Ligue 1 kick-off: 5 days and countin’

by Etienne Michon

France is getting ready for the start of the 2010-2011 Ligue 1 Orange season, and fans are eager to see if their team can battle for Olympique de Marseille’s crown. In this article, we’ll take a look at the biggest transfer moves and analyze more deeply the strength and weaknesses of the major teams.

A quiet and conservative transfer market

Just one year ago, the French transfer market was on fire, as clubs like Lyon or Marseille signed highly-regarded players for multi-digit transfer fees. OM landed Porto’s star midfielder Lucho Gonzalez for 18M€, while Lyon signed striker Lisandro Lopez (for 25M€ – Ligue 1’s all-time high), defender Aly Cissokho (15M€) and winger Michel Bastos (18M€). But this ‘golden era’ seems far gone, as the keyword for this year’s transfer market has been ‘austerity’. Glossy press conferences have been replaced by club officials expressing their will to reduce their club’s payroll and their concerns about ‘controlling expenses’.

The (predictable) effect of this has been a very quiet summer. Some agents blamed the World Cup and said that things would get moving once the tournament has ended. On the 1st of August, it seems like they were wrong. Today, the aggregated transfer fees paid by Ligue 1’s ‘Big Four’ (OM, OL, Bordeaux, PSG) reach a small 17,5M€, with PSG being the biggest spender (a recent article on l’Equipe.fr revealed that the club had to borrow this money from their major shareholder). Let’s take a quick look at the biggest transfers so far:

Marseille: César Azpilicueta – (nicknamed ‘Azpi’), one of La Liga’s top defensive prospects. The former Osasuna right-back was even part of Del Bosque’s pre-World Cup list of 30 players, at only 20-years of age. Marseille had to pay 7M€ for a player who was also closely watched by Atlético de Madrid. He will replace Laurent Bonnart (whose contract has not been renewed) on the Champion’s right side.

Lyon: Jimmy Briand – the international winger (who can also play in a striker position) has been transferred from Rennes to Lyon for 6M€. Last season, he successfully recovered from a torn ACL and made it to Domenech’s pre-World Cup squad, but did not make the cut in the final list. At 24, he’s not the most efficient player Ligue 1 has ever seen (he has never scored more than 9 goals in a single season in Ligue 1), but his speed and pace, his ability to make long runs behind defenders and his physical impact make him a very dangerous right-side winger. He is expected to start the season in Govou’s position, as the French international signed for Greek side Panathinaikos as a free agent.

PSG: Mathieu Bodmer and Nênê - Bodmer was released by Lyon in exchange for 3,5M€. Once a top-notch attacking midfielder for Lille, he only gathered mixed reviews during his 3 seasons as a Lyon player. Various injuries rarely allowed him to play several games in a row, and most importantly, he seems to have forgotten what his real position is. As he was mostly used in midfield by Alain Perrin three seasons ago, Claude Puel said he wanted to use him in central defence. But his lack of aggression and concentration failed to confirm him as a top Ligue 1 defender. PSG intends to use him in midfield alongside the experienced Claude Makélélé. If he manages not to pick injuries, the Paris native might be a Comeback of The Year candidate.

As far as Nênê  is concerned, Paris had to pay 5,5M€ for one of the most efficient players in Ligue 1 (14 goals for Monaco last year). The left attacking midfielder position was a big problem for Paris last season, as neither Giuly nor Sessegnon managed to convince their coach and the fans. But the 29-year-old Brazilian is a true specialist, and a lethal weapon on set pieces. He has been signed to revive Paris’ attacking play and, should he connect efficiently with Hoarau and Erding, could prove to be the club’s missing link.

Former Ligue 1 winner Bordeaux have been extremely discrete on the transfer market. The loss of Chamakh without any financial compensation has been painful, and, added to the fact that the club has failed to qualify for any European competition, financially weakened the club. Bordeaux’s chairman Jean-Louis Triaud has been clear on this: ‘We have no money’. Their only recruit so far has been Vujadin Savic, a young (20) Serbian central defender who used to play for Red Star Belgrade and was transfered for 1M€.

How is the ‘Big Four’ doing?

As the season starts, we will have time to talk about last year’s sensations, Auxerre and Lille. But for now we will focus on the French ‘Big Four’, that is to say Lyon, Marseille, Paris and Bordeaux.

Marseille: the Champions ready?

Last season saw OM end their trophyless streak by winning both Ligue 1 and Coupe de la Ligue. Before the start of the season, Marseille chairman Dassier indicated the club had to reduce its payroll before considering any acquisition. Therefore, the squad has not changed much since last season. With Bonnart gone, Deschamps signed Azpilicueta to fill the right-back position; World Cup sensation André Ayew (Ghana) came back to OM after a one-season loan to Arles-Avignon and looks ready to finally exploit his potential. He is a cheap and quality addition to the team. However, things may change in the next days for Marseille, as captain Mamadou Niang (currently Ligue 1’s top striker) has been linked to Turkish side Fenerbahçe. If he is set to leave, OM might make a move for Gignac (Toulouse). Hatem Ben Arfa, despite his goal this weekend in a friendly against Valencia, is probably living his last days as a Marseille player and could join a German (Hoffenheim, Werder) or English (Newcastle) club.

