Why is Ligue 1 star-power fading?
Background photo: Darthvadrouw, CC BY-SA 4.0
Ligue 1 is known as a division in which its top clubs attract quality players but such stars can't stay and develop into what they want to become. This trend was thought to stop when Neymar moved from Barcelona to Paris Saint Germain two years ago. However, the Brazilian's keenness to leave resurfaces the problem. France's top-flight simply can't tie down mega talents.
Quality players will emerge in Ligue 1 over time. Still, the need to have such right now should be a major discussion. It will help with its branding. The games will improve as a spectacle once players like Neymar wish to remain longer rather than seek to move abroad.
Ligue 1 must offer at least an equal package to other European leagues. Its marketability was supposed to skyrocket after Neymar joined ranks, bringing in a larger audience. This happened to a certain extent, only for a short period. That's a big concern. Sustaining high viewing numbers relies on having the world's top players. Having those players relies on big enough incentives.
One problem is that the finest talents are mostly attracted to PSG in Ligue 1. Few believe it's an upgrade leaving, for instance, a mid-table Premier League team to join a Monaco or Lille. This has to change.
Ligue 1 clubs' competitive level, as well as financial sustainability, must improve in order for players to make such a move. It may be considered one of Europe's top five leagues, but to what extent does playing there help improve a players' brand or chance of national team selection?
Idrissa Gueye moved from Everton to PSG this summer. The midfielder wouldn't have been so eager had it been Monaco or Lille calling. Presence in Europe is a factor. Besides Les Parisiens, Ligue 1 sides rarely go far on the continent. That prevents their players from showing a global audience what they're capable of.
In 2016/17, Monaco reaching the Champions League semi-finals enabled them to make tremendous amounts on player sales over the following two summers. When Ligue 1 stars do well in European competition, it lets the world know that something great is happening in French football. At present, most players from this league are unknown to fans. Youtube is their answer.
Once Ligue 1 players become established names, they inevitably seek greener pastures. A whole host of talent left this summer. Jules Kounde, Nicolas Pepe, Youri Tielemans, Allan Saint-Maximin, Adrien Rabiot and Ismaila Sarr bid farewell to Bordeaux, Lille, Monaco, Nice, PSG and Stade Rennais respectively. Olympique Lyonnais lost three stars in Tanguy Ndombele, Ferland Mendy and Nabil Fekir.
One unspoken reason players refuse to go to or remain in France is the country's tax laws. It's huge on foreigners. A player can be taxed as high as 50% of their income, and this applies to all assets purchased above €1.3 million. To avoid these complications, they opt for England or Spain where the taxes aren't very low but are more enticing than France's.
For Ligue 1 to close the gap, more attention must be paid to how many foreign players join from top leagues rather than average leagues. It's also important France's elite division pays a competitive wage. This will help both lure genuine quality and retain that which is already there.
Only then will Ligue 1 improve as a spectacle and have more than one club consistently in the latter stages of European competition.