In the modern era domestic football in France has taken a marked back seat compared to its European counterparts. Only once in the last 60 years has a French team won Europe’s premier club competition, despite the domestic leagues in France continually producing great players and the national team winning major tournaments in 1984, 1998 and 2000.
But it looks as though the tables are gradually beginning to turn, and it might not be too long before we see some French success at club level in Europe again.
Since the turn of the century domestic football in France has become something of a breeding ground for talented youngsters. Recent graduates include Karim Benzema, Anthony Martial and Eden Hazard, and, going a little further back, the likes of Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera. These were and are players destined to reach the very pinnacle of the game, yet they all have the same thing in common.
They were all plucked from relative obscurity at a young age, and allowed to mature elsewhere due to the simple fact that money talks in the world of football. Viera and Henry went first to play in Italy before making career defining moves to England, Hazard and Martial have made their names in the Premier League and Benzema went straight from Lyon to Real Madrid. Put simply, French clubs have been unable to stop the flood of talent leaving Ligue 1 and unable to retain great players and mould them into European success for domestic teams.
But recent years have seen teams in Ligue 1 begin to shake off their reputation for simply being selling clubs. Monaco went through an ambitious expansion, and fuelled by the money of foreign investors they made several signings which reverberated around the footballing world, including Columbian duo James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao. Whilst the lavishly funded Monaco project ultimately fell short due to both Financial Fair Play restrictions and the club’s wealthy backers getting itchy feet, PSG have certainly sustained the flag-waving for Europe’s Nouveau Riche.
PSG’s steady climb into the higher echelons of European football gained traction with the big money signings of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimović from AC Milan. The two were, and to an extent still are, the best centre-back and striker in the world; two remarkable signings in the summer of 2012 which went along with several others. Ever since wealthy Qatari backers bought the French capital side in 2011, the European football landscape has begun to change.
At the beginning of it all there is the money. PSG became, almost overnight, one of the richest clubs in the world, and their wealth has since trickled down a little through the league, albeit through the immediate signing of players who show promise for their domestic rivals. With the summer signing of Angel Di Maria from Manchester United PSG again made their intentions clear, and they will be looking to go all the way in the Champions League after becoming regular contenders in the latter stages in recent seasons.
Recent statistics have shown that PSG are still one of the competitions more unfancied sides among European backers, yet this does a huge disservice to a club which has reached the quarter finals in each of the last three seasons. Perhaps only Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich could claim to be favourites in a tie with the French giants, so perhaps it’s time we all took PSG a little more seriously.