When Zlatan Ibrahimovic first joined French giants PSG back in the summer of 2012, the ever daring Swede boldly claimed; ‘It is true that I don’t know much about the players in Ligue 1 but for sure, they know who I am.’
Two-and-a-half-years on Ibrahimovic may be still banging in the goals, but the standard and popularity of French football has not matched the heights it set out to achieve with its Zlatan-esque signings. Yes, the likes of PSG have started to develop their status in Europe, and yes, some of the most promising talent does often originate in French football, but overall is Ligue 1 really the best home for some of the world’s best footballers?
Whilst the likes of Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez have moved on to arguably greater pastures this season, Ligue 1 still plays host to Uruguay’s Edison Cavani, the ever praised Thiago Silva, and of course…Zlatan. PSG’s squad is obviously one of the strongest in Europe, but the implications of housing these top stars in French football could be perceived to be a waste of their priceless talents. After all, French teams are hardly a force these days when it comes to the Champions League, and out of the last French national XI that lost to Germany in the World Cup quarter-final, only Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye still ply their trade in Ligue 1.
Laurent Blanc’s star-studded side have certainly pumped money into French football, but this new investment in Ligue 1 has been largely restricted to the two clubs who have been financially boosted by their new found foreign owners, PSG and Monaco. This has subsequently created a great divide in competition between the ‘haves’, and the ‘have not’s’. Despite old favourites, Lyon and Marseille, paying witness to a resurrection in their form this season, the days when a club like Montpellier and Lille could win the league seem well and truly over for now.
PSG’s dominance in recent years has also done no favours for the declining crowd attendances in Ligue 1. Whilst many French football fans perceived the opportunity to see Zlatan or Cavani perform in their own back yard to be too good a sight to turn down, the average attendance figures for Ligue 1 clubs is only a mere 21,798 so far this season. Marseille have the highest average attendance at 51,605, but the likes of Montpellier and Evian only come in around the 11,000 mark.
Ligue 1’s lowly average attendance seems miniscule when compared with Europe’s other top leagues. The Premier League’s average crowd attendance sits at 35,925 so far this season, whilst the Bundesliga has recorded an incredible 43,606 average due to the availability of safe standing in Germany. With this information on board, wouldn’t the likes of Zlatan, Silva and Cavani be more suited to a league that is vastly more popular across the board?
On the other hand however, who’s to say that the French league is not popular to those who watch it and have a vested interest in Ligue 1? Competition is likely still rife among the sides looking to secure a European qualification spot, or among those hoping to successfully stave of relegation for another season. French clubs also have a slightly different focus, especially when compared with their counterparts in the Premier League, as youth development in France is much more of a priority than it is in England. The likes of Arsene Wenger, and more recently Alan Pardew, have enjoyed the spoils of Ligue 1 in recent years, and many rising stars in world football still currently reside in French football today.
But whilst all of this shines French football in a stronger light, the overall popularity and standard if Ligue 1 still does very little to impress fans of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga in today’s current football climate. French football is in the same boat as the Italian Serie A in terms of witnessing a lack of interest, so the point therefore still stands: The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovc and Edison Cavani may impress their French fans on a regular basis, but their skills and talents would be much more widely appreciated if they were plying their trade in one of Europe’s ‘better’ leagues.