Swedish International Zlatan Ibrahimović, 35, moved to English perennial powerhouse Manchester United on a free summer transfer this past July. The Malmö native has electrified the Premier League with his overwhelming stature, his justified arrogance and his goal-scoring ability, tallying 26 goals in all competitions in his short, 40 game-stint with the Red Devils. Ibrahimović has been one of football’s most prolific scorers in history, totaling over 400 goals for large-market clubs such as Ajax Amsterdam, Juventus, Internazionale Milan, FC Barcelona, AC Milan and most recently Paris Saint-Germain before joining United. While Ibrahimović has found success at his new club, the league he left behind, French Ligue 1 has reaped the consequences of its former front-man’s departure.
For the past half-decade, PSG have dominated the French league, winning the title in four consecutive years. Known for their clinical finishing in front of goal, PSG’s nonstop attack was spearheaded by Ibrahimović from 2012 to 2016 after buying him for €20 million from Italian side AC Milan. With Zlatan at the helm, PSG became an elite European club. During this period, Paris obliterated the competition up and down the Ligue 1 table, setting a record in 2016 by winning the league by 31 points. However, after the Swedish superstar departed from the French capital this prior July, not only did the club yearn for a new figurehead, but the league did, too.
Ligue 1 wanted nothing more than to uphold its reputation as a powerful European league despite losing its most prominent player. Although a player of the quality and popularity of Zlatan Ibrahimović left the league, could his departure from France and embarking on the latest chapter in his storied career actually help the league build its reputation as a more balanced league? Would his absence help other promising players and clubs rise up the ranks of French football? The answer lies in the Ligue 1 table up to this point in the season. As of week 29 of Ligue 1, Saint-Germain have topped the table in four out of the past five seasons. This season, though, the French champs are locked in a three-team battle for league supremacy. AS Monaco currently sits atop the table with 68 points, with PSG standing in second with 65 points and OGC Nice trailing in third with 63.
Is Ligue 1 struggling at all without its Swedish star? Once again, the answer is no. Not only has the league become more balanced across the board, but world-class players also continue to decide to join clubs all around France. Former West Ham winger Dimitri Payet was one of Europe’s most coveted signatures this January transfer window before Marseille landed the 29-year-old for £25 million. Left back and left midfielder Patrice Evra also joined Marseille this January from the Italian champion Juventus on a free transfer. The player once thought to be the next Cristiano Ronaldo for Ibrahimović’s current Manchester United side, Memphis Depay, ended his unsuccessful stay in England by completing a €15 million deal with Olympique Lyonnais on January 20.
Paris is also not at all struggling to find a new face of the club, as they continue to grow in value and popularity. The club have retained Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani, despite quiet transfer rumors. The heart and souls of the club in Captain Thiago Silva and Blaise Matuidi have also opted to stay on board as well. The club also brought in German international, young superstar, Julian Draxler from German club VFL Wolfsburg for a whopping €35 million, fighting off English giants, Arsenal. Draxler, 23, joins a long list of bright, young stars that call the French capital home including Frenchmen Adrien Rabiot, Presnel Kimpembe and Layvin Kurzawa, as well as Italian maestro Marco Verratti and Brazilians youngsters Lucas Moura and Marquinhos Correa.
As a result of Zlatan Ibrahimović’s departure to Manchester, Ligue 1 lost a giant star, maybe its biggest since Brazilian star Juninho dominated the league with Olympique Lyonnais (winning 7 trophies in as many years from 2001-2008). However, while many people thought the league would struggle in finding a new face after Ibrahimović’s departure this past July, the league has seen a rejuvenation with new teams rising up the ranks of French football challenging for the Coupe de la Ligue and a rebirth, thanks to young talents lighting up not only the French league, but all of Europe. PSG just gave FC Barcelona a run for their money in a 6-5 loss on aggregate in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, and AS Monaco came out on top due to away goals in a 6-6 aggregate tie with Manchester City. Olympique Lyonnais battle AS Roma in the Round of 16 in the Europa League and look hopeful. With this backing, Ligue 1 seems as primed as ever to continue to strengthen its reputation as a strong European league as the post-Zlatan era in France begins.