PSG dominate as off-field matters overshadow French game
20 December 2015, Nirapad News: French football was dominated by Paris Saint-Germain in 2015, but the game in the country has regularly been overshadowed by affairs off the field over the last 12 months.
PSG won an unprecedented clean sweep of the domestic trophies last season and have enjoyed a record-breaking first half to the current campaign that has seen them open up an enormous lead at the top of Ligue 1.
The only teams to beat Laurent Blanc’s side since March have been Barcelona and Real Madrid, both in the Champions League.
They had equalled the club record for their longest unbeaten sequence in the top flight of 27 games – and set a new Ligue 1 winter break points record of 51 with a win in their final match of the year in Caen.
Meanwhile, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the dominant personality in the French game, wrote his name firmly into the history books by passing Pauleta’s club record tally of 109 goals in all competitions when he scored a brace in a 2-1 win for Paris over bitter rivals Marseille in October.
But where Paris again fell short was in the Champions League — they made the continent sit up and take notice when they beat Chelsea last season only to fall to eventual winners Barca in the quarter-finals.
The club’s Qatari owners hope the summer signing of Argentina winger Angel Di Maria from Manchester United can help propel them further in 2016, with president Nasser Al-Khelaifi declaring: “We are close to our dream.”
They can focus all their energies on that competition because their rivals at home cannot keep up.
Lyon pushed them almost all the way in the title race last season, with Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir being named France’s player and young player of the year respectively. However, with Fekir now out injured long term, they are struggling awfully this season.
Monaco’s performance in reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League was laudible but they continue to sell their best players — including Anthony Martial to Manchester United — undermining their chances of genuine on-field success in the process.
Marseille, meanwhile, continue to lament the shock departure of enigmatic Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa in August.
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Lyon played their final game at their old Stade de Gerland in December and will move into an impressive new 59,000-seat stadium early in the new year.
The French footballing landscape is changing and Bordeaux took up residence in a new stadium of their own earlier this year as France gears up for Euro 2016.
The finals could mark the dawn of a new era for the game in France after an often difficult last few months.
This is a country still raw from the terror attacks in and around Paris that left 130 people dead, and the national sport was one of the targets on that night of November 13.
Before the full scale of what was happening became clear, three loud explosions emanated from directly outside the Stade de France during France’s 2-0 win over Germany in a friendly.
The game carried on in a surreal atmosphere and only later did it become clear that the explosions were suicide bomb attacks. It also later transpired that the France midfielder Lassana Diarra’s cousin was among the victims as carnage took hold elsewhere in Paris.
“We are all proud to be French and what’s happened will leave a mark on all of us,” admitted the France coach Didier Deschamps.
Those events led to serious concerns about the hosting of a major tournament so soon afterwards, but any suggestions the European Championship will be moved elsewhere were quickly dismissed.
Meanwhile, two figures have continued to hog the headlines in the closing weeks of the year.
While legendary former player and UEFA president Michel Platini has been tangled up in the scandal engulfing FIFA, star striker Karim Benzema was charged by police and sidelined from the national side due to a blackmail affair involving a sex-tape and his team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.
Both stories threaten to run on and on well into 2016.