Minutes after Paris Saint-Germain had taken a major step towards the Champions League quarter-finals by schooling Manchester United 2-0 in their own backyard, Kylian Mbappe issued a passionate rallying call to his countrymen.
“French teams must go as far as possible in the European Cups… we must stop being scared,” he told RMC .
The 20-year-old, already a World Cup winner and a superstar in his own right, has known only success during his fledgling career and has urged his compatriots to have the same unshakable self-belief that has guided him to dizzying heights at a remarkably young age.
Since he was born in December 1998, clubs from France’s top flight have endured a succession of inglorious failures on the European scene, while the country’s only Champions League title arrived for Marseille back in the 1992-93 season – and even that was tainted by a bribery scandal.
Goaded and chastised, Le Championnat has been unjustly written off as a second-class league.
Social media has allowed Ligue 1 to be christened a ‘Farmer’s League’, often by Premier League fans. This is despite the fact that many of the division’s best players have graduated through the French ranks, either via the academy system or as a stop-off on their way to greater riches.
The reality is very different from the popular perception. Despite the outrageous financial disparity between the two leagues, Ligue 1 sides having proven themselves capable of matching – and often beating – clubs from the Premier League.
English clubs boast nine teams in the top 20 of the Deloitte Football Money League, which annually ranks the richest clubs in the world. France have just one, PSG. Meanwhile, Premier League sides recoup £2.2 billion ($2.9bn) in television revenue each year compared to the £637 million ($838m) their rivals from across the Channel net. There should be no contest on the pitch - and yet there is.
PSG’s 2-0 victory over Manchester United three weeks ago was just the latest chapter in the story. Victory was achieved despite the Parisians missing two-thirds of their famed attack - Neymar and Edinson Cavani - against the form team in England.
As Mbappe commented afterwards, Thomas Tuchel’s men were disappointed that they did not settle the tie at Old Trafford, where the enduring image was Angel Di Maria pretending to take a swig of beer from a bottle that had been thrown at him. This was a symbol of how comfortable PSG felt and certainly looked.
Earlier this season, they had topped a group involving Liverpool, winning deservedly at home after losing only to a late goal at Anfield (despite a dreadful performance).
Elsewhere, Lyon more than matched Manchester City over the course of two games, leaving Pep Guardiola to comment after his side scraped to a last-minute draw in France: “Today the Champions League showed me again that it’s a different competition, the players are better, the demands are so high.
“They have weapons on set-pieces, defensively are so strong, they have quality up front. When people say it’s easy for the Champions League, you cannot imagine how confused people are.
“After losing the first game to Lyon, here was not a surprise.”
OL further justified their presence in the knockout round with a home draw against Barcelona, achieved despite being without their outstanding player in Nabil Fekir.
Meanwhile, Rennes showed that there is depth in France’s top flight by winning 3-1 against Real Betis in Sevilla in the last round. They thus moved through to the last 16 of the Europa League – a competition which Marseille reached the final of less than 12 months ago.
Julien Stephan’s side have set up a double-header against Arsenal. The Gunners correctly start as favourites but would be well-advised not to underestimate their Breton opponents.
If they have been paying attention to recent history, they know their guard will have to be up.
Over the course of the last five years, French football’s elite have consistently shown themselves capable of bettering their English rivals.
In the last half decade, French teams have faced teams from the Premier League 21 times in the Champions League. On 10 of these occasions, the Ligue 1 side has been victorious, with English clubs winning only five games.
Even discounting the 13 matches involving PSG, who are unquestionably France’s strongest side, the record still does not look unfavourable for Le Championnat’s finest.
Indeed, PSG actually drag Ligue 1’s win percentage down: five wins have come from the other eight games.
Meanwhile, one of the Premier League’s other victories - Arsenal's against Monaco - came in the second leg of a knockout tie when they were chasing to make up a deficit. That win was hollow as they were still eliminated.
It would be remiss to suggest that Ligue 1 does not have its weaknesses and just plain foolish to suggest – despite European results – that it has the strength in depth of the Premier League.
Nevertheless, it is equally ignorant to dismiss it as a division of farmers – as Mbappe and PSG will seek to prove by going all the way to Madrid come June 1.