BOOM! So it happened. Paris Saint-Germain finally landed the big-name superstar signing they have been threatening to bring in ever since QSI arrived in France’s capital last summer and in Zlatan Ibrahimović they have a world-class footballer whose reputation transcends European football. ‘Ibra’ is a world-recognised name and the 30-year old Swedish international captain is the biggest star to have graced Ligue 1 for many years and undoubtedly the most important transfer in French football history- a watershed moment in the top flight becoming a major player in the future of European football.
However, whilst all the attention is on events in Paris a number of their domestic rivals have been strengthening well despite flying under the radar. Although unable to boast the big names and the glitz and glamour of PSG’s Qatari millions, Montpellier, Lille and even Nice and Lorient have been adopting some innovative transfer policies this summer to ensure that they remain competitive at both ends of the table. It has also been encouraging to see a number of promising stars opting to stay in Ligue 1 this summer rather than chasing their fortunes in a rival league.
Rudi Garcia’s men were strong last season despite being ultimately unsuccessful in defending their Ligue 1 title. However, the early summer departure of Eden Hazard has not necessarily ruled them out of title contention for the coming season. In fact, les Dogues have strengthen the team very well so far with the money received for the Belgian wonderkid. Not only have they managed to find a replacement for the winger’s creativity, they have found someone to provide the same pace that the new Chelsea man gave the side. Marvin Martin will bring LOSC the vision and passing skills whilst Kalou will be the legs and the energy that Hazard so often provided to lethal effect. Yes, it is two players effectively replacing one but for the price, it is extremely good business and at a fraction of the received transfer fee leaving the bank balance looking very healthy. With one eye on the future the club’s scouting network has also unearthed Viktor Klonaridis, a Belgo-Greek attacker with a burgeoning reputation.
In addition to the attackers, Garcia has also strengthened at the back by bringing in Steeve Elana from Brest who was arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the league last season. Now with Elana, Mickaël Landreau and Vincent Enyeama, les Dogues have three very reliable net minders which will give confidence to what at times last year looked an unconfident defensive unit. That will be the next area for improvement for Garcia with the club having managed to hold onto Aurélien Chedjou for the moment. The departure of Mauro Cetto and the return of Marko Baša from injury will give him a chance to find a more permanent solution on the backline, particularly if Mathieu Debuchy departs for a substantial fee. The departure of Joe Cole also frees up some much needed room on the wage bill that, let’s face it will be better spent elsewhere.
No Giroud, no party. That’s what we were saying last year but this season it may not prove to be the case as la Paillade have cashed in on one of their prized assets (as well as losing experienced midfielder Geoffrey Dernis) but strengthened massively all over the pitch thanks to a number of intelligent buys and cautious but well thought out investments.
Anthony Mounier’s arrival from Nice is something of a coup for MHSC, not that he is joining from a better side but that Mounier could easily have gone to a club that would have paid him more money or even transferred to a club in a more reputable league. He rejected these overtures to stay in France and buy into the defending champions’ dynamic project and it looks like it will prove to be a great decision for club and player so far. Although primarily a winger, Mounier contributes massively in attack and has netted a series of important goals for les Aiglons in his time on the Cote d’Azur. Now, he gets to sample Champions League football whilst switching relegation battles for title contention as he takes the next step in a promising career.
Emmanuel Herrera and Gaëtan Charbonnier will be adding to the firepower that Mounier will be providing next year and despite both being relatively unproven, both have massive potential. Charbonnier will undoubtedly be dubbed the ‘new Giroud’ following his 12-goal haul for Angers in Ligue 2 last season but Herrera will most likely start ahead of him in the pecking order given his seniority. Both capable of scoring goals, like Lille Montpellier have invested in two players to replace one star asset at a fraction of the price whilst still retaining the heart of their successful team.
Perhaps the most impressive capture of all though for la Paillade is their snaring of Toulouse captain Daniel Congré. Le Tefece enjoyed an encouraging campaign last year despite ultimately losing out on Europe and Congré was part of an impressive defensive unit in the pink city. However, René Girard managed to convince Alain Casanova’s captain that his future would be better served challenging to retain the title that with TFC’s aspiring stars. Although not guaranteed a starting berth immediately, I expect to see Congré oust Hilton to pair up with Yanga-Mbiwa before too long.
Although they will not be challenging at the top end of the table for honours this season (famous last words!) Nice and Lorient have also been doing some impressive dealings in the transfer market that have been less-heralded than their counterparts but equally as encouraging. Les Aiglons’ new boss Claude Puel has dispensed with the majority of an ineffective old guard that had been soaking up a large tranche of the club’s finances to little effect whilst les Merlus have jettisoned a number of fringe players to leave last season’s injury-hit squad intact as they re-group.
Puel has reinvested in young talent bringing in Dijon Éric Bauthéac, highly-regarded Metz goalkeeper Joris Delle and youngster Timothée Kolodziejczak whom he knows from his time at Lyon. FCL manager Christian Gourcuff meanwhile has chosen to strengthen his side in a key area: attack. The signing of Alain Traoré profits from Auxerre’s relegation as Lorient capture the signing of one of the league’s most creative players last year at a knock-down price. As Puel looks to overhaul his side, Gourcuff is seeking to keep his largely unchanged but keep faith in the core group of players that have served him so well thus far.
Ok so maybe Leonardo and Carlo Ancelotti’s shopping list is not as innovative as those of their rivals given how much bigger their budget is but the imagination shown by the club, particularly with the Ibrahimović deal, is doing wonders for the league with PSG currently the centre of attention in Europe. However, the fact that Montpellier and Lille are not looking considerably weaker despite the loss of two vital players stands them in good stead for the future as more and more big names are likely to view Ligue 1 as a realistic destination now that Ibra’s move has lent football in France some much-needed credibility.
The arrivals of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Thiago Silva and Marco Verratti have more purpose and invention than some the unnecessary signings made by the club last year. Whereas each new arrival fits the PSG’s new philosophy and will be part of the club’s future plan as it moves forward, the fortunes of some of last season’s signings are less clear. For the league as a whole though, Nancy’s ability to bring in Yohan Mollo on a permanent deal, Evian’s outright purchase of Daniel Wass and Marseille’s snaring of Nantes’ Florian Raspentino is proof that the outward flow of domestic talent is not as strong as it has been is recent years. With arrival of more stellar names France will become a more enticing prospect for potential arrivals but also for those considering a move elsewhere to stay put or seek to fulfill their ambitions within the borders.
Whether we see Kaká arriving in a late dash to seal a move to Brest before the transfer window slams shut remains to be seen but with PSG bringing in plenty of outside interest in the league and the country’s biggest clubs now managing to keep hold of some of their most talented assets and snaring the most talented players from rival teams bodes well for the future of the domestic game.