Ligue 1 is described as a ‘farmers’ league’ by many across Europe. In other words, the quality of football is so low that non-professionals could easily match it. However, the evidence suggests otherwise: it is, in fact, football’s proving ground for young talent.
A recent survey by the CIES Football Observatory revealed that, of the top 31 European divisions surveyed, “French Ligue 1 is the only big-five league where footballers are younger than average”. [age] measure.”
Additionally, using OPTA statistics, CIES rates every big-five player on a scale of 0 to 100. Over the past six months, of the top 252 players in the five leagues, 93 are currently playing or have played in the League 1. The results show that nearly 40% of the best Europeans trusted the French first division for their development.
Both surveys suggest that because French clubs are willing to give young players far more playing time, players can develop faster under their supervision than in a rival league.
Take Real Madrid’s Eduardo Camavinga, for example. At 18, he had already played 71 league matches with Rennes. While this would be unheard of in the Premier League, it is relatively common in France. This season alone, six Under-19 players have started in the league and nine Under-20 players have found the back of the net.
So why are so many people in Europe discrediting the competition? Well, it’s simple.
The domination of PSG
Since the 2011-12 season, there have only been four different champions, with Paris Saint-Germain winning eight out of 11 titles. PSG’s success fuels the narrative that many French teams fall short because, during this period of unparalleled success. , the Parisians managed to accumulate more than 90 points on three occasions. Moreover, the only time a French team won a major European title was when PSG won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in the 1995-96 season.
However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. PSG is the second richest football club in the world. A fact which means they had the third highest gross transfer spend since 2012, with a whopping €1.445 billion, according to CEIS. This makes it impossible for most Ligue 1 teams to compete for the title as they simply don’t have the revenue to compete.
Admittedly, just because PSG will win the league most years doesn’t mean the competition is worthless. After all, Manchester City have won four of the last five Premier League titles, and most English people would say it’s the best league in the world.
The European scene is where French clubs are often the most criticized. Still, the reason for their poor performance mirrors why PSG have won Ligue 1 so many times. The monetary disparity between the top and bottom of the French top flight means it tends to be a sellout league. As a result, clubs at the bottom of the division lose their top talent, meaning they simply cannot compete consistently in European competitions.
What do transfers tell us about Ligue 1?
With the exodus of young talent from across the league, the quality of youth development in Ligue 1 is on display by recent transfer prices. For example, eight players under the age of 25 left Ligue 1 for a fee of over £10m this summer. These included the transfers of Aurélien Tchouameni for £72m and Lucas Paquetá for £38.66m. Despite the alleged lack of talent in the league, Ligue 1 players tend to have high transfer values.
The Premier League has also drawn heavily on the Ligue 1 talent pool this summer. Premier League sides have spent £179.6million on Ligue 1 players under 25. This includes Sven Botman and Cheick Doucoure, who have come out on top so far this season. The Premier League boardrooms clearly admire the quality of players who have played in the French top flight, and quite rightly too.
In the end, the competition will always have its detractors. Yet the talent sprouting from Ligue 1 is only getting more impressive, and the footballing world is rising and taking notice.