Competitive football is over for the 2018-19 season, with Dijon’s gripping victory over Lens in the Ligue 1 playoff concluding a campaign that saw Paris Saint-Germain maintain their dominance in France.
The success of Thomas Tuchel’s side, however, was not as emphatic as it might have been. A tally of 91 Ligue 1 points was short of what they were on target for at Christmas, while they also failed to win either of the cup competitions, rendering the campaign barely satisfactory given that they also made another untimely exit from the Champions League.
Indeed, it was something of an unusual season in France’s top flight, with Lyon, Marseille and Monaco all failing to come up to the mark by varying degrees, while other relatively big clubs like Rennes and, especially, Bordeaux, failed to make an impression on the upper part of the standings.
If there was one unifying theme in Le Championnat last season, it was that recruitment throughout the league, though especially with the traditional ‘big’ clubs, was desperately poor.
Ligue 1 has grown a reputation as being an academy of talent for richer leagues around Europe, but while players continue to come through the system at an impressive rate, the strength of the league has always been underpinned by shrewd recruitment of potential from elsewhere.
Over the course of the last year, with a small handful of exceptions, that skill has apparently been lost.
Nowhere has that been more apparent than in Monaco, where the team had to rely on favours from elsewhere to avoid a relegation playoff as they lost to neighbours Nice on the final day of the season.
Aleksandr Golovin (£0.50) was one of the marquee signings of the season, yet managed to post just three goals and three assists from 30 Ligue 1 outings. Excuses of injury and fatigue can only stretch so far when a player has been signed for a reported €30 million.
Starker examples linger at Stade Louis II, though, where Nacer Chadli was added for an estimated €15m from WBA. At 29, he was supposed to lend a young side experience and knowhow, but instead simply proved a burden as he played 22 matches over all competitions and failed to produce anything tangible. Worse, his performances were almost without exception dire.
And then there is the case of Willem Geubbels (£1.08), the highly rated youngster swept from Lyon for €20m. Of course, at just 17, he still has time on his side, but just eight minutes of first-team football was a woeful return on a massive investment, even if the teenager was plagued by injury.
Nine players were signed for €6m or more over the course of the season, 12 for some kind of fee. None could be considered an undoubted success.
Much of the positive work they had achieved in recent years has been frittered away, a large part due to the poor work of sporting director Michael Emenalo, who has failed to identify the right talent in the market.
After performing a strong job at Chelsea, where he was a trusted lieutenant of Antonio Conte, the former Nigeria defender has proven a failure thus far in France.
But he is not the only one to have failed to extract value from a tricky market. It would be difficult to pick through the debris of last summer and select a team of 11 players who have genuinely succeeded.
While Monaco ran a transfer surplus, that was not the case in Marseille, where there was the expectation of Champions League football after significant transfer spending. Indeed, OM were one of the few Ligue 1 clubs to rack up a transfer deficit, though they have little to show for their investment.
Kevin Strootman (£0.32) was their marquee addition from Roma, costing in the region of €25m, but the Netherlands midfielder as never justified this tag and it is little surprise to see the club doing their best to offload him. Other big arrivals Nemanja Radonic and Jordan Amavi (£0.26) have also failed to produce a standard fitting of their fees, while centre-back Duje Caleta-Car has only just started to provide a positive return after a €19m move from RB Salzburg.
To that end, PSG are just another example of a team failing to optimise their resources, with the €40 million January addition of the mediocre Leandro Paredes (£0.59) – a poor man’s Michael Carrick – just another example of the desperate work currently being done at too many French clubs.
A combination of their lavish resources and a failure from elsewhere to properly capitalise on their weakness means that PSG, a side that signed journeyman Stoke striker Eric Choupo-Moting (£0.29) as their second-choice centre-forward last summer despite professing Champions League-winning ambitions, had been allowed to stagnate before their wretched conclusion to the season brought into focus just how poor their squad is.
There will be no stopping the flow of talent from Ligue 1 to Europe this summer, but unless sporting directors around France start to get things right once again, the stream will threaten to become a trickle in years ahead.
Many clubs face a rebuilding job in the summer but on recent evidence few can be confident of doing the work properly.