Ten top Ligue 1 talents who could be on the move this summer
Lille has admitted that winger Eden Hazard could be sold for the right offer
Saint-Etienne midfield powerhouse Blaise Matuidi leads Ligue 1 in tackles
Versatile Brazil international Michel Bastos has drawn interest from Serie A
The current row over TV rights in French soccer might not have made the news across Europe but its consequences soon will. Orange has dropped out of the bidding for next season's rights -- it paid the French league €200 million ($288M) to show one game a week for the last three seasons -- leaving Canal Plus as the sole bidder. Canal has shown a willingness to pay something similar to its current deal, worth €450 million ($650M), but whatever happens, it will not make up the huge shortfall caused by Orange's drop-out.
A smaller revenue for the French league therefore means less for the clubs themselves, and before too long they will be unable to keep their star players on big salaries. Last season, the likes of Yoann Gourcuff (€23.5M/$33M), Loic Remy (€15M/$21.6M) and Andre-Pierre Gignac (€18M/$25.9M) all made big-money summer moves within Ligue 1.
That pattern is unlikely to repeat itself this summer, so here are some of the stars, in no specific order, who could be leaving Ligue 1 at the end of the season:
Price: €12 million ($17.3M)
Interested clubs: Valencia, Arsenal, Juventus, AC Milan, Newcastle, Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur.
Gameiro almost moved to Valencia in January but Lorient rejected its €8 million ($11.5M) offer for the 23-year-old France international forward, considering him worth more. As if to prove the decision right, Gameiro scored nine goals in his next five games, including a hat trick against Bordeaux, which also tried to buy him. He has compared his ability to find space in the box to David Villa, and admitted that his time with Lorient is coming to an end.
"I'm very mobile, not very big, and I look to go deep behind the defense without being too selfish," he told Journal du Dimanche. "I've learned how to become smarter, as you have to be intelligent when you're up against bigger guys than you."
Ligue 1 defenders will be glad to see the back of him.
Price: €20 million+ ($28M)
Interested clubs: Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid.
Hazard is the jewel in the Ligue 1 crown, its most coveted player as Lille targets its first title since 1954. Despite signing a new contract with Lille last month that runs until 2015, club officials have accepted that a mega-money bid would be hard to turn down.
"He could leave if we get a super offer," coach Rudi Garcia told L'Equipe. "He's good enough to play for any club in the world."
The Belgium winger, 20, has been compared to Lionel Messi (by Lyon coach Claude Puel and former Marseille boss Rolland Courbis) while Zinedine Zidane told Marca, "I'd sign him for Real Madrid with my eyes closed."
He has the talent to win matches on his own (as this brilliant goal in the victory against Marseille shows) and a hard-working personality that should help integration to another league. But he will only move if the money is right. One more season at Lille, especially if it is in the Champions League, would not be a disaster. Lille president Michel Seydoux's wish for Hazard to play in the club's new stadium, opening in 2012, is a step too far.
Price: €15 million ($21.6M)
Interested clubs: Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Juventus, Roma.
M'Vila had his breakout campaign last season and was close to a place in France's 2010 World Cup 23-man squad; former coach Raymond Domenech told SI.com that he was No. 24 on his list. This season has been a natural progression, with the 20-year-old defensive midfielder the only player to start new France boss Laurent Blanc's first three games. He is now a regular in the France setup, and has been instrumental in this young Rennes side's Champions League qualification efforts.
Last December, he insisted that he would remain at Rennes for one more year, but he left his options open in a more recent interview.
"I'll talk about my future at the end of the season, and won't decide anything until then," he told RMC in February.
As the links with Premier League clubs continue, Rennes fans cling to his relationship with coach Frederic Antonetti, who threw him into the team at 18 (after predecessor Guy Lacombe wanted him out). The charismatic Antonetti extended his contract last week, and he will want to persuade his protégé to do the same.
Price: €18 million ($25.9M)
Interested clubs: Juventus, Atletico Madrid.
When Lloris left Nice in 2008, he chose to join Lyon, reasonably expecting a decent chance of trophies, given that the club had won the previous seven Ligue 1 titles. Three seasons later, Lloris is still waiting, though Lyon's drought is in no way down to him. The 24-year-old has been named Goalkeeper of the Year for the last two seasons and cemented his position as France No. 1.
"He always forces the striker to do more and he eases the pressure on his defenders," his coach Claude Puel told SI.com. "It's a bit like what we saw with Fabien Barthez when he was at his best."
But his frustration at Lyon seems real. Last week he was caught on camera yelling about being fed up and shouting that his teammates "crapped themselves" after conceding two injury-time goals in a 2-2 draw with Nice. He dodged questions about his future in a recent France Football interview, saying his only focus was helping Lyon reach the Champions League next season -- but by then, he might be long gone.
Price: €10 million ($14.4M)
Interested clubs: Genoa, Everton, Arsenal, Liverpool.
It feels like Matuidi, a 24-year-old Clairefontaine graduate, has been linked with a move to Arsenal for the last three summers, but so far Saint-Etienne has been an unwilling seller -- until now, that is. Matuidi has won two France caps under Blanc (increasing his value) and has spoken of his desire to test himself in the Champions League. The defensive midfielder won favorable comparisons with Claude Makelele after outplaying the Paris Saint-Germain veteran last season.
