This summer, the big spenders have come from France, namely Paris St.Germain and Monaco. Two of the most coveted players around, Falcao of Atletico Madrid and Cavani of Napoli, both ended up in Ligue 1, with their £50m price tags deterring the Premier League clubs.
The outcome highlighted something of a shift in spending power in European football, although Monaco won’t be able to flex their muscles in UEFA competition until next season, should they qualify, of course. But it looks as though the French league is going to be a two-horse race this season, with PSG and Monaco trying to outspend each other in pursuit of the title.
PSG and Monaco’s financial clout may provide a threat to the Premier’s top clubs, but it won’t be the first time that French clubs have been a problem for English football. Back in the early 1930s, when France introduced a professional league for the first time, the xenophobic British press termed the possibility of English players being enticed abroad as “the French menace”.
Until French football officially went pro in 1932, clubs were mostly amateur, although some, such as the Peugeot-backed FC Sochaux were in the habit of recruiting the odd player on a professional basis.
In 1932-33, clubs had to play at least eight professionals in each game of which four foreigners were permitted. There was a sprinkling of Austrians, Germans and Hungarians in the league and some clubs, such as Nimes, Sete and Ales, led the campaign to recruit English players.
Mostly, the players who signed for French clubs were not established Football League performers, although Andy Wilson, of Chelsea and Middlesbrough fame, made the move from QPR to moneybags Nimes. Of course, money was the attraction. Players could earn double the maximum wage on offer in English football and the French clubs paid summer money.
But the real headline-maker was Nimes’ attempt to sign the Chelsea duo of full back Tommy Law and striker Hughie Gallacher. In the close season of 1932, the Blues had lost Alex Cheyne to Nimes and other seasoned professionals were unhappy at the treatment of popular Scottish winger Alex Jackson. Chelsea had a lot of high profile players with fragile egos on their books and there were rumours that both Law and Gallacher were unsettled. There has been some suggestion that the story was manufactured by the players themselves in a bid to squeeze more money from Chelsea, but the possibility of a bid from Nimes was enough to command significant press coverage. Nothing materialized, however, and Gallacher stayed on at Chelsea until 1934.
As in more recent times, the English players who crossed the channel didn’t settle well. The anticipated “exodus” didn’t happen and Nimes, for example, abandoned professionalism in 1937. Sete, who became the first French club to win the double, are now several rungs off the top division. It’s unlikely, with their seemingly limitless resources, that PSG and Monaco will experience such a fall from grace….although if the moneymen move on, just what will happen to these currently flush French clubs?