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FEATURE | It’s time to get Uber for French football

Less than 12 months on from a virtual procession to a second world cup victory, Les Bleus sit atop the footballing universe; double-starred shirts and wonderful, world class superstars sprinkle the worlds’ top clubs with their stardust: but the French soccer landscape has a ‘Ligue’ that doesn’t quite measure up – yet; the eternal French conundrum – a mirror image of the English syndrome.

The ‘Ligue 1 Uber Eats’, to be, breeds technical and gifted footballers – many of them will be cherry-picked by teams from the ‘big’ European leagues.

There is a fanaticism amongst sections of the hard-core support that you would have been hard-pressed to see bettered in 1990’s Serie A grounds. The stadia that these fans call home are some of the premier footballing venues on the continent – the Stade Vélodrome, Allianz Riviera, the Groupama Stadium all examples of how holding two major international tournaments in the past 20 years force investment and improvement in infrastructure, and subsequently, the ‘fan experience’.

And in AS Monaco in 2017 the league had one of the two top underdog championship winning stories of 21st century European football (we wouldn’t want to miss out Leicester’s achievement go unmentioned here.) – so; why is there something missing?

Throughout French footballing history there have been highs and outstanding players that have taken the game to new levels and written their names in the history books (Just Fontaine, anybody?!) – yet the domestic league has never truly shone, neglected by large portions of the French public in favour of other pursuits (rugby), and lacking the international appeal of other, more glamourous competitions, both in attracting the highest calibre of player (save Qatari-era PSG) and the viewership of La Liga, Serie A and the Premier League. History shows that French clubs have been at the pinnacle of European competition – albeit falling at the final hurdle, except of course the infamous 1993 Olympique Marseille side forever tainted with, well you know.

All the ingredients are there – or they have been at different points, the world saw how Aime Jacquet’s side captured the imagination of the public at large in July 1998 along the Champs-Élysées and again in last summer’s repeat to tie-up with Argentina and Uruguay on two world titles apiece; so surely, now is the time to strike – the players, the infrastructure and appetite are lined up, the iron is still, relatively, hot from Russia – so what next? What is going to take the French league to newer heights?

Well, the answer is, somewhat sardonically (he says) money – cash money. It is what has catapulted the Premier League to international domination (well it was never going to be the weather – ask Carlos Tevez), and what has kept Barça, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich at the top for so long – and of course why PSG can dine at the top table, to the exclusion of the rest of France’s clubs.

The new domestic TV deal struck last May and coming into force in 2020 means that the French league will have the third most valuable domestic TV rights deal in Europe behind only England and, marginally Germany. Truly, this should be the transformative moment that fans of French football have been waiting for.

The new rights negotiations for Spain and Italy have, and will continue to be beset with legal wrangles and complications. A new round of international TV rights negotiations for the French league is also on the horizon – the moment is right for the LFP and the clubs to make their move; fill the void that the media uncertainty of other leagues have swirling around them. Ensure that they reach the parts that others cannot; the Eleven Sports situation in the UK a prime example of football fans losing the reliability of their continental football fix.

LFP ensuring that the money reaches the right places is obviously essential – clubs being able to attract, and more importantly, retain and develop even more of their talent will see the overall quality of the league maintained, and enhanced. Now, let’s be serious, it is not like all Ligue 1 clubs are basket-cases – Jean-Michel Aulas just this summer has stated that Les Gones could spend €100m every year if they were so minded – but it’s about building the overall competitiveness of the league.

PSG can, and will continue to do their thing, but we have seen that when a club does things the right way – in Monaco – their stranglehold can be broken, but where was the ability for Monaco to go again? The nature of the PSG model need not be a barrier to the future success of the league; there has always been domination atop the leagues of Europe, but with the right investment and the trickle down of quality through teams wanting to be ambitious and competitive (see Manchester City and the effect on Liverpool.), indeed PSG can be the standard bearer, and use the league as a vehicle to better itself – and the other clubs.

The French league has seen ‘Le Big Bang’ with its TV money now, what needs to happen next is that it places itself at the centre of the footballing universe and shines bright – the planets have aligned.

D.R.

 

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