SWC cloud hangs over France
Paris - The new Ligue 1 season gets underway this weekend with French soccer desperate for an image uplift in the aftermath of the national team's dismal Soccer World Cup showing and off-field infighting.
France were knocked out of the tournament in South Africa in the first round following a campaign marred by a player boycott of a training session in support of striker Nicolas Anelka, who was sent home for insulting coach Raymond Domenech.
"I fear our fans are disenchanted with soccer after what happened in South Africa," Frederic Thiriez, president of the French Football League (LFP), told Reuters after a pre-season meeting with Ligue 1 coaches and referees.
"It was a moral disaster and its repercussions could be serious on professional and amateur football. It could lead to a drop in the number of club members, a drop in attendances, a drop in television audiences, and a drop in income," he added.
"We must react urgently to put French soccer on its feet again. There are two ways to do it: produce a good show and go back to the real spirit and values of the game."
The curtain-raiser to the season last weekend, the French Champions Trophy clash in Tunisia between champions Olympique Marseille and Cup winners Paris St Germain, failed to provide the spark Thiriez had hoped with Marseille winning a shootout after a dreary goalless draw in front of 50 000 bored fans.
At least the result enabled Marseille, who host Caen in their league opener on Saturday, to keep the momentum that helped them end an 18-year wait for the French title and lift their first major trophy since they won the Champions League in 1993.
Nothing much has changed at the Stade Velodrome during the summer break, good news for the club after coach Didier Deschamps extended his contract until June 2012 after refusing an offer from Liverpool.
He has so far managed to keep striker Mamadou Niang, top-scorer in Ligue 1 last season with 18 goals, playmaker Lucho Gonzalez and Souleymanne Diawara, the anchorman of the defence.
Deschamps has been quoted as saying he wants to sign a top class striker and a defensive midfielder but has been hampered by a lack of buying power.
With a budget of 105 million euros, Marseille cannot compete for the world's best talent, unlike European powerhouses Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona or Chelsea.
Olympique Lyon, the most powerful French club of the decade, boast a 150 million euro budget but chairman Jean-Michel Aulas said he only had 25 million to spend and the only recruit so far has been Stade Rennes striker Jimmy Briand for 6 million euros.
Lyon, second last season after a strong finish, are hopeful of regaining a title they won seven times in a row before Girondins Bordeaux ended that run in 2008-09.
"We are going to build a team strong enough to win back the title but because of the economic crisis we must be careful," Aulas told reporters. Lyon are at home to Monaco on Saturday.
Bordeaux, away at Montpellier on Sunday, will begin life under Jean Tigana who has taken over from new France coach Laurent Blanc.
A poor second half of the season cost Bordeaux a European place and they must now do without key striker Marouane Chamakh who has joined Arsenal.