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French clubs seek solace amid poor Champions League form and Mediapro dispute

Just two months after Paris Saint-Germain’s run to the final of the Champions League in Lisbon, and Lyon’s appearance in the semi-finals, a miserable midweek for Ligue 1 clubs in Europe’s elite competition offered no relief at a time when French football is in crisis off the field.

PSG lost 2-1 at home to Manchester United after Marcus Rashford popped up with a late winner for the visitors, and Marseille conceded even later to lose 1-0 at Olympiakos.

It was left to Rennes to salvage some pride, but a 1-1 draw with Russian novices Krasnodar still leaves them up against it.

On the pitch, Ligue 1 remains the poor relation among Europe’s “Big Five” leagues, and the outlook is not being helped by the economic crisis and a worrying dispute with the game’s chief domestic TV rights holder.

Chinese-owned Spanish firm Mediapro did not meet a scheduled 172 million-euro ($203m) payment due this month and is now trying to renegotiate the record deal it agreed for four seasons starting this year, citing the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mediapro won the rights after agreeing to pay over 800 million euros per season, out of a total deal worth a record 1.15 billion euros annually.

Clubs now face an uncertain future, just as they are being starved of gate revenue due to restrictions on gatherings as a result of the pandemic.

The French league (LFP) has taken out a loan of 112 million euros to tide over clubs in the short term, but it is unclear what happens next with Mediapro CEO Jaume Roures saying the company intends to honour the full term of their deal while also indicating the next scheduled payment may not be forthcoming either.

“If there were no TV rights it would be catastrophic for everyone,” admitted Montpellier president Laurent Nicollin. 

Meanwhile, interested observers elsewhere believe French clubs will have no choice but to renegotiate the deal.

“There was no pandemic when Mediapro offered the money they did. Nobody knew there was going to be a pandemic and that all the bars would close, that the season would start later than planned,” LaLiga president Javier Tebas told AFP.

“The conditions were no longer the same so this is all normal. We have also negotiated with many operators.”

Player to watch: Kylian Mbappe

The France superstar endured a difficult night in PSG’s loss to Manchester United and has now gone six games without scoring in the Champions League.

It is a worrying run for a player who had previously been so prolific both with his current club and Monaco, and it is notable that Rashford has now scored as many Champions League goals in Paris since the start of 2018/19 as Mbappe.

Perhaps he was tired after starting twice and playing another 45 minutes as a substitute for