Is the French influence on the Champions League fading?

With all the talk about the shift of the European centre of gravity to Germany from Spain, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Primera Liga big guns have won nothing in Europe for decades.

But wasn’t it only two years ago that Carles Puyol lent Eric Abidal the captain’s armband in a benevolent gesture as Barcelona hoisted the UCL trophy into the sky over Wembley?  Wouldn’t it be more to the point to wonder how Les Francais seem to have been silently nudged out of Europe’s upper echelon? Think about it, when is the last time you heard of a Ligue 1 team in the UCL finals, let alone winning the ‘big ears’? It’s almost as if the football gods turned off the lights on France after the nation followed up their 1998 World Cup triumph with the Euro 2000 trophy.

Since the turn of the century a French team has appeared in the finals of the UEFA Champions League only once to date. That was almost a decade ago when a strong Monaco side captained by the diminutive Ludovic Giuly (with a green Emmanuel Adebayor looking on from the bench) succumbed to a Deco-inspired Porto 3-0. This was the Monaco that had such illustrious names as Fernando Morientes, who once formed a fearsome strike partnership with Raul for Spain and Real Madrid, and giant Croat Dado Prso. Patrice Evra had made the number 3 shirt his, and it would not be long before Sir Alex Ferguson would come in search of the full-back’s signature. But after this near miss by the principality team, France exited the European elite, stage left, leaving Italy, Spain, Germany and England to slug it out for European supremacy. 

Oh, Lyon did make it to the semi-finals of the 2009-2010 UCL, but any Frenchman with an ounce of pride would rather forget how they were hopelessly outclassed by Bayern Munich. They lost 4-0 on aggregate, suffering an embarrassing 3-0 defeat at the Stade Gerland as Ivica Olic thrice got the better of Hugo Lloris and a shambolic back four. Anyone with half an eye who watched the two legs of this tie concluded that Olympique Lyonnais had accepted their fate with the ‘meekness of lambs’. The following year no French team made it to the quarters but last year Olymqique Marseille managed to knock an Inter side still grieving the loss of Jose Mourinho out on the away goals rule en route to the quarter-finals. But then the Bavarians returned to dispense the Lyon treatment, keeping a clean sheet over the two legs while putting four past Steve Mandanda.

So where did the rain begin beating the French? When clubs from Europe’s upper crust began raiding their dressing rooms and hoovering away their top players (Pardew must be wrestling with French verb conjugations as I write this)? Or is it just a matter of the right prince (or sheikh) coming along to kiss the financially challenged clubs? Remember PSG just missed a place in the semis this year by a whisker, foiled by a hobbling Messi. Or is there a graver issue at play?