Ligue 1 teams sell a lot of their best players, but it's not a bad thing
Geoffrey Kondogbia (Internazionale), Dimitri Payet (West Ham), Giannelli Imbula (Porto), Franck Tabanou and Andre Ayew (both to Swansea City) have all already gone. Jordan Amavi, Fabinho, Idrissa Gueye, Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco or Raphael Guerreiro could follow soon.
A quick look at the current transfer window in Ligue 1 shows that this summer is no different than ones in the past: bigger clubs in bigger leagues come to do their shopping in France. The country continues to be the place to go to get young, promising and talented players, those who are better tactically than anywhere else, gifted technically and with domestic experience already for all of them. In certain cases, they even boast some international experience, too.
To put it in other words, those of agent Bruno Satin in Le Parisien last week: "France has become the Academy of Europe. Every summer, apart from at PSG, our 10 or 15 best players leave."
There is nothing new to the current trend. It has been like this for a very long time. It is the way Ligue 1 rolls, lives, survives and makes money. It is also a way of life for the players and the clubs.
From a player's point of view, there will always be more money and bigger wages abroad. Mathieu Valbuena, 30, left Marseille for Dynamo Moscow last summer and earns more there after tax what he earned before tax in France. Payet, 28, could not refuse the incredible deal from West Ham: five years (plus the option for a sixth) at €2.5 million euros a year after tax with big performance bonuses available. He joined the Hammers last week.
Also, there will always be more experience and silverware to gain abroad. Kurt Zouma, 20, could have stayed in France instead of signing for Chelsea 18 months ago as Monaco, Marseille and Paris wanted him too. But with the Blues, he has already won the Premier League and the League Cup, has played in some of the biggest games in Europe and is arguably improving faster than if he had stayed at home.
From a club's point of view, it is good business. You form players or buy them young to finish their development by giving them a big platform on which to perform. They shine and attract interest from big clubs. You sell well, which means that you don't end up with a deficit, and you reinvest the money in your club, especially in the Academy.
Marseille bought Imbula, 22 years old, two summers ago for €7.5 million from Guingamp. He is set to join Porto this week for a sum of €23.5 million, according to reports. Not only was the offer from the Portuguese giants hard to turn down, but l'OM need the money. They lost €12.5 million last season with a reported total deficit of around €30 million, prompting the DNCG (the commission that controls and checks all professional French club accounts) to order club chairman Vincent Labrune to balance the books by selling players before June 30. So he did.
Monaco is a prime example of the business. The club quickly realised that with FFP in charge, the only way to make their club viable was with a youth policy. Get young talent, introduce them to the world and wait. Kondogbia was bought for €20 million euros and sold for €40 million barely two years later. Fabinho cost €5 million euros last month after two seasons on loan from Rio Ave, but could be sold for up to €25 million to an English club. Then there's Anthony Martial, 19, who was bought in 2013 from Lyon for €5 million euros. He is already worth an estimated €25 million.
Of course, in a dream world, each French club would love to be able to keep hold of its best players for a few more years in order to not just be more competitive in the league, but also in Europe. You can wonder, for example, how far the current Lyon squad could go if they could stay together for the next five years at least. Instead, give it a year, maybe two, and the club will have to start again after Alexandre Lacazette, Nabil Fekir, Corentin Tolisso, Anthony Lopes, Samuel Umtiti, Jordan Ferri or Clinton N'jie inevitably leave.
Going abroad is not always a guarantee of success, though. Yohan Cabaye ended up coming back and Remy Cabella is considering it; think about Mathieu Flamini, Gael Kakuta, Etienne Capoue, Younes Kaboul, Jeremie Aliadiere or Gilles Sunu, to name a few.
Noël Le Graet, the chairman of the French Football Federation, made some silly comments last week after news of the Payet move emerged. "It is embarrassing for Ligue 1," he said in Le Parisien, criticising French broadcasters of not paying enough for TV rights.
That's not the point. France have more TV money than Germany, as much as Spain and just a bit less than Italy, yet you don't see the same exodus every year in those leagues. It is not embarrassing; it is just the way it is. You can't even be surprised about it.
Give it another year and Martial, Bernardo Silva, Lacazette, Fekir or Adrien Rabiot will probably also go. And more talent the year after that. But what we seem to forget to quickly is that if other leagues come to France to buy talent, it's because they don't have enough talent in their leagues. And to be able to produce talented generation after talented generation is very special.
Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.