Ligue 1 in danger of being gobbled up by the Premier League

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Back in February, the Premier League announced it had agreed a broadcast deal with Sky Sports and BT Sport worth £5.14 billion. The previous deal for the rights to show games in the United Kingdom was worth £3 billion.

Experts had previously predicted that the latest deal would come close to breaching the £5 billion mark, and when it burst through that barrier it was branded 'obscene', while rival broadcaster Virgin claimed it was 'hurting fans'.

What critics of the Premier League and Sky Sports didn't predict was just how far-reaching the impact of the deal would be for one country in particular.

Now the dust has settled on the most recent summer transfer window, there's one figure that stands out from the rest amidst the gluttony of spending. Premier League clubs spent around £160 million on 13 players from Ligue 1 - more than from the more established top tiers in Spain, Germany or Italy.

At face value it seems the influx of billions from TV companies has done exactly what former Tottenham chairman Alan Sugar predicted when he spoke of the 'prune juice effect'. It goes in one end and straight out the other, with Ligue 1 accepting gladly.

There's a couple of facts you need to consider at this point. The most recent domestic Ligue 1 broadcasting deal is worth €726 million between 2016 and 2020, and the Premier League club that finishes bottom of the league will take home three times more money than the team which lifts the Ligue 1 title. Lyon, who finished second last year behind Paris Saint-Germain, recorded revenues of around £105 million in 2012 - by comparison Cardiff (£83.1m) were the Premier League's poorest club in terms of cash flow in 2013/14.

Paris Saint-Germain are on a more similar footing to the big boys of the Premier League and according to Forbes they achieved approximately £330 million in revenues - but that includes a record shattering £167 million sponsorship deal with the Qatar Tourism Authority, generously handed to them by their Qatari owners. UEFA cited that deal as the reason behind their subsequent punishment under Financial Fair Play rules.

Money Money Money

There wasn't a club in Ligue 1 that made more than €7 million in profit last year and there were only four teams in the black in the entire league. The body that oversees French club's finances, the DNCG, put operating debt for the league at €271 million for the 2014-15 campaign.

Long story short; Premier League clubs have plenty of money - or at least cash flow to service debts - while Ligue 1 clubs need to sell to generate revenue that doesn't come from TV money. It's a match made in heaven.

There's an even bigger onus on French clubs to sell in order to prop up revenues too; wages. Ligue 1 sides are subject to higher taxation than their English counterparts, which means having to pay players more money to match wages offered in other countries.  

"To pay a player €100,000, a French club has to pay €150,000 and the player gets €40,000 whereas an English club has to pay €120,000 for him to get €80,000. And add to that the tax at 75 percent. We're going straight to the cemetery. In three years...OK, five years, it'll be the end of the French league." Montpellier coach Rolland Courbis said in June.

Luckily - or not as the case may be - French clubs are peddling an attractive product to keep the cash coming in. Anthony Martial from Monaco is obviously the headline star of the summer window having been made the most expensive teenager in football history following his £36 million switch to Manchester United, which could rise to £58 million. Even Monaco vice-president Vadim Vasilyev could scarcely believe the size of the 'unique' deal.

Andre Ayew and Dimitri Payet - both stars of Ligue 1 - opted to swap European qualification in France for life in Wales and London with Swansea and West Ham respectively, while Clinton Njie is now a Tottenham player having earned Lyon £12 million four years after signing on with the club as a youngster. Sunderland, who barely staved off relegation last season, are the 27th richest club in the world and that's the level of competition Ligue 1 clubs are facing.

Talent drain?

What is interesting, as Matt Spiro points out in this article, is that it's not as though Ligue 1 has been completely asset stripped. Although PSG's financial clout warps the picture somewhat and makes them more able to keep hold of their best players, the likes of Alexandre Lacazette, Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic still strut their stuff in France's top tier, and only one of the 13 players signed by Premier League clubs this summer was in Ligue 1's top 10 scorers last season - Max Gradel, who joined Bournemouth for £7 million.

If Ligue 1 is the Premier League's supermarket then its clubs are adept at keeping the shelves fully stocked. Starting with Clairfontaine, the national academy in Paris that is served by centres de pré-formation, who the English FA consulted as they hatched plans for St. George's Park, French clubs have a long legacy of producing quality young players dating back to strategic changes made in 1970. Between 1988 and 2012, Clairfontaine produced 100 professional players and 20 full internationals including Thierry Henry, Louis Saha and Nicolas Anelka. PSG's Blaise Matuidi is a more recent graduate.

Fuelled by the need to earn, and keep costs low, French clubs do more to introduce young players into their senior squads. A report in 2012 found that 58.5% of players in Ligue 1 were 'homegrown' compared to 36.5% in the Premier League. France had the 12th youngest squad out of 32 teams at the World Cup with an average age of just over 27 and that number has fallen even more since; the average age of Didier Deschamps' squad for their 1-0 over Portugal last week was 26.4.

Both Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain rank highly when it comes to producing youth players; a report by CIES Football Observatory placed both clubs behind only Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United as the best developers of young talent in Europe. As of October 2014, the two have been credited with producing 20 first team-squad players still at the club and 40 elsewhere in Europe. 

Young talent

By comparison Arsenal are the most fertile producers of young talent in England and come in ninth on the list, but there isn't another Premier League club in the top 30.

One worry for Ligue 1 clubs is that with the likes of Martial and Njie being spirited away so young rather than when they have had time to develop and fulfil their potential, is that it could leave the league with a big empty space while they wait for the next wave to emerge.

Although only time will answer that question the future looks good; Allan Saint-Maximin, Adrien Rabiot and Samuel Umtiti all made it on to France Football's Top 50 young players this year. Nabil Fekir has already received a call up for his country as well, and it's no surprise that the 22-year-old, along with Rabiot and Umtiti, have been linked with a move to England.

It's not clear whether this summer marks a fundamental shift in Premier League spending, but the influx of TV money and the growing gap between the two leagues means that all but the richest club, PSG, are susceptible to having their best players picked off by mid-table English outfits flush with cash.

It's a trend that's been commonplace in other leagues including Belgium and Holland for some time now. For now Ligue 1 has been able to replace the players lost with some quality additions like Angel di Maria, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, and Rémy CabellaIa - but that's not necessarily a sustainable model. The French top tier, like the Eredivisie, is the next league in danger of being gobbled up by a ruthlessly capitalistic Premier League.

Do you think the money Premier League clubs get from TV deals gives them an unfair advantage?

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