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The Roker Ramble: Can PSG Close The Exits In Ligue 1?

Can Paris Saint-Germain join the truly elite of Europe with a huge spending spree?
Can Paris Saint-Germain join the truly elite of Europe with a huge spending spree?

It is still incredibly early in the domestic off-season and the European Championships are doing their damndest to make us take them home to meet our parents but the persistent whisperers in the corner will not cease.

Like it or not, transfers are still all the rage despite a competition showcasing some of the world's finest players. And it is one place in particular that seems to be source of all whispering recently, and in the most romantic city on earth to boot, the little rascals...

Ligue 1, despite falling off the face of British television in the past year, is arguably at its peak popularity for the better part of a decade. With poster boy Eden Hazard and upstarts Montpellier rubbing shoulders with mega-rich Paris Saint Germain, it is easy to see why. In the past five seasons there have been five different winners - ending a spell of Lyon domination that had threatened to strangle the league of any romance. And, as a result, the schoolyard bullies from across the continent are coming for French lunchboxes, rabidly searching for an Olivier Giroud, Younes Belhanda or Yann M'Vila.

It isn't a new trend as the pace and quite often physicality of Ligue 1 make for decent Premier League imports, and French football has shown a resiliency in the face of its prized assets being plucked on an annual basis, but current events in the capital have made it essential that France does not export its elite. Whereas fellow football player stockpilists Manchester City were more subtle; utilising outsourced sponsorship before the Financial Fair Play side-step came in the form of an own company shirt and stadium deal, PSG have been far more direct. Qatari National Bank were announced as a sponsor at the turn of the year, signalling their intent publically just as they have done with many of the superstars lusted after by President Nasser Al-Khelaïfi and sporting director Leonardo.

The Bundesliga has also enjoyed a renaissance - most notably since the 2010 World Cup - but the homegrown player on everyone's lips this year has remained in Germany thanks to Borussia Dortmund's early capture of Marco Reus.

Lille, however, were fortunate to retain Hazard for last season. It seemed impossible to do so again, but the impending arrival of Marvin Martin at a fraction of the price on the Belgian's head should provide a parachute for a side reliant on Hazard's mercurial talents last season. After winning the French title for the first time in over 50 years last season, both Yohan Cabaye and Gervinho were prized away only for Benoit Pedretti - in a similar situation to Martin having been relegated with Auxerre - and Dimitri Payet to carry the baton at only a slightly slower pace, finishing third with 74 points to the previous seasons' first with 76.

Indeed, had it not been for Giroud's turbo-charged season then Hazard may have France not only as a double Ligue 1 Player of the Year (after winning the Young Player of the Year in consecutive seasons) but also a double league winner. Lille, under Rudi Garcia, has proven that it can come again, by finding value in amongst the riches that are bestowed upon their doorstep in return for their best players. Montpellier, historically, are a small club that has bear witness to big players; Giroud the latest of a list that includes Laurent Blanc, and the goal scoring exploits of Eric Cantona and Roger Milla, yet it fought off a multi-million pound surge from PSG to its first-ever top-flight title. The challenge for Montpellier is to use the valuation it will receive for Giroud in the same way Lille did a year earlier. The challenge for Lille is to do so again - but just how big an impact losing the prodigal son remains to be seen.

The greatest challenge resides in Paris, not only to turn Qatari money into titles, but to convince the world's best players that Ligue 1 is the place to be.

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