Returning Monaco threaten PSG monopoly

PARIS (AFP) - Fresh from winning their first title in 19 years, Paris Saint-Germain will be hoping the 2012-13 season marks the start of a new era of domination over French football to match that enjoyed by Olympique Lyonnais in the last decade.

Lyon won seven titles in a row between 2002 and 2008, but PSG became the fifth different Ligue 1 champion in the five seasons since then when they secured the title with two games of this campaign to spare.

The financial might of their Qatari owners has allowed them to get ahead of their domestic rivals in the last 12 months, even if Marseille pushed PSG a lot further than even they thought possible this season.

OM's automatic qualification for the Champions League group stage will bring in the funds needed to strengthen their squad, but they will not spend silly money and their aim is to cement their place in the top three, not push PSG for the title.

Meanwhile, reaching the Champions League group stage is essential for Lyon, but they will need to come through two qualifying rounds in order to get there.

In any case, Remi Garde's squad are going through a long period of transition, with the focus on young players emerging from the club's academy.

"We are in different worlds," said Garde recently, comparing his team with PSG.

Lille have a fantastic new stadium, but their chances of even challenging for a top-three place would be compromised were coach Rudi Garcia - who has just a year left on his contract - or star players such as Dimitri Payet to leave.

Saint-Etienne will do well to improve on their performance this season, but another of the French game's most famous names are likely to have a major say.

After two years in the second tier, Monaco will be back in the top flight next season and are determined to make their presence felt.

They have the financial backing to compete with PSG too, thanks to billionaire Russian owner Dimitri Rybolovlev.

Indeed, the principality club have already started spending big in a bid to qualify for the Champions League in their first season back in the elite, with Porto duo Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez moving to the Stade Louis II for a combined fee of 70 million euros (S$114.5 million) last week.

"The plan is clear. We want to take the club to the highest level," said Italian coach Claudio Ranieri recently.

"Here, our aim is to build something. This is not Manchester United, where everything is already in place. That is the difference. But the players who come will believe in this project." From the outside looking in, the return of Monaco can only be a good thing for French football, but rival clubs are not so impressed.

The principality club have long benefited from favourable tax laws, meaning that, until now, foreign players have not had to pay any income tax, while French players have paid less in national insurance contributions than they would with any other club.

However, a decision taken in March by the French League means Monaco will be subject to the same tax laws as all other clubs as of June 2014.

"For now, Monaco's only argument is to say: 'it has been like that for 30 years.' But the fact that we have tolerated this privilege at a time when French football was living comfortably does not mean that Monaco can continue without respecting the law today," said Marseille president Vincent Labrune, one of the most vocal supporters of the new rules.

But, while Monaco are sure to make their presence felt, the biggest threat to PSG might come from within.

The wrangle over the future of coach Carlo Ancelotti does them few favours, and it is hard to see how the champions can keep hold of the Italian against his will, even if he has another year to run on his contract.

Finding a replacement of a similar calibre will not be easy, and keeping hold of key players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and captain Thiago Silva could become tricky if Ancelotti goes.

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