Kylian Mbappe’s decision to stay at Paris Saint-Germain was hailed as a boon for French football but it surely rules out any slim chance of a title race as the new Ligue 1 season kicks off this weekend.
France coach Didier Deschamps said Mbappe was “shining a positive light on the championship abroad” by choosing to sign a new three-year contract to stay in his home country, a decision which President Emmanuel Macron admitted he advised the striker to take.
French league president Vincent Labrune insisted Mbappe’s new deal had sent “a strong message for the present and future of our league”.
In reality, a move abroad will still probably happen before long for a player who looks certain to one day win the Ballon d’Or.
Yet the possibility of leading Qatar-owned PSG to Champions League glory will motivate Mbappe this season, alongside defending the World Cup with France in Qatar in November and December.
Mbappe is the dominant figure in Paris despite the presence of Lionel Messi and Neymar and the arrival of a new coach at a club whose title triumph last season was overshadowed by their Champions League last-16 exit against Real Madrid.
Coach Mauricio Pochettino and sporting director Leonardo have been replaced by Christophe Galtier and Luis Campos respectively.
Portuguese super scout Campos was named in the post of football advisor. He built the last two sides to deny PSG the domestic title: Monaco in 2017 and Lille in 2021.
Galtier, the finest French manager of the last decade, was the coach of that Lille side and spent last season in charge of Nice, but he knows the pressures in Paris will be altogether greater.
– ‘Win everything’ –
“When you come to PSG you have an obligation to get results,” he told sports daily L’Equipe.
“We need to break records. In all modesty, I have come to Paris to win everything.”
For PSG’s domestic rivals, the reality is that second –- and automatic Champions League qualification — is the best they can hope for in Ligue 1.
Marseille were runners-up last season but it has been a tumultuous summer for the club owned by American tycoon Frank McCourt.
Fiery Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli has left and been replaced by former Croatian international Igor Tudor.
Key men in Boubacar Kamara, William Saliba and Steve Mandanda have departed and pre-season results have not been encouraging.
Monaco had to settle for third last season and must come through Champions League qualifying as a result.
If they can safely negotiate that they will be well placed for a successful campaign, despite losing outstanding midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni to Real Madrid.
The sides who completed last season’s top five have big ambitions again.
Rennes, owned by billionaire Francois Pinault, should be competitive, while Nice’s British owners Ineos will hope to push for a Champions League place under Swiss coach Lucien Favre, who has returned for a second spell in charge.
Meanwhile, Lyon are bidding to break back into the top three after finishing eighth in the last campaign.
– Lyon in American hands –
They have brought back two former stars in Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso, and it has also been a busy summer in the boardroom.
American businessman John Textor, who owns Brazilian club Botafogo and has a stake in Crystal Palace, agreed a deal to become Lyon’s majority shareholder.
“At first I was looking at much smaller clubs in France,” Textor told L’Equipe. Then he discovered that Lyon might be for sale. “I had to seize the chance.”
Textor’s arrival is in keeping with a growing trend of foreign investors in Ligue 1 clubs, and in the league itself.
Private equity firm CVC Capital Partners agreed to invest 1.5 billion euros for a 13 percent share in Ligue 1’s newly-created trading company.
That means a significant cash injection for clubs, although PSG will receive some 200 million euros, far more than their rivals.
While Saint-Etienne and crisis-ridden Bordeaux were relegated, Auxerre are back after a decade away and Toulouse, owned by US investment firm RedBird, also won promotion.
Their focus will be avoiding relegation, given that four teams will go down at the end of the season as the league is reduced in size from 20 clubs to 18.
The World Cup means Ligue 1 is abandoning its usual Christmas break, with the first round of fixtures post-Qatar set for December 28 and more games on January 1.