Paris Saint-Germain’s demolition of Monaco that secured them the Ligue 1 crown on Sunday only served to highlight the challenge facing the French game as the giants from the capital leave their rivals trailing.
Last year’s champions Monaco handed over their title with five games remaining as they suffered a humiliating 7-1 defeat against PSG at the Parc des Princes, allowing the Qatar-backed club to secure the French crown for the fifth time in six seasons.
Any prospect of Monaco spoiling the party was quickly over, with PSG four goals up inside half an hour at the Parc des Princes. And yet the rout of their rivals happened with Neymar and Marco Verratti out injured and Kylian Mbappe an unused substitute.
“At no point did Monaco look capable of reacting, or even as though they wanted to,” wrote Damien Degorre in the sports daily L’Equipe on Monday. The principality club have since promised to reimburse their travelling supporters.
All of which raises the question of what such a “spectacle” does for the image of the French game, at a time when there is hope of creating a “Big Four” to drive up income from television rights and boost Ligue 1’s profile abroad.
Monaco, Lyon and Marseille are the three closest rivals to PSG and that quartet will finish well clear of the rest in Ligue 1 this season.
A resurgent Marseille are into the semi-finals of the Europa League, while Monaco — leaving aside Sunday’s embarrassment — have established themselves as specialists at bringing through brilliant young players.
Lyon have done likewise and are hoping a recent move to a new stadium will help them become a major player in the European game in the years to come.
“We really do have our Big Four,” said the French league’s director general Didier Quillot last week, using the English term.
He added that, in comparison, Germany had a “Big One” with Bayern Munich so dominant, having just won a sixth straight title and recently destroyed their supposed rivals Borussia Dortmund 6-0.
That was before PSG’s demonstration on Sunday evening.
– ‘Created a monster’ –
Quillot has been keen to point out that income from sponsors and television deals has been increasing, although France still lags well behind Europe’s other leading leagues when it comes to selling TV rights abroad.
Certainly, they are light years away from competing with the Premier League, which makes billions just from selling overseas rights.
And Lyon’s influential president Jean-Michel Aulas acknowledges that having one club winning the title by a huge margin — albeit not a problem restricted to France — is not the way to make foreign viewers tune in.
PSG may have turned heads by spending 400 million euros ($495 million) in the space of a month on Neymar and Mbappe last August, but they need competition, not least to help them stay sharp for big European games.
“We need a balanced league with three or four top-level teams in order to be able to sell it,” Aulas said in an interview with Le Monde.
“The professional world is at a turning point, because it has created a sort of monster with PSG.”
He added: “A PSG who finish 25 points clear, that does not help the value of the rights.”
This season, PSG could become the first team to get to 100 points in France. They will then seek to strengthen ahead of a new assault on Europe next season, although it remains to be seen if they will face sanctions for possible breaches of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules.
It also remains to be seen how long Neymar will remain at the Parc des Princes, but Monaco, Marseille and Lyon — not to mention the rest — are likely to once again struggle to keep up.