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The Awful French Soccer League

March 13th, 2016 · No Comments · Football, France, soccer

Paris Saint-Germain clinched the French Ligue 1 soccer championship today, which would be fine if the season ended in the next week or two.

As it turns out, the 20 teams in France’s top division have another eight games to play. Meaning the French league will go two months playing league matches that matter little, aside from relegation and winning places in next season’s European competitions.

Just when I might be ready to buy a ticket to the local league … we have landed in France, which seems easily the dullest of the top nine or 10 leagues in Europe.

(I would rather watch Portuguese soccer any day. Dutch or Belgian soccer, as well. Swiss and Austrian. Not to mention the English Premier League, Italy, Spain and Germany. Hell, I would rather watch the Arabian Gulf League, which at least has two strong sides, Al Ain and Al Ahli.)

PSG’s championship is its fourth in succession under its free-spending Qatari ownership and was secured in a ridiculous (if fitting), 9-0 victory over Troyes, in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored four goals.

PSG’s ascent, which includes a berth in the Champions League quarterfinals this spring, leaves Ligue 1 as a depressing bore-fest, and I see no reason to pay any attention to it at all.

The issues?

–PSG is on a financial footing far superior to its domestic rivals. The club is thought to spend more on its players, collectively, than any club in world football. Yes, ahead even of Barcelona and Real Madrid, who play in a much sturdier league.

–PSG’s dominance for the past calendar year — the Paris club has lost once in league play — is dreary. This season, 24 victories, five draws, one defeat, 77 goals scored, 15 conceded in 30 matches. It makes Bayern Munich versus the rest of Germany look like a cliffhanger of a race.

–Potential rivals seem to be regressing. Lyon won seven successive titles, through 2008, but is now a team that just of hangs around the upper half. Monaco’s period of pushing the Parisians ended about 18 months ago when the the Russian oligarch who owns the club turned off the cash spigot because of the collapse in global commodity markets.

Marseille, putative PSG rivals, are suffering through an ugly year and Saint-Etienne, leading championship winner (with 10), is nothing special. Nice is a small club having a decent season (third, at the moment), but no one sees them as a potential PSG rival. After that …?

–France has a built-in issue support issue because Paris dwarfs the other 19 cities in the league. Not only does the capital have just the one top-flight side (as opposed to London and its six top-division clubs), Paris is far bigger and richer than any other French city, dominates media outlets and also is a place top footballers would like to live — as opposed to Troyes or Guingamp or Angers or Bastia — all top-division teams who are lucky to get a middling Brazilian to come play for them. Factor the Qatar money into the Paris side of the ledger and it is a thoroughly unfair fight.

What is interesting is how France had the best-balanced league just a few years ago. Six clubs won championships in the six seasons through the 2012-13 campaign — Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille, Lille, Montpellier and PSG. But now that the Qatar money has kicked in and the league has fallen under PSG hegemony with little hope for a more competitive future.

France is the worst place in Europe, from what I can tell, to be a soccer fan. No races, no balance, lots of teams with no business being in the top division, only one strong club — and hardly anyone cares. Rugby seems to generate more interest.

We had considered a trip over to Montpellier to see a match, but the 2010 champs are wretched. (On the negative-makes-a-positive side, the match is certain to be non-scary and the stadium to be conveniently empty, with plenty of parking.)

France has much to recommend to expats looking for a comfortable and not-expensive place to live. Weather, food, housing, people …

But if expats hope for competitive football in this country … they have come to the wrong shop.



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