Ligue 1 Wrap-up: Montpellier Shines While Paris, Lyon, and Marseille Disappoint
The 2011-2012 top-flight French football season belonged to the little guy.
Sure, Paris Saint-Germain finished second, Lyon fourth and third-place Lille is hardly a new sight near the top of the table. When compared with preseason expectations, however, the big frogs in the Ligue 1 pond have some 'splaining to do.
First things (or in this case second things) first: Qatari Sports Investment's massive 2011 Paris Saint-Germain cash injection was supposed to start producing trophies more sooner than later. As in right now: you don't buy a team, increase its budget from €80 to €150 million, sack a respected coach to bring in a world-famous replacement in mid-season (while in first place!!) and then take up permanent residence in the mercato headlines in order to win in the mythical unicorn future. What happened? How did they finish second behind a Montpellier squad with a paltry €33M budget?
One could blame their podium-high ten draws, or perhaps home-and-away losses to relegation-threatened Nancy, or a March draw to now-relegated Caen, or five points lost to rival Lille...while PSG's devil may be in the details, the simple truth is that their expensive new arrivals rarely played nice together for an entire match and French league play, often measured and conservative, necessitates a strong team element. This is something built, not purchased; Montpellier's championship is living proof of this.
(Incidentally, the new French political climate may affect PSG's QSI-era maturation period as well: under new president François Hollande's proposed 75% income tax bracket, one can only assume that the more talented members of QSI's new flock would leave l'Hexagone in search of better grazing, leaving the group with a Facebook IPO-style return on their massive investment. They can't be sleeping well right now.)
In other news, can someone explain to me why Lyon fans are so happy? I was at Stade Gerland for the season's final match—a 4-3 loss to lowly Nice that aptly summed up the team's season-long defensive woes—and was confused to hear supporters chanting the name of first-year coach and local product Rémi Garde with such enthusiasm. 2011-12 represents OL's first non-podium finish since 1997-98, their first failure to qualify for Champions League play in a decade and saw them tie their lowest point total (64) since 1999-2000. It is hard to imagine that their narrow French Cup victory over a brave amateur squad called US Quevilly is enough to assuage all that failure, but in a recent poll over 70% of Olympique Lyonnais fans responded favorably to the suggestion that winning the Cup "saved OL's season."Continued on the next page