"He wins a lot of balls in front of defense, he's quick to set things in motion, he reads the game fast and he's a left-footer, which is an added plus," Marseille coach Didier Deschamps said.
This season, the statistics show he has won more tackles than any other player in Ligue 1, which has attracted the interest of Liverpool sports director Damien Comolli (also former sporting director of Saint-Etienne).
"That's an extraordinary strong point," he told France Football this week. "When the team is pushing up and playing high up the field, that can mean a goal scoring chance."
Price: €15 million ($21.6M)
Interested clubs: Juventus, Roma, AC Milan.
Bastos has come a long way since playing alongside Salomon Kalou and Robin van Persie for Feyenoord feeder club Excelsior Rotterdam back in 2001. He was Brazil's left back at the 2010 World Cup, even though he had been playing on the right wing for Lyon. He helped Lyon reach the Champions League semifinals last season, with a goal in the quarterfinal win over Bordeaux, but has scored only five goals this season, his lowest tally since his debut season in France, at Lille in 2006.
A knee injury has curtailed this season and Lyon is now ready to cash in on the Brazilian -- in typical Jean-Michel Aulas style, for no less than the €15M it paid Lille in 2009. Juventus is in pole position to sign Bastos, who was quoted as telling Gazzetta dello Sport, "No player can turn down the Juventus shirt." But other teams in Serie A are also interested.
Price: €16 million ($23.1M)
Interested clubs: AC Milan, Barcelona, Arsenal, Liverpool.
When Paul Le Guen was struggling to get the best out of his players at Paris Saint-Germain, back in October 2007, he took dramatic action. He dropped four senior players to the bench (including Pedro Pauleta, Peguy Luyindula and Sylvain Armand) and appointed a 17-year-old defender making his first league start for the club as captain. That player was Mamadou Sakho.
Four years and two senior France appearances later, Sakho is set for the armband on a permanent basis if Claude Makelele, as expected, hangs up his boots. The strategy is clear: PSG is trying to offer Sakho an incentive to stay, but it might not be enough. The club continues to underachieve, and Sakho's star has risen since Arsenal first made an approach in the summer of 2008.
"Back then, Sakho was earning €25,000 [$36,000] per month, but when he was approached by Arsenal, I increased his salary to €100,000 [$144,000]," former president Charles Villeneuve told Le 10 Sport last month.
Sakho has already tripled that figure but, at 21, now might be the time for a new sporting challenge.
Price: €14 million ($20.1M)
Interested clubs: Liverpool, Manchester City, Genoa, Fiorentina, Shakhtar Donetsk.
Sissoko upset Toulouse last month by admitting he wants to leave this summer and pursue his dream of Champions League soccer. Coach Alain Casanova responded by saying his form this season does not warrant a move while president Olivier Sadran bemoaned his "average season." But with the 21-year-old midfielder desperate for a new challenge, a parting of the ways would suit everyone -- if the price is right.
Sissoko's physique and power have been compared to those of former Lyon midfielder Mahamadou Diarra, but Under-21 boss Erik Mombaerts says his "humility, explosiveness and ability on the break" reminds him of Michael Essien.
Price: Free agent
Interested clubs: AC Milan, Real Madrid, Benfica.
The Nigerian left back excites and infuriates in equal measure. His swashbuckling runs down the flank and his sweet left foot, which has scored with a few 30-yard strikes, make Taiwo great to watch and a seemingly perfect fit for the helter-skelter of the Premier League. But Marseille coach Didier Deschamps has been driven to distraction by his lack of tactical rigor, and his habit of playing opposing strikers onside at critical moments in a match (that explains why Taiwo sat out Marseille's Champions League first-leg tie against Manchester United, but was back for the second, when it needed an away goal).
His agents have leaked stories about interest from Real Madrid, but the most concrete link is with AC Milan. The latest reports from Marseille suggest Taiwo could confirm a deal with Milan soon.
Price: €8 million ($11.5M)
Interested clubs: AC Milan, Manchester City, Newcastle, Everton, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur, Roma.
Diarra turns 30 this summer and is the last star from Bordeaux's 2009 Ligue 1-winning side still there. The question is: Will the midfielder follow the path of Yoann Gourcuff (Lyon) and stay in France, where Marseille and PSG are both interested, or follow Marouane Chamakh (Arsenal) and embark on another foreign adventure?
Before Bordeaux, Diarra had played for eight clubs in eight years -- including two years at Bayern Munich, where he was on the bench six times but never made the first team, and another two at Liverpool spent on loan at Le Havre and Bastia. He reportedly turned down the chance to join Manchester City from Lyon in 2007, but since then has become a France regular, and is Blanc's preferred captain.
His buyout clause of €8M reflects his age and minimal sell-on value, but in the last three years he has averaged more than 40 matches per season. Domenech once compared Diarra to a young Patrick Vieira, just one reason City could come back for him. What better way to replace the old Vieira than with the new one?
Ben Lyttleton has written about French football for various publications. He edited an oral history of the European Cup, Match of My Life: European Cup Finals, which was published in 2006.
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