Bordeaux lose at home, Grenoble snatch a point versus Lyon, Auxerre moves top with a 8th consecutive win – all that happened in the last round of Ligue 1 matches. Then of course there was the incredible 5:5 draw between Lyon and Marseille in the previous round, that was deemed as “the match of the century” by the French media and no doubt one of the best football matches in the World in recent seasons.
Europe’s top football leagues are often viewed as “The Big 3” and then the rest. Recently though, the German Bundesliga and French Ligue 1 have started to get recognition with top players gladly moving there. Ribery to Bayern, Lucho to Marseille etc.
As a matter of fact, recent studies by audit company Ernst & Young have shown that the Ligue 1 and Bundesliga are the most competitive in Europe. This is mostly due to fair money distribution of TV-rights. In England, there’s a huge gap between the top teams, and while there are a few shock results like Sunderland beating Arsenal last weekend, the teams who’ll make up the glamorous Championship League places. Same thing applies with Italy and Spain.
But it isn’t all good for Germany and France. The teams are constantly failing to make a mark in Europe and you can say that a exciting league season is coming from the sacrifice of European success.
Ligue 1 has been looked as the most uninteresting league for many years and with a reason. Even the local league management realised that and an attacking table was introduced at the start of season 2006/07 to encourage scoring more goals. It was independent from the official table, nut points were awarded for goals and 20m euros were distributed in the end of the season to the most successful teams.
And you’d have to say the idea has worked. Last season, while the most popular scores were 1-1, 1-0 and 0-0, there were some great games, like a 4:4 draw between Marseille and Rennes, which had a similar fate with the Lyon-Marseille match this season, with a lot of late goals.
Huge part of the French league’s rise also has to go to Lyon. When president Jean-Michel Aulas took over the club in 1987 he had plan to make the club a real powerhouse in Europe and in France. It took time to get the dividends, but Lyon have mostly dominated the league in 2000’s with a record 7 successive league wins and the club has set it’s sight on Europe.
All of that is a result of a smart business plan and it’s brought wealth to not only Lyon, but the whole league, as the club has brought in players with small transfer fees, developed them to world class players and sold them on with a huge profit, Michael Essien and Mahamadou Diarra being the best examples. The players were bought with a combined fee of 13 million euros and then sold on for 51 million. Some players have come from the youth system, thus cost nothing and cashed in for a big sum, like with Karim Benzema. That money has allowed Lyon to not only bring is stars form abroad, but to buy the best players in France and with that spreading around the wealth.
French clubs have done very well this season in Europe with Lyon themselves and Bordeaux already qualified for the knock-out stage in the Champions League and Marseille with also still a good chance to qualify. And you can say that a Champions League triumph by a French club is only a matter of time, Monaco already reached the final back in 2004.
So, to sum it up. While for long, Ligue 1 was looked like more of a springboard for good local and African players, it’s now developing into a big league in Europe.