Following the appointment of Remi Garde as manager of Lyon I suggested I might throw in an article or two about French football. Here’s the first.
By Tony Attwood
Go back fifteen years and you can see a very clear picture of European football. Italy, lauded in the 1990s as the home of great football, was being shown live on terrestrial TV. Spain had been near the top of Europe for some years, but Germany was not there, despite its huge crowds and low prices – because it somehow just too local.
As for English football – after years of inward looking certainty that we could never use foreigners in the English league because “they don’t like it up em”, and the arrival of Mr Wenger and his French players, showed how untrue that was. The Sky revolution brought the money and ultimately the EPL became the dominant league.
But what of France during this period? For years the French league had been on the down – and Mr Wenger’s habit of taking some of the best young French players and gathering them together into a English club simply led some French commentators to suggest that Arsenal was a French club playing in the EPL.
By 2000 over three quarters of top French players were playing outside their country. Yes, they could win the world cup and the UEFA competition of the same type, but the players weren’t playing in France.
In fact it worked like this. The top French players played abroad – often with Arsenal, and the next bunch who couldn’t get a game for France played for Algeria and in the French First Division. (I am being cynical of course, but the majority of the Algerian squad in the last world cup were actually born in France and could have played for France.) As a result in France the youngsters wear Arsenal and Man U shirts, not the shirts of the big three in France (PSG, Marseilles, Lyon).
So what’s new?
What’s new is that a huge investor, on the scale of the investors running Chelsea and Man City has decided not to put money into yet another down and out English team (Blackburn, Bolton, Tottenham, someone like that who hasn’t won the league for 50 years) but instead has put the billions into a French club. Paris Saint-Germain.
So this summer we have a French club actually able to out bid everyone except Chelsea and Man City for players. Wages, agent fees, backhanders, transfer fees – anything you like, the money is there to do it (although of course I make no suggestion than any club pays backhanders).
Naturally if PSG go spending their money across the world as Chelsea and Man City do, this won’t help the French League much, but if they bid for players in the French First Division, then it will help the league as the money will move on down the clubs, and of course cause turmoil in the other clubs in their league. Arsenal, and any other club that fancies a Frenchman might now have a greater problem (which is why once again our world-wide scouting system is such a bonus – we will probably pick up the French player long before PSG, at least for another half a dozen years), but generally the signs are good for France.
There’s a second issue too. With the purchase of PSG there is the announcement that the great days of English football as the plaything of the idle rich are coming to an end. The clubs have mega-debts and where they are for sale they are too expensive. Many still have crumbling relics as stadia, hastily transformed into all-seaters to assuage the rampages of Margaret Thatcher, and the investment all round is just pointless. For a start you have to outbid Man C and Chelsea all the time. Where’s the fun in that?
Meanwhile it is difficult to buy into clubs in Spain, and impossible to do so in Germany. Italy is just a mine-field of debt, political intrigue and the left over feelings of the ref bribing scandal. Which leaves France.
Looking at France it seems that by the end of the coming season around four teams might be following PSG into the mega-investment league. In fact so strong is the anticipation of what is about to happen in France that a number of countries where there are no contracts to show French football are now looking at the TV options, securing the rights this year knowing that in two years time it is going to be the place to be. This extra TV money will start to put France in a much higher bracket financially, and will potentially benefit all clubs.
And as an advance signal it has just been revealed that the TV station Al Jazeera has won the rights to show live matches on Friday and Sunday evenings in France as well as overseas rights. Other rights have gone to Canal+ as usual, and (interestingly) Qatari TV – and all at a time when just a year ago French football was in crisis because TV revenue was about to collapse. “No one watches French football now,” was the cry. Not any more.
The Qatari input is important. They are going to host the world cup, they have a sponsorship deal with Barce, and now they are the big time owners of Paris Saint-Germain.
So what next? The story is that another sheikh, not wanting to be outdone, wants to buy Olympique Marseille FC. There’s even movement in the second division where Florent Malouda has bought Dijon FC for around €1million – nothing in comparison with the big money at PSG, but maybe a little sign.
So what does any of this mean for Arsenal? Here’s a practical answer…
The story is that we want to buy Gervinho. He plays for Lille who won the league and cup double in France last year, with Gervinho scoring 15 goals. My understanding (and you will know if you have read my ramblings before how often I can be wrong on such matters) is that this transfer which was meandering along has suddenly got very hot, because Lille want to buy St Etienne’s winger Payet, and they would do that with the Gervinho money.
But now Paris Saint-Germain also want Payet, and they can easily double the price for him. So suddenly deals take on an urgency. It is just the first signs of the revolution.
Here’s a final thought. There are many clubs in the EPL and maybe even the Championship, that feel that they are ripe for the plucking by someone with mega millions. Everton is a case. Not winning much, fairly grotty ground, big debts, lose money every year they don’t sell Rooney. The hope lingers that this could be the season that someone in the Emirates states will say, “if my brother can have a football club to play with, then I want one”.
But if the word really is out that actually it is France where the real fun is to be had, then things will change. French speaking north Africa has huge Muslim populations, and this too may be seen as a reason to go French rather than English, with Al Jazeera already picking up some TV rights.
One final final thought. When Mr Wenger retires from active coaching he could just find his way to being President of PSG.
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