Pitchside Europe

Financial reality bites for French clubs


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Some say January is not a good time to buy players, but it is surely not a good time to sell them. Nevertheless, with the obvious exception of Paris Saint-Germain, French clubs appear ripe for the plucking this month as they continue to haemorrhage talent abroad.

The summer departures of Eden Hazard and Olivier Giroud - the two best players in Ligue 1 last season - were a huge blow to their clubs, but seeing Chelsea and Arsenal splash the cash to sign that duo from Lille and Montpellier respectively was not necessarily a blow to the overall prestige of the French game. In many ways it was an endorsement. However, a new wave of cross-Channel transfers could prove more damaging.

Clubs like Lille, Marseille and Montpellier losing players to England seriously hinders their already slim prospects of competing with PSG domestically, and drastically reduces their chances of showing up well in Europe.

This month, Lille have lost Mathieu Debuchy to Newcastle United. Debuchy has been one of the best full-backs in Europe in the last two years, and yet the reported €6.5 million fee is less than the going rate for, let's be honest, an average Premier League player these days.

That proves that the value is great for English clubs shopping in France. In addition, the money on offer in the Premier League - and often the Championship - is too tempting to turn down. The case of Saint-Etienne winger Bakary Sako is a perfect example, as he reportedly took a huge salary increase when he moved to second-tier Wolves last summer.

Now, Loïc Rémy's transfer from Marseille to Queens Park Rangers has led to some soul-searching back at home.

"Once, when they went to England, French internationals only went to Arsenal or Chelsea. Now players do not hesitate to leave OM or the champions (Montpellier) to join QPR or Newcastle, the teams in 20th and 16th positions in the Premier League. And it is not good news for our championship," lamented Jean-Michel Rouet in sports daily L'Equipe.

Rémy actually insists that he never really wanted to leave Marseille, but was rather pushed towards the exit door by the club's board, who were anxious for the €10 million fee. But, behind him, the exodus is set to continue. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, the French international centre-back who captained Montpellier to last season's title, was close to sealing a transfer to Newcastle at the time of writing, while Toulouse midfielder Moussa Sissoko appeared more likely to join Newcastle than Marseille. His club colleague and fellow French international, Etienne Capoue, has been strongly linked with Everton.

It is not so long ago that Capoue was being linked with Arsenal, and the North London club were also keen on Yann M'Vila before his myriad misadventures in recent times. M'Vila remains a wonderful talent, but one that is also set to be lost to the French game. Again, QPR have been keen.

"Does it not worry you that the bottom team in England can come and take away one of our best players?" asked Rennes coach Frédéric Antonetti last week. "The French league can't compete financially."

The overall standing of the French game cannot improve if the best players continue to move abroad at the present rate and the exodus to England is at the heart of it. The French tend to look at the Premier League, with its full stadiums and high-tempo football, with their jaws wide open in awe.

But the financial doping of the English game, via the obscene sums of money thrown at it by broadcasters, does little for the competitive health of Ligue 1. Mediocre Premier League teams can now cherry-pick some of the best players from the other side of the Channel, and not many Ligue 1 sides can afford to reinvest the fees they receive.

Fed-up Lille fans taunted the club's president during Sunday's 2-0 home defeat to Nice by asking, "Michel Seydoux, what have you done with your cash?" They know that the many players to have left their club since their double-winning 2010-11 season are not being adequately replaced, and are concerned.

But perhaps Lille and others can draw inspiration from the job being done by Claude Puel at Nice. On a comparative shoe-string, he has led the south-coast club, captained by former Middlesbrough midfielder Didier Digard, up to fourth place. Their medium-term prospects look bright, unlike those of many of their rivals at this turbulent time of year.

Andrew Scott

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