Heavy taxes could allow little teams to catch up with PSG and Monaco, writes Ian Hawkey.
On Thursday afternoon, a delegation of office-bearers from professional club football in France assembled at the Elysee Palace in Paris for a meeting with the head of state, Francois Hollande.
Their mission? To persuade Hollande, the socialist president, to offer some of their employees an exemption, or at least a degree of relaxation, from the 75 per cent tax rate his government will levy on French residents earning more than €1 million (Dh5m) a year.
The impact, the presidents of some of France’s leading clubs argued, could be ruinous to the elite end of the country’s most popular team sport, would cause a flight of talent from the French league, and push domestic football toward second-class status relative to their European neighbours.
Public support is limited for any special-case pleading on behalf well-paid footballers. The next stage of lobbying risks alienating it further: a so-called “blank day” is scheduled for the end of this month, a weekend in which no fixtures are played in the top two divisions. It is effectively a strike, but one wherein club bosses and players unite around a single issue.
Hollande met with the presidents of Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux and Lille, all clubs who have won a championship in the past six years. No one from Paris Saint-Germain, the defending champions, nor Monaco, who sit second in the table behind PSG, was present.
Politically, those clubs have good reason to keep a low profile on this debate.
PSG, owned by Qatari investors, employ more players with the sort of salaries affected by the new tax than any other club, and with their huge spending, they have altered the complexion of Ligue 1. They know any pleading from them would sound hollow.
Monaco, backed by a Russian billionaire and the only club with the resources to compete with PSG’s spending, exist under a millionaire-friendly tax regime – in the principality of Monaco – which irritates the rest of the French clubs.
The pleas of the clubs to the government may not strike a chord with the folk who worry about prices at the local bakery in recession-stalked France, but the fears that domestic football’s balance might be irrecoverably damaged by higher taxation are real. Effectively, Ligue 1 already has two economies: the extravagant spenders at PSG and Monaco, and the rest.
All of which partly explains the enthusiasm of neutrals, of traditionalists about Lille’s determined pursuit of the Big Two, on the field. Lille resemble the majority of French clubs in that they live with the reality that success brings predatory attention towards their best young players, usually from abroad.
After Lille, as underdogs, won the title in 2011, they lost stars such as Gervinho and Eden Hazard to suitors from the English Premier League. Then they slipped back to a mid-table existence.
But the Lille of 2013/14 will host Monaco feeling emboldened. A fine recent run in the league, yielding 13 points from their past five games, with Vincent Enyeama, the Nigeria goalkeeper, preserving the best defensive record in the league, has generated a sense that the biggest threat to PSG retaining their crown might come from the down-to-earth northerners of Lille, rather than the tax-exempts of Monaco.
Tomorrow’s match should shed light on how true that may be.
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