Europe news

Calls for 18-team Ligue 1

July 4, 2013
By Ian Holyman, France Correspondent

French Football League president Frederic Thiriez has reaffirmed his desire to reduce Ligue 1 to 18 clubs and ease the financial plight of French football.

PSG trophy lift celeb Ligue 1
GettyImagesPSG lifted the Ligue 1 trophy last season

The 40 professional clubs in France's top two tiers emerged from the 2011-12 season with a cumulative debt of €130 million, a situation which was not improved by a €61 million drop in TV revenue when the rights for the four-year period up to 2016 were negotiated.

Thiriez told L'Equipe French clubs' total revenue was some €1.3 billion, almost half that of those in England, where the TV money pot is significantly larger, and with last season's average attendance some 16,000 down on the Premier League and 22,000 shy of that in the Bundesliga, he is determined to attempt to resolve the situation by trimming the top flight to the size it was between 1997 and 2002.

"In 2003, I proposed a return to 18 clubs in Ligue 1," Thiriez said following the LFP's general assembly. "With the financial crisis and the lowering of TV money, we can no longer dismiss the problem. Does France have the means to have 20 clubs in Ligue 1? My answer is 'No'.

"But my answer has no interest. It needs the clubs to be in agreement. They will have to decide by the end of the year on a potential application of the change for the 2015-16 season at the earliest."

When he raised the issue a decade ago, 26 of 35 clubs voted against the move. Thiriez acknowledged he will undoubtedly face stiff opposition once again.

He said: "Of course it's going to provoke fears. In the end, democracy will decide. There's not only a financial interest but also that of the fixture list. We'd play four fewer games, which is not negligible. Germany has 18 clubs in the 1. Bundesliga and have just taken the decision to go down to 16 in the 2. Bundesliga."

The LFP chief does have his partisans though. Influential Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas told L'Equipe he had been in favour of an 18-club top flight "even before the financial crisis" while the OL supremo's counterpart at recently-relegated Nancy, Jacques Rousselot, is also a fan of the idea.

"I've always favoured the general interest over the individual. Therefore, I've always been favourable to a top flight of 18 clubs. With the financial crisis that we're going through, a solution is going to have to be found," Rousselot stated before adding his view was not likely to prove universal.

"Everyone protects their own little bit of territory. The three or four big teams will be for it. There will be two or three, like me, who'll lobby in favour of a change. The rest though...."