While Paris Saint-Germain have been busy assembling some of the world’s finest talents in the French capital over the last 18 months and David Beckham is the latest big name unveiling at the Parc des Princes, elsewhere in the country a draining away of France’s best talents to foreign lands continues apace. None were as galling as seeing Loic Remy, a French international forward plying his trade with title challenging Marseille, swapping the south coast of France for west London and a relegation fight with bottom of the table Queens Park Rangers. The fact that this is the same Marseille team which are currently fielding an on-loan midfielder from the same English side in their first eleven underlines the concerns France has over the rapid loss of its best players.
Remy, a France international, brought in for arguably at least half of his potential value, is quite a coup for QPR, and boss Harry Redknapp would be well served to ponder exactly why they were able to pull the move off.
The 26-year-old is certainly an excellent striker. Fast, strong, a good finisher, Remy has the attributes any manager would want in a Premier League forward to lead the line. His playing style is not far removed from another French forward who was once quite good in England – Thierry Henry. But Remy has not produced his top form for the best part of two years now. Last year he struggled to lead the line for Marseille during a difficult campaign, struck down by injuries repeatedly and never able to really get in gear. He was part of a hugely underwhelming Marseille team who experienced a horrid season, one of the worst in recent memory.
Didier Deschamps left as coach last summer though to be replaced by Elie Baup. And Remy suffered as a result of Baup’s arrival. Andre-Pierre Gignac, a player who failed to produce since arriving in 2010 from Toulouse, was given a chance and took it. Gignac has been in good form this season and Remy had not figured regularly as a result. He barely scored either. Injuries continued to affect his game and while he remains a clear talent, there are serious doubts about his ability to fulfil his potential. It is an immense gamble the Premier League side have taken, although if they can get the best out of their new French acquisition, they will have done extremely well.
Remy was set to go to Newcastle after they agreed a fee with Marseille, before QPR pounced to steal in. Yet it says so much that a team who attract crowds of 50,000 and were in the Champions League last year, and look likely to be again next, could not stave off the interest of this upstart English outfit. Frederic Antonetti, the Rennes coach, was incandescent with rage at the idea of Remy’s departure to QPR.
"The bottom club in England want to sign one of our best players. French football is drifting financially. We are limited", he declared.
Remy is not the only Marseille star to join the Hoops – Stephane Mbia made the same move last summer, whilst Alou Diarra, the France captain barely 18 months ago, went to newly promoted West Ham. As if to illustrate the point, Newcastle have signed a player, Massaido Haidara, who had impressed at struggling Nancy, but his team were forced to sell him for a cut-price fee due to their financial problems, which have had the club in trouble with the country’s football financial regulator, the Direction National du Controle du Gestion (DNCG). His English equivalent, Luke Shaw at Southampton, would command an eight figure sum if he was to leave the Saints at present. That underlines the financial gulf between France and Europe’s other top leagues. Ligue 1 is being cut adrift.
The alarm bells were ringing loud and clear last January when Moussa Sow left Lille. Sow had been the top scorer in the 2010/11 season as the club from the north won the French title. While fellow forwards Gervinho and Eden Hazard both left for London, Sow went to Turkey to join Fenerbahce, a club who at the time were mired in crisis as a result of the Turkish match fixing scandal which saw them expelled from the Champions League. France is not being trumped just by the Turks though. Russian side Rubin Kazan have swooped for Yann M’Vila, not long ago considered the future heartbeat and captain of the French national team. Nene and Guillaume Hoarau, two decent squad players at PSG, left this month not for another French side, but for Qatar and China respectively. One of the positives behind PSG’s newly enriched status was meant to be the trickle-down effect it would create. It is clearly not quite working.
One reason for that is the 75 per cent millionaire tax trumpeted by Francois Hollande prior to and since becoming President of France last year, which has clearly had its impact. When he announced the proposal, he was warned that it would cause a talent drain from the country and few professions are as well remunerated and therefore affected by such a tax as that of a professional footballer. Even though Hollande has since been forced to back down and doubts emerge as to whether the plans will actually end up going through, the stable door has been opened and the horses are bolting.
Newcastle may be repatriating most of its talent, but France is in danger of becoming an international equivalent of Arsenal. There is a natural French suspicion of baseless international financial wealth. With its DNCG trying to regulate spending to ensure financial sanity, while its UEFA President Michel Platini preaches about good housekeeping, all that is happening is that the best players France produce are being plucked away by the wealthiest billionaires, who care little about the minutiae involved with being financially solvent or credit-worthy. The irony being that none of these billionaires are richer than the man in charge of PSG, a man who also just happens to run the television channel, Al Jazeera, who own the rights to screen French football. Even Nasser Al Khelaifi does not appear capable of preventing the mass exodus of France’s best talents now.
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