Another hot topic is Alou Diarra. The Bordeaux midfielder is on the top of Deschamps’ priority list and has a clause in his contract that stipulates he can leave the club for 7,75M€. But Bordeaux’s chairman has been clear on the fact that this sum has to be paid cash, something that OM can’t afford for the moment. Moreover, OM has been linked to many strikers in Europe, including Adebayor, Suarez or Santa Cruz, but has failed to land any of them yet.

OM won the French Supercup against PSG last week in Tunisia (0-0, won on penalties) after a quite boring game that showed both teams were not ready yet.

First Ligue 1 Game: Home vs. Caen (Sat. Aug. 7th, 21:00)
Strengths : Stability, defense, confidence.
Weaknesses : The Niang situation, the striker position.

Lyon: the former King wants its crown back.

The club has made it clear: a third season without a title is not an option. Claude Puel and his men are ambitious and want to challenge Marseille for the Ligue 1 title. On the transfer market, the club has focused on reducing costs and allowed a few high salaries to leave the club (Govou, Clerc, Boumsong, Bodmer) while signing just one player (Briand). Players who were supposed to be leaving the club a couple of weeks ago (Makoun, Ederson, Källström) are still there and OL seems to have chosen stability and continuity. With Toulalan likely to start the season in central defense, expect a much more solid team. The club has expressed its will to sign another midfielder before the end of the month, and Bordeaux star Gourcuff remains an option. However, striker Lisandro Lopez (who was elected Ligue 1’s best player last season) is expected to miss the beginning of the season due to a foot injury.

One interested thing about Lyon this season is that its academy seems to be producing more and more talents. As Gonalons enjoyed a rather stellar rookie year last season, more players are forcing their way to the Pro team, and Puel seems ready to give them more and more playing time. 6 OL players were featured in the French U19 team that won the European Championship two days ago against Spain. Some talents such as Lacazette (winger), Tafer (striker), Reale (midfielder), Grenier (mid), Faure (defender) are to be closely watched. Many youngsters started against Celtic in the Emirates Cup on Saturday and showcased their quality in a 2-2 draw.

First Ligue 1 Game: Home vs. Monaco (Sat. Aug. 7th, 21:00)
Strengths : Stability, defense, youth.
Weaknesses : Depth in defense.

Bordeaux: a different taste

Two key figures of the successful Bordeaux are now gone. Marouane Chamakh left for Arsenal at the end of his contract, and Laurent Blanc accepted to replace the unpopular Domenech as national coach. Despite their collapse in the last months of the season, Blanc managed to turn Bordeaux into a great team – defensively organized and efficient up front, built around players such as Chamakh and Gourcuff. But without any European competition to play this season, Bordeaux lacks money. Some of its players, including Tremoulinas or Diarra, have expressed their concerns about the team’s competitiveness. The club has been trying to land Nice striker and French international Loïc Rémy, but still hasn’t managed to replace Chamakh. Jean Tigana, the Girondins’ new coach, probably knows his team is likely to be less dangerous than last year.

First Ligue 1 Game: Away vs. Montpellier (Sun. Aug. 8th, 21:00)
Strengths : Strong in midfield.
Weaknesses : Quality up front, depth.

Paris: a rebuilding season?

The capital’s club went through a rough season last year, despite its victory in the French Cup. Off-the-field problems forced the team’s officials to take drastic measures regarding various points such as security inside the stadium. Now PSG just wants to be able to work in a more normal in order to enjoy success in Ligue 1. This year will show whether this is possible or not, because, as some players put it, ‘everything is bigger in Paris’. The team will largely depend on the ability of new signings to perform at the best of their abilities; Kombouaré should keep his fingers crossed regarding injuries (especially concerning Bodmer, who spent more time being sidelined than fit during his 3 seasons in Lyon), as his squad really lacks depth. This fact has crippled Paris various times last season, and considering that the club will play the Europa League this year, the issue looks far from being solved.

Moreover, PSG’s defense has looked shaky during friendlies, and Kombouaré confirmed he will try to sign an extra defender. But with (very) limited financial means, no one knows if he will be able to land a defender good enough to stabilize his defensive sector.

First Ligue 1 Game: Home vs. St Etienne (Sat. Aug. 7th, 21:00)
Strengths : Attack (Hoarau-Erding).
Weaknesses : Defence, depth, off-the-field issues.


Author Info

Etienne Michon

Etienne Michon

Biz. student from Lyon, France. I'm a French and US soccer fan, and an Olympique Lyonnais season ticket holder. Apart from Ligue 1, I follow the EPL, la Liga and the MLS. I'm also a Houston Dynamo, Atlético Madrid and Liverpool supporter. You can also listen to my Ligue 1 analyses on France 24's sports podcast. Follow me on Twitter @E_ten

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3 Responses

  1. Kevin Coleman Kevin Coleman says:

    Huge thanks to Etienne for this, enlightening read.

    Hopefully there’ll be a lot more to come from L1 this season on the blog.

    It’s just a pity no British TV have got the right to show any games this season.

  2. Neil Sherwin Neil Sherwin says:

    Top read there. Thanks a mil Etienne.

    Get that guy on the pod!

  3. Jordan Hodgins says:

    Great read, cheers Etienne.

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