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Ligue 1’s standing takes hit as French clubs suffer European woes

PSG were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

Paris Saint-Germain’s latest Champions League failure has raised new doubts about the Qatari project in the French capital while also providing ammunition to critics of Ligue 1, whose clubs have regularly produced disappointing results in Europe.

The end of this season is still three months away and yet there are already no French survivors in the Champions League or Europa League.

Before PSG were knocked out by Bayern Munich in midweek, Marseille finished bottom of their Champions League group and Monaco lost in the third qualifying round.

The principality club then went out of the Europa League last month in the knockout round play-offs, along with Nantes and Rennes.

The only French club still involved in Europe are Ineos-owned Nice, in the third-tier Europa Conference League. 

Taking Russia out of the equation, France has the third-largest population of any UEFA member and its national team has gone through a period of sustained success.

Yet French clubs have only ever won two European trophies — Marseille’s Champons League victory in 1993 and PSG’s triumph in the now-defunct Cup Winners Cup in 1996.

Ligue 1, in which PSG are eight points clear of Marseille at the top and on course for a ninth title in 11 seasons, is hanging on to its position behind the English Premier League, La Liga, the German Bundesliga and Serie A as the fifth-best league on the continent.

The Netherlands and Portugal lurk just behind and both have multiple clubs still in Europe this season.

France currently has just two automatic spots in the Champions League group stage plus another berth in the qualifying rounds.

But it is crucial that Ligue 1 holds onto fifth place in UEFA’s ranking in order to earn a third automatic spot in the group stage when the new, expanded Champions League begins in 2024.

It is all a far cry from the ambitions of French league president Vincent Labrune, who has been hoping the presence of Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar at PSG would raise the overall level of the league.

“Over the next five years Ligue 1 needs to be not just one of the top four European leagues but on the podium, both in terms of results and in terms of revenues,” Labrune said at the start of this season, notably eyeing an increase in its current contracts with overseas broadcasters.

Player to watch: Timothy Weah

The son of George Weah, one of Africa’s all-time great players and the current Liberian President, Timothy Weah has taken his time before becoming a regular starter at club level. Now 23, the United States international forward is finally holding down a place in a Lille team gunning for European qualification.

Yet Weah, who scored for the USA against Wales at the World Cup in Qatar, has been converted into a full-back by Lille’s Portuguese coach Paulo Fonseca.

It remains to be seen if the positional change becomes permanent for a player who joined Lille in 2019 from PSG, where he made just six top-team appearances. Nevertheless, his ability to start from deep and join the attack has made him the ideal replacement for the Brazilian Ismaily, who is currently out injured.

“He is a team player who I have a lot of confidence in,” said Fonseca recently. “He has done very well since he started playing as a full-back.”

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