The signings of Edinson Cavani for PSG and Radamel Falcao for Monaco make for a tantalising tie, writes Ian Hawkey.
The president of France’s Ligue 1 has been licking his lips.
“The only thing we’re missing is Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi,” Frederic Thiriez purred to France Football magazine this week, ahead of what he anticipates will be the match that shatters a number of records in the domestic game he oversees.
Paris Saint-Germain versus Monaco on Sunday tonight might very well reach an all-time high in terms of paying TV viewers within France.
Beyond the country’s borders, the collision is stimulating interest well above the norm for what is only the fifth-most glamorous and successful of Europe’s leagues, behind Germany, England, Spain and Italy.
Thiriez readily supplies part of the reason for the new, broader curiosity by citing three names: Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic of PSG, plus Radamel Falcao of Monaco.
Or, as he put it, “three of the five best strikers in the world”.
Others might argue a bit about that status, but only one player – Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale – fetched a high transfer fee this year than Cavani when he joined PSG from Napoli, or Falcao when he signed for Monaco from Atletico Madrid.
They are the twin symbols of the way French football has bounded into a different financial stratosphere since the 2011 takeover of the Paris club by Qatari investors. Monaco’s shift in ownership a few months later, from the Monegasque royal family to a trust set up by Russian billionaire Dimitri Rybolovlev, was just as notable.
A sharp sense of Ligue 1’s rapid transformation is underscored by the fact that, one year ago, the reigning champions of France were Montpellier, a club whose entire annual budget would cover barely 80 per cent of Falcao’s €60 million (Dh298m) price tag and even less of the €65m that PSG paid for Cavani.
Or by rewinding to the last fixture between these two clubs.
That was in May 2011, when Monaco were about to be relegated and PSG were occupying their then-customary position among the division’s also-rans in the bid for a top-three finish. It finished 1-1.
Today’s line-ups are unlikely to include any of the players from that night.
Monaco, who at one stage in 2011/12 were scraping the bottom of Ligue 2, will increase their lead at the top of the table if they record a fifth win of the campaign. Though St Etienne, who lost at home to Toulouse on Friday, have been providing unexpectedly spicy meat between the sandwich of France’s new Big Two at the summit, there is scarcely any anticipation that the title, come May, will not go either to Paris or Monte Carlo.
Monaco head coach Claudio Ranieri has applied his extensive know-how, accumulated in Serie A, Spain’s Primera Liga and the Premier League, to meld a squad dominated by new recruits into a side with the best goals-per-game ratio and the meanest defence in France.
So far, Colombia’s Falcao has four goals, two more than Uruguay’s Cavani in the eagerly followed duel between the costly South Americans.
Ibrahimovic, the runaway leading scorer last term with 30, has just one to his name so far in 2013/14.