By Robin Bairner
If the summer of 2012 was noteworthy for the arrival of world-class talent such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Ligue 1, then the following transfer window will be remembered for the dramatic drain of some of the league’s best home-reared talents abroad for pitifully low prices.
What is shocking is not that players such as Yann M’Vila, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Loic Remy – who played for medium to large domestic clubs - have decided to further their careers outside of France, but the fact that they have all left for teams considered miles from Europe’s elite.
The January window is generally regarded as a period in which desperate clubs make desperate moves for desperately large sums of money. In France, however, there has been an unprecedented exodus of players for fees way below their market value.
|AGE OF EXODUS
Top talents to leave Ligue 1
Tough financial times are certainly one factor, with Marseille’s decision to sell Remy to Premier League basement side QPR motivated by a desire to tighten their belts after a difficult period caused in part by the redevelopment of their Stade Velodrome home.
It is alarming that a club as large as OM, who were rated as one of the top 20 revenue earners in European football by Deloitte last week, typically boast an average attendance of over 50,000, and who reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League less than 12 months ago, cannot contend with the wanton influx of funds into even a poor Premier League outfit.
For a side such as Rennes, this issue is even more acute, as head coach Frederic Antonetti recently pointed out. Provoked into an outburst at the media following a defeat, the Corsican exploded: "The bottom club in England [sic] want to sign one of our best players. French football is drifting financially. We are limited."
Few of Ligue 1’s top clubs have experienced the financial difficulties of Nancy in recent times, and the DNGC, the body who so stringently ensures that professional clubs in France are run in a responsible manner, have forced them to slash their wage bill.
January has proven a harrowing month for the Lorraine outfit, who are cut hopelessly adrift at the foot of the table. Star men such as Yohan Mollo and Andre Luiz were followed out the door by highly-promising full-back Massadio Haidara, who has joined Newcastle on a fee estimated to be just €3 million.
Toon boss Alan Pardew has understood that clubs in France are cutting back and has pounced on a market in which skilled labour is cheap. Had Haidara been playing at an English side, it is entirely feasible he could have commanded a fee of at least three times what the Magpies paid, given his quality and his potential at just 20-years-old.
French players already at the club have helped provide a magnet effect to attract others, with Yohan Cabaye’s presence key in attracting talented right-back Mathieu Debuchy, who should go on to be a roaring success in England.
Pardew, who at times seems as if he is playing Fifa 13 on Ultimate Team mode and simply scours Ligue 1 to get his side’s ‘Chemistry’ rating up, has also pounced on some mismanagement in Ligue 1 by acquiring both Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko for ridiculously cheap prices. While Gouffran represents something of a gamble despite a decent scoring record in Ligue 1 this season – it is questionable whether he is of the quality to feature either in attack or wide in the Premier League – the coup of Sissoko for a mere €2.5m is remarkable.
A France international and only 23 years of age, he may not have fulfilled his potential in Toulouse, but his physical and technical attributes mean that he should thrive in the Premier League. Le Tefece’s failure to tie him down, and their subsequent refusal to sell him last summer, left them with the prospect of losing a man who came through their youth system for absolutely nothing in the summer, so they have been handcuffed into accepting a bid of a fraction of the player’s worth.
Sissoko’s team have slammed a "shocking attitude" from Toulouse’s hierarchy over the situation, as the player has been exiled from the first-team squad while his situation remains unresolved. Rather than blaming the midfielder, they would do well to take a look at their own failure to act one way or another in a timelier manner as they always knew the possibility of this stalemate could arise.
Gouffran’s case is similar, and that Bordeaux have allowed him to leave shows how eager they were for even small recompense for his services. They have been left with just one outright centre forward while Cheick Diabate is on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, David Bellion, who has not scored a league goal since 2009.
Newcastle’s final January addition, who could prove to be their best, is Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who arrives from defending champions Montpellier. While la Paillade have lived within their means, they have been forced to sell to match the player’s ambition. He could have left for free at the end of the campaign but chose to sign a new deal with the club that reared him, and after Montpellier’s season went south from an early stage, a departure always looked likely.
Arsenal held an interest in him, and charismatic Montpellier owner Louis Nicollin was clearly frustrated with the defender’s impatience to leave, describing him as "an ass" for electing to join a middle-of-the-road side such as Newcastle. Given the struggles of the defending champions, it is little surprise he wanted out promptly, doubtless fearing for his own reputation, and he may well go on to shine in England.
With a few days of transfer activity left, more big names could follow these men away from France. Lisandro Lopez and Michel Bastos are both hotly linked to depart Lyon – another club seeking to cut their wage bill – and significant arrivals are unlikely to be plentiful. Save Lucas Moura joining PSG, there have virtually be no meaningful imports in France so far this month.
The silver lining to this cloud is that youth academy products will no doubt be given extra time to shine, hoping to become the next group of M’Vilas, Yanga-Mbiwas and Remys, yet if Ligue 1 is to ever hope to become one of the truly great European leagues, it needs to arrest this trend of talented players leaving its middling clubs for abroad as a point of urgency.
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