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Ligue 1 Preview – Bordeaux, Marseille and Lyon’s Summer of Love

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What a difference a year makes. Against odds, FC Bordeaux dethroned Ligue 1’s 7 time consecutive champions Lyon to lift the Ligue 1 trophy. With 12 wins on the trot at the tail end of the season, FC Bordeaux secured a top dog status with its first league title in a decade. Along with the Coupe De La Ligue crown to secure a league and cup double, les Girodins wagged its tail at fellow title hopefuls Marseille and Lyon – leaving the former chasing tails and the latter stuck with its tail between its legs.

Buoyed by the brilliance of young play-maker Yoann “the new Zidane” Gourcuff and strikers Chamakh and Cavenaghi coupled with a brilliant defensive unit led by Souleymane Diawara, the inhabitants of the Stade Chaban Delmas delighted domestic French football fans with its style of salivating attacking football whilst keeping a tight noose at the back of the park. While the team’s on the pitch success has been credited to the genius of Gourcuff, off the pitch lay manager Laurent “the new Mourinho” Blanc, pulling the right strings and pushing the right buttons.

Girondins Bordeaux

girondins_bordeauxAfter last year’s spectacular season, the club moved hastily to secure the permanent transfer of Bordeaux’s bread and butter and Ligue 1 player of the season Yoann Gourcuff from AC Milan to the tune of €13 million – a mere pittance in the ridiculous world of the current transfer market. With the next best thing since sliced bread on the books, Laurent Blanc snapped up Toulouse’s much heralded goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso (€10 million) to replace the aging Ulrich Rame. The addition of versatile box-to-box Czech international midfielder Jaroslav Plasil for € 3 million from Spanish side Osasuna should add more creativity in a midfield which was solely dependent on Gourcuff.

Blanc biggest regret is undoubtedly the departure of his defensive rock Souleymane Diawara who fled the port city for the pastures of the Stade Velodrome. In return, Bordeaux recouped € 6 million from Marseille for the services of the 30 yr old Senegalese international and swiftly went shopping for a replacement in the mold of FC Lorient’s center back Michaël Ciani. Rumors have swirled around the club for a possible bid for FC Lokomotiv defender Marko Basa to help shore up a defense hit bad by injuries. As Blanc prepares his squad for the upcoming season with well thought out shrewd signings, his good deeds have failed to attract the global media attention thanks to the saga following highly rated prized asset Marouane Chamakh.

The subject of a highly publicized interest from English heavyweights Arsenal, Chamakh has strutted around like a peacock with repeated cackling of his desire to ply his trade in England (preferably Arsenal), but has so far been disappointed with the Bordeaux’s hardball stance at Arsenal’s transfer bid. More amusing was Bordeaux’s President Jean Louis Traiud reaction after learning English club Sunderland were interested in his goal poacher;

“We never received any offers for Marouane Chamakh and what is he going to do in Sunderland? I don’t want to insult Sunderland, but I don’t even know where they finished last season. You have heard him say he will only sign for a big English club.”

As the end of the transfer window approaches, the onus is on Blanc to find a suitable replacement for the soon departing Chamakh; someone who not only can duplicate his 13 goals last season but also has a great chemistry with Gourcuff, can partner Cavenaghi and isn’t a dressing room headache.

Despite not having spending lavishly like title rivals Lyon and Marseille, Bordeaux fans will expect the club to do all it can to retain its league crown. After years of languishing in the shadows domestic heavyweights Lyon, UEFA cup (now Europa league) finalists Marseille and Champions league finalists Monaco, it seems FC Bordeaux have decided not to put new wines and old bottles as the club hopes to stake claim as the new force in French domestic football.

A certain question lingers; can Laurent Blanc repeat last year’s feat, resist the call of big European clubs and the French national team, and lead FC Bordeaux to further glories or is “Lilo” wining and dining at the Aquitaine capital until the fat lady sings?

Key Players:

Yoann Gourcuff
Fernando Cavenaghi
Alou Diarra
Cederric Carasso
Marouane Chamakh (if available)

Olympique Marseille

olympique_marseilleWith five weeks to go in the 2008-09 Ligue 1 season, Marseille sat pretty atop the table as the engraver slowly penciled L’OM onto the Ligue 1 trophy. However the prospect of winning a first league title in 17 years were quickly erased as big boy rotary club members ex-manager Eric Gerets, ex-Chairman Pape Diouf and the club’s now deceased owner Robert Louis-Dreyfus all conspired to – pardon my language – FUCK it up in every possible manner (and I use that word in its strongest context). The uneasy relationship between coach and owner, behind the scene bickering between chairman and owner and a team that once again flattered to deceive resulted in self capitulation as Bordeaux overtook L’OM to win the title with 2 games to spare.

With a new sheriff in town in the mold of Marseille legend Didier Deschamps, L’OM have gone through a transformation unlike no other. Deschamps has continued Eric Gerets’ unfinished project by further solidifying last season’s best defensive unit with the capture of the aging yet reliable center-back Diawara from rivals Bordeaux .Gabriel Heinze has been left off the crazy Jackie Collins novel starting lineup name sheet at Real Madrid to wind down his career at the Stade Veledrome. Along with Heinze and Diawara, Ligue 1 veteran defender Cyril Rool has joined Deschamps’ pensioner recruitment to the sum of half a million pounds.


Those were my first reaction (and I reckon those of several Marseille fans) upon learning that Marseille captain Lorik Cana had moved to Sunderland for a paltry €6 million. Deschamps or Didi (as he’s famously known amongst the French press) has replaced the “Marshall” with an €18 million club record purchase on Porto’s Argentine midfield general Lucho Gonzales. While the fee spent is somewhat debatable, the talent and creativity the 28yr old brings to the pitch is unquestionable and might eventually be worth every penny.

