French football expert Andy Scott takes a look at an eventful 2013 across the channel.
2013 in 140 characters – France rises again
PSG began what is set to be an era of dominance but Monaco re-emerged as a genuine threat, while France fell in love with Les Bleus again.
Hero - Didier Deschamps
Perceptions change very quickly in football. After the 2-0 defeat to Ukraine in Kiev in the first leg of their World Cup qualifying play-off in November, France looked down and out and Deschamps looked set to depart as the first coach in two decades to fail to take Les Bleus to a major tournament finals. But he made brave selection decisions for the return and was rewarded with a 3-0 win that sealed their place in Brazil. It was a performance that restored the faith of a nation in Les Bleus, epitomised by the headline in sports daily L'Equipe the next day, which read simply: 'Respect'. Deschamps himself was thrown into the air on the pitch by his players at full-time - just as he had been after winning the World Cup as captain in 1998. And the country could scarcely believe its luck when France were drawn in a group with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras for the finals. But then luck seems to accompany Deschamps at such times. As Michel Platini once said, Deschamps is so blessed with luck that he must have fallen into a font of holy water at birth.
Thauvin won few friends as he refused to train with Lille - the club he had just joined from Bastia - in a bid to force through a move to Marseille. The France under-20 World Cup winner eventually got his move. But perhaps the least popular man in French football just now is President François Hollande, who pushed through plans to introduce a 75 per cent tax rate on earnings over €1 million. France's professional clubs - who will be liable for the tax rather than their employees - united in their anger at a measure they feel is going too far and threatened to strike at the end of November before changing their minds at the last minute.
Paris Saint-Germain's title celebrations will be best remembered for Zlatan Ibrahimovic's attempts to lead the Parc des Princes crowd in their favourite chant of 'Ici c'est Paris'. The Swede showed that, a year after signing, his grasp of the French language still left a lot to be desired. On the field, too, there is no entertainer quite like Ibrahimovic. Video footage of his spat with Joey Barton, in which the Englishman politely reminds the Swede that he has a big nose, is worth seeking out on the internet. But Leonardo takes the honour. His attempts to explain away a blatant push on referee Alexandre Castro after a game against Valenciennes in May were quite simply laughable. The incident earned him a 14-month ban and the PSG sporting director departed the French game soon after.
David Beckham graced French football during the first few months of the year before finally hanging up his boots, and Saber Khalifa's second goal in Evian's 4-0 win against Nice in May was Beckham-esque. The Tunisian collected the ball midway inside his own half following an opposition corner, spun away from a defender and hit a first-time shot from well inside his own half - a distance of at least 60 yards - that sailed majestically into the roof of the net.
As Beckham himself would attest to, it was the kind of goal that Khalifa will score once in a lifetime. He moved to Marseille in the summer, continuing a remarkable upward trajectory for someone who had to flee Libya when revolution broke out in the North African country in 2011.
"I am really happy to be joining Lille. This will change me. LOSC are a very big club. The plans that the club proposed to me sound fantastic. I liked the sound of them straight away" - Florian Thauvin after agreeing to join Lille from Bastia. He never played a game for the club before forcing through a move to Marseille.
Special mention here has to go to Joey Barton, during his loan spell at Marseille, for trying to wind up PSG’s Thiago Silva. Barton called the Brazilian a "pussy…an overweight ladyboy”, leading to furious reactions from PSG, sports daily L’Equipe and Paris Foot Gay, an amateur club with a large number of gay players. But, more than anything, Barton trying to belittle one of the very best players in the world in such a manner was comical.
And the obligatory mention for outspoken Montpellier president Louis Nicollin: "I have nothing against him, he's a good guy, but I screwed up in appointing Fernandez." Within a week, coach Jean Fernandez had departed after less than half a season in charge.
PSG will win the title again, and Claudio Ranieri - the man who has never won a top-division title in his long career as a coach - will be harshly sacked by Monaco’s Russian owner and replaced by a ‘bigger’ name.
For the New Year to bring more games like the last one of 2013. Too often recently, top-of-the-table clashes in France have been disappointing, lacking in excitement and overridden with caution. The 2-2 draw between Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain and third-placed Lille could not have been more different. It had goals, great saves, shocking misses, and two teams trying to win the game right up to the final whistle.
On Twitter @andpscott