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10 French football questions that will define 2020

January 3, 2020January 6th, 2022

THE 2010s saw Paris Saint-Germain succeed Lyon as the dominant force in domestic French men’s football, while the France national team went from the ignominy of the squad’s training-ground revolt at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to the glory of success at the 2018 tournament in Russia.

With a new decade now upon us, here are 10 issues that are likely to shape the first year of the 2020s in the French game.

1. Will André Villas-Boas be able to sustain Marseille’s momentum?

Revitalised by new coach André Villas-Boas, Marseille finished 2019 like a train, winning seven of their final eight matches and surging into second place in the Ligue 1 table behind Paris Saint-Germain. With a seven-point lead over fourth-place Lille, OM are on track to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2013. But Marseille’s fans will not need reminding that after making a similarly strong start in Marcelo Bielsa’s first season in 2014-15, they ended up falling away in the spring and finishing fourth.

2. Is this the season when Paris Saint-Germain make their mark in the Champions League?

In club football terms, this is the single biggest question of the year and the answer to it is likely to have far-reaching ramifications. After three painful last 16 exits in succession, PSG’s Qatari owners will hope that this, finally, is the season when the club from the capital do some damage in the Champions League, starting with their first knockout tie against Borussia Dortmund next month. 

Victory in the final in Istanbul on May 30 would be transformative, but if Paris come up short again, it may spell the end of the road for head coach Thomas Tuchel and could prompt Kylian Mbappé and Neymar to seek pastures new.

3. Can Didier Deschamps pull off another double with France at Euro 2020?

Twenty years after completing a double of World Cup and European Championship honours as captain of France, Didier Deschamps will attempt to repeat the trick as manager. France qualified top of their qualifying pool above Turkey, only to be drawn into a fiendish group for the finals alongside Portugal, Germany and a play-off winner. With stalwarts Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud all enduring challenging campaigns, Deschamps can only hope that the club season does not take too heavy a toll on his team.

4. Will Monaco’s punt on Robert Moreno be vindicated?

Had things panned out differently, Robert Moreno would currently be formulating plans for Spain’s assault on Euro 2020. But after Luis Enrique’s return as head coach of La Roja, his former assistant was sidelined and now finds himself gearing up for an attempt to revitalise Monaco’s season in Ligue 1. In his first role as head coach at club level, Moreno has been tasked with the responsibility of re-energising a talented squad that never quite amounted to the sum of its parts during Leonardo Jardim’s second stint in the dug-out.

5. Will Neymar stay at Paris Saint-Germain?

After a difficult summer, during which he made no secret of his desire to return to Barcelona, Neymar has rediscovered his status as PSG’s go-to attacking player, contributing nine goals and six assists over the season’s first half. Foot injuries have ruined both of his last two seasons, but if the 27-year-old can stay fit and help Paris to break new ground in the Champions League, there is hope that he could be persuaded to spend a fourth year in the City of Light.

6. Will Paul Pogba join Real Madrid?

Real Madrid’s failure to land Paul Pogba last summer obliged Zinedine Zidane to re-think his plans to refresh his midfield, with Uruguay international Federico Valverde the chief beneficiary. But Pogba now appears even more unsettled at Manchester United than he did six months ago and with an exit from Old Trafford seemingly inevitable, Zidane may finally get his man.

7. Will Kylian Mbappé’s Olympic wish be granted?

The most eye-catching response to France’s successful qualification for the men’s football tournament at this year’s Olympic Games came from Kylian Mbappé, who tweeted an Olympic rings gif accompanied by the caption “TOKYO 2020” and a starry-eyed emoji. He subsequently confirmed that he hoped to emulate his PSG team-mates Neymar and Angel Di Maria by winning an Olympic gold medal with his country. But with the 21-year-old striker set to feature for France at Euro 2020, it would make for an extremely gruelling summer and he recently conceded that if PSG’s management team oppose his involvement, he will accept their decision.

8. What will be the impact of Ligue 1’s new television rights deal?

Long considered the poor relation among Europe’s five major leagues, Ligue 1 will receive a huge cash injection next season when a new television rights deal worth in excess of €1.1 billion kicks in. The new deal is likely to be of particular benefit to the French top flight’s smaller clubs, who will no longer have the same financial obligation to sell when Europe’s top sides start sniffing around their prized assets.

9. Can Rudi Garcia get Lyon back on track?

Appointed as the successor to Sylvinho, Rudi Garcia made a positive initial impact at Lyon, but progress slowed as the winter break neared and OL finished the year by taking only five points from a possible 12. To make matters worse, captain Memphis Depay and summer signing Jeff Reine-Adélaïde have been ruled out for the rest of the season after both rupturing their anterior cruciate ligaments in the same game. Lyon have only missed out on Champions League qualification three times in the last 20 years, but with his fragile team lying seven points off the top three in 12th place, Garcia has his work cut out.

10. Who will win the race to sign Eduardo Camavinga?

Now that Erling Braut Haaland has joined Borussia Dortmund, the mantle of most coveted teenager in European football passes to Eduardo Camavinga. The 17-year-old midfielder’s remarkably mature performances for Rennes have caught the attention of some of the biggest clubs in the game, with Real Madrid reported to be leading the race for his signature.