, people talk about what is the best football league in the World. The EPL and La Liga will always be the two front-runners. Some might throw the Bundesliga in there. Someone crazy might even throw in there the MLS. But still, the debate is always there.

And then there is Ligue 1. Everyone knows about Ligue 1, and will even say that it is one of the “up-and-coming” leagues in World football. But is it near the best? While I do like the play and it is my personal favorite, I will even admit that Ligue 1 is far from the best. Yet during the early and mid-1990s, one could argue that the top flight of French football, with powerful teams like Marseille and PSG, were amongst the elites in World footballing.

But, of course, the glory days came to an end. With the mid and late-90s bringing superb marketing by the EPL by pumping millions of dollars into their teams as well as the tapping into additional markets through cable television, like the Untied States, French football started to slip down to near obscurity. In fact, if one looks at the movement of French National Team players, this point is even stronger.

Lets take the 1998 World Cup winning team. In 1993, everyone that took the pitch for the French National Team against Brazil in July of 1998 were playing their professional football in France. But when that match took place in 1998, on July 12th, only two players, Fabien Barthez and Christophe Dugarry, were playing league ball in France. Less than two years later, Barthez would make his move to Manchester United.

Therefore, we know that French football can produce some quality football. They can even have a quality league. But it seems as if keeping the league intact for any amount of time seems to be the biggest problem. And today, we are faced with the same problem. While the money that pumped into the EPL and Seria A in the 90s, and La Liga today, helped deteriorate the French “Championnat” (with the exception of Lyon), the French league still struggles on the international level.

Why?

There are a number of factors that one could bring up. In this article I hope to bring up just a few of them. Today, we will discuss the players.

While the size and finances of clubs are very important, if you don’t have the quality players to put on a show, then you aren’t going to be successful in any league. And the atmosphere in Ligue 1 today is quite hostile…not for the players, but for the teams.

In recent years, we have seen players not afraid to speak up against either their coach or their team. In fact, in the last two weeks alone, we have seen players like Stephane Sessegnon and Kevin Gameiro publicly discuss not only leaving their current club, but tensions between them and their coaches or organization. It seems as if there is now a culture in French football that if a player doesn’t get their way with the club, the player will come out publicly and make a display. Basically, these public displays have become a “bargaining chip” in either negotiations for a better contract or a transfer out of a club. The latter is the case with Sessegnon and Gameiro.

And while this might make great business sense for the player, for the club it is both a public relations and possible financial nightmare. Lets take the issue with Sessegnon, for example. Because if his attitude and threats over the last few weeks, Paris St. Germain have been put in an awkward position. First, the PR people at PSG have to deal with Sessegnon’s constant comments in the media. Secondly, because of Sessegnon’s non-cooperation (refusing to play), PSG knows that they have dead weight on their hands now.

Because of his refusal to play, PSG really has no choice but to transfer the player out of Paris. Basically, Sessegnon has hijacked the process. Obviously, Sessegnon will be playing for a new team. But since PSG has this dead weight, there will be more of an urgency to move him. This is when other clubs smell blood. Knowing that PSG is in this bind, foreign clubs will take advantage of PSG’s situation and offer low-ball bids on Sessegnon. Therefore, a transfer out of PSG for “pennies on the dollar” isn’t an unlikely scenario.

The big question for the LFP is how they, and the clubs, will handle situations like this in the future. Both Gameiro and Sessegnon have exposed a very large weakness in French league football…”if you pressure, they will crack, and quite easily.”

This is the current atmosphere that we see in Ligue 1 today. And while it is important to understand the current situation, how does that deal with “how to strengthen Ligue 1”, which is the title of this article?

In situations like this, the clubs need to take control. We have now seen the players take control, and that could be very dangerous to the survival of Ligue 1. In the Gameiro case, there are offers to send him to other Ligue 1 teams, specifically Bordeaux, but the player has mentioned that he is very keen on moving to Valencia. And while the wishes of the players should be a factor in a possible move to another team, it shouldn’t be the main factor. For every quality player that leaves Ligue 1, that make the competition less, thus hurting the entire league instead of just Lorient, who would be hurt as well.

So, how do we curb this situation? It all comes down to Ligue 1 club cooperation. And while it does sound odd, maybe Ligue 1 teams should make a “pact”, in which they will only transfer players outside of Ligue 1 if  1) the transfer fee the team receives from a foreign team makes it impossible to refuse or 2) the salary that the player is offered overseas is quite substantial compared to what a possible Ligue 1 team can offer. Yes, this process should benefit the player, but the club should also benefit from it as well.