Along with Cana, the team has seen a host of departures as Karim Ziani joined Bundesliga Champions Wolfsburg for €10 million. Modeste Mbami, Boudewijn Zenden and Renato Civelli have been released while Djibril Cisse, on loan at Sunderland last season, has been shipped to soak up sun on the Greek Islands – Panathinaïkos to be exact. Drafted to fill in the gaping hole in the center of the park is €12 million ex-Rennais anchor Stephen Mbia who last season managed to link himself to several English clubs all at once in the span of sentence akin to:

“I want Everton – it’s my dream. Everton want me, and Arsenal do too, so I’m waiting. I want to play for Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. Chelsea is my favorite. If Manchester, Everton or Arsenal come for me, I will go. It’s all very, very good. Manchester is my dream: I’d join them. And I like Everton. So I’m waiting.”

Fernando Morientes, Monaco’s Champions league cult hero, has joined ranks with Ligue 1’s most potent attack. Deschamps, like his predecessor Gerets, has put his faith and trust – rightly so – on the shoulders of explosive striker Mamadou Niang. The Senegalese is expected to continue his scintillating form from the past two years and shepherd a forward line which boasts the services of Ivorian speed demon Bakari Kone as last year’s winter transfer signing Brandao, who will hope to build on last season’s performances.

On paper and online fantasy football, Marseille possess a squad fully capable of winning the Ligue 1 title and should be considered slight favorites over its title rivals. While Eric Gerets managed to get the best out of les Phoceens’ for much of last season only to throw it all away, the presence of Deschamps is a welcoming sight as Marseille 1993 European cup winning captain is better equipped to add composure and stability to a team famously renowned for its self destructive tendencies. Furthermore, the pressure is on Deschamps to secure top honors as the team celebrates its 110th anniversary.

Key Players:

Steve Mandanda
Lucho González
Hatem Ben Arfa
Mamadou Niang
Mathieu Valbuena

Olympique Lyonnais

olympique_lyonnaisAll good things must come to an end. And for les Gones, last season was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After seven straight years of utter dominance in its domestic league, Lyon was knocked off its perch. More embarrassingly, new manager Claude Puel failed to replicate the success of his predecessors as the team finished the season void of silverware. Unlike two seasons ago when Chairman Jean Alaus wielded the axe on ex-manager Alain Perrin following the club’s first double trophy winning season citing locker room unrest, Claude Puel has beenspared the chop and given full backing by the board,  with his position further strengthened with a transfer kitty of over €60 million.

Wonder-kid Karim Benzema – Lyon’s brightest ever talent – has left the Stade de Gerland to join the new galacticos of the Santiago Bernabeu. With the €30 million received from the sale of arguably Europe’s brightest talent, Claude Puel went high end shopping with the purchase of FC Porto’s goal poacher Lisandro Lopez for a club record €24 million. Joining the burly forward at Lyon is fellow Dragões teammate Aly Cissokho who made waves with his brilliant form in last year’s Champions league.

The transfer turnstiles at Lyon saw the departure of midfield maestro Juninho who championed the club for the past eight seasons. While Juninho influence and artistry will be sorely missed, the arrival of Lille play-maker Michel Bastos (skillful, creative and an amazing dead ball specialist) will surely go down as a great capture despite the hefty €18 million price tag. Former record purchase Kader Keita has been shown the exit following two disastrous years as he was sold to Turkish side Galatasaray for a fraction of his cost. Along with Keita, “shit-on-a-stick” striker Frederic Piquonne will most likely be gone from the club by the time anyone reads this.

Once again Alaus may have moved to hastily and repeated novice mistakes as he has sold a promising youngster with no opportunities to assert himself at the club. And like last season, he most likely will regret it. Last year, after failing to receive adequate playing time to prove his worth, young forward Loic Remy was sold to Ligue 1 counterpart Nice for €7 million and quickly established himself as fan favorite with 11 league goals. His form caught the eye of ex club Lyon who tabled a bid of over €15 million (fleetly rejected) – more than twice his sale price less than 12 months ago. This year’s honor is bestowed on highly rated young defender Sandy Paillot, (on loan last season at Grenoble) and deemed surplus to requirements by Lyon, might prove to be a lost gem as Grenoble paid about €2 million for his permanent move.

If the €24 million spent on Argentine striker Lisandro Lopez appears somewhat nuts, surely the club’s pursuit and the consequent €13 million spent on the transfer of starlet French forward Bafetimbi Gomis from St. Etienne is risky at best, and catastrophic at worst. In spite of recording double digit goal tallies the past three seasons, – an astounding 16 goals in the 2007-08 season – he was largely ridiculed by St. Etienne supporters last year as he was largely anonymous on the pitch, thanks in part to waning performances and a questionable over inflated ego.

Frankly, this is a make or break season for Claude Puel’s side. Should Lyon fail to capture league honors this season, the Monaco legend will shown the door at the end of the season. Should Lyon stutter to find form at the beginning of the season, Alaus will show no mercy and replace Puel. Should Lyon win the Championnat by razor thin margin, Puel will most likely be off the radar. The club is at low ebb with its manager wedged between a rock and a hard place which all points to be one hell of a season for very nervy season at the Stade de Gerland.

Key Players:

Lisandro López
Michel Bastos
Aly Cissokho
Bafétimbi Gomis

(pretty much the entire team plus manager Claude Puel, minus Toulalan and Lloris, must prove last season was just an oddity).

Also See: The New Stars of Ligue Un

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