Is the power of European football shifting? Popular opinion over recent years is that this unofficial title is held by England, Spain or Italy (rearrange into any order you see fit). The domination of the Champions League by the aforementioned three countries has only rarely been gate crashed by Germany, Portugal and Holland in the past 20 years. But is a new power across the channel emerging in the shape of Les Bleus?
Despite their recent Confederations Cup humbling by Brazil few would argue that Spain still hold the title of the European or arguably world football super power. Current holders of the World Cup (2010) and European Championships (2008 and 2012), until this summer in Brazil no-one has been able to derail the La Roja. With Real Madrid and then Barcelona scoring individual hat tricks of Champions League success since 1998 it’s also club level that has witnessed the Spanish ascendancy. But is that about to change?
You have to go back to 1993 for the last French club to lift the European Champions League when Marseille triumphed over Milan. Even that victory was shrouded in controversy following the emergence of financial irregularities and match fixing scandal which engulfed the club. At international level France ruled the roost holding the 1998 World Cup and 2002 European Championships titles simultaneously as Spain do today. Yet in the past two tournaments they failed to qualify from the Group Stage in South Africa again courting controversy with well-publicised inner fighting and boycotts. They then surrendered meekly to eventual winners Spain in Ukraine two years later following another less than impressive group stage. Frances fall from grace has been nothing if not dramatic.
The recent transfer of Falcao from Atlético Madrid to Monaco for around £50 million came as a shock to many in the football world. One of the hottest properties in world football seemed destined for the popular choice Chelsea or Man City. Yet he signed on the dotted line for the principality club choosing a luxurious Monte Carlo lifestyle of fast cars, casinos and scorching summers over the congestion charge of our overcrowded capital and miserable rain of Manchester. Some cynics point to the infamous tax haven persuading Falcao to head to France over England and to be fair if true who could blame him. But could it just be that football and the power shift is the reason?
It is not only Monaco that provides evidence for this theory but head some 600 miles north and you will find exhibit B – Paris St Germain. Another French city that boasts fantastic attractions and an idyllic lifestyle. Therefore is it a surprise that this has become the new favourite destination to land the next most sought after striker in European football – Napoli hit man Edinson Cavani. A rumoured £50 million bid has again left Chelsea, Manchester City and even Real Madrid reeling in the chase for the Uruguayan. Already boasting an impressive roster including Zlatan Ibrahimović, Alex and Thiago Silva the current French champions are showing their intention for another Champions League assault next season after they were narrowly knocked out by the mighty Barcelona on away goals last season when they were only an agonising 19 minutes from going through. Coach Carlo Ancelotti may have left for Real Madrid but the appointment of former national team coach Laurent Blanc is another huge signal of intent. If they can steal Cavani from the clutches of their Champions League rivals Ligue 1 could boast the two most talked about strikers in football next season.
The misanthropists among us would point not to the formation of a new dominant force in European football but to simply money talking. With Monaco given a new lease of life by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev and Paris St Germain becoming the richest club in France following the Qatar Investment Authority takeover that argument is hard to ignore. But in football as in many walks of life money breeds power and France seems primed to step up to the plate.
If Paris St Germain and Monaco are to become front runners for Champions League glory albeit with the backing of foreign investors, to become the new football power house the national team will need to emulate the classes of 1998 and 2002. Spain no doubt will have something to say about that.