We currently have an atmosphere in Ligue 1 where clubs (with the exception of a few) sell their players at nearly discount rates. Take, for example, Eden Hazard. If Lille ever sells him, they will probably get 50% of what an EPL or La Liga team are willing to pay him. He might go to Valencia for 10 million Euros, but Valencia might have been willing to pay 20 million Euros.

But, if we were able to keep Hazard in France, and sell him to a team like Marseille for 10 million Euros, what is the use of sending him to Spain or England, when a French team could snatch him up for the same price? This keeps the league strong and also improves Marseille, making them stronger for European Competition. See, it is a “win-win” situation for everyone: the player moves to a high quality team, the league keeps the talent and Lille make as much money off of Marseille as they would have off of Valencia. In addition, a Ligue 1 team builds to get more respect on the European level.

We see this current situation playing out with Gameiro. As it looks, both Bordeaux and Valencia could pay a transfer fee of 10 million Euros for the star striker. Therefore, no matter what team they sell him to, they will make the same amount of money. But keeping Gameiro in Ligue 1 helps the league. It also helps to get another solid French team back in the Champions League. In addition, because they will have to face Bordeaux, Lorient will have to even make their team better to compete as the top-level.

Therefore, for the good of the sport of football in France, the league really needs to come up with some sort of “brotherhood” amongst the teams which will keep quality players in Ligue 1 in France.

But even with this situation, there is another question…the professional conduct of a player. In the case of Sessegnon, what has PSG done to stop this bleeding sore? Well, nothing except for some players publicly begging him to come back. When a player starts to act out in a situation like this, the club (and possibly the league) needs to put the hammer down and stop any further hemorrhaging. Yet, we haven’t seen anything like this happen. Maybe if the clubs would take a proactive approach toward “renegade” players, then players would think twice about making such rash public statements, as in the case of Sessegnon.

And while players like Sessegnon should be punished for their remarks, the league should also start promoting players because of their good behavior as well. Take Eden Hazard for example. Everyone knows that Hazard could easily hijack Lille and force a move to Arsenal or Spain, since he has been linked to a number of teams. Instead, while he might mention that he would like to play there, he doesn’t use it as some negotiation tool like others do. He understands that Lille is his team, and he is doing what it take to make Lille a better team. Promoting “loyalty” and “work ethic” should be a cornerstone of Ligue 1.

Tomorrow: Part II – Promoting Ligue 1 abroad.

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5 Responses

  1. Love the article!

    I will comment if I get the chance later tomorrow!

  2. There are too many lower budget clubs will little potential for huge growth so going down to 18-16 teams is one way to help strengthen things.

    • I think the only issue I have with reducing the league to that many teams is that larger budget teams, like St. Etienne, could fall down because of one bad year, and then have troubles climbing back up. Like Nantes and Leeds in England, for example, they should have already been back in the top flight of football. But bad luck has mostly kept them from promotion. That is the only reason I support 20 teams. Otherwise, the 18 team option seems reasonable.

  3. St. Etienne and Lens are supposed to be “big teams” but all they sign are journeyman players.

  4. I disagree. While Sessegnon’s behavior is from all accounts not the best, it happens everywhere. Look at Taiwo’s contract situation. Marseille know exactly the consequences of him staying and not being sold last summer, and made a value call. Clubs are not that naive.

    Players gravitate to the best leagues, which is logical by your logic the Brazilian League should hold on to all Brazilians, Nene should have stayed in Brazil, the Argentinian league should hold on to Argentinians, Lizandro and Lucho stay in Argentina.

    Also – Lille selling Hazard to l’OM would have a direct negative impact on Lille’s chances at the title and European qualification. That is not in their self interest, and so a discount to sell a team .

    The market is there for a reason, it is a market. Pacts such as this would potentially contravene EU Law, and also reduce the chance of income into the league and diminish it’s quality. The way to progress the league is to improve it to a standard where players don’t automatically want to go to Germany, Spain, England and Italy, but to remain in France with successful European clubs.

    Another key consideration is wages and club debts. No matter what you do, l’OM and Lyon (let alone smaller clubs) aren’t able to compete with Man City, Utd, Barca, Real Madrid etc. with salaries without contravening the league’s financial regulations, so the measures you suggest wouldn’t fix this fundamental issue.

    Finally – Hazard is staying at Lille for selfish reasons as well. He knows that he’s going to develop better as a footballer playing in a competitive league week in week out, and thus have more chance at a successful career over the next decade or more. Whist what he is doing is admirable, it is not purely for selfless reasons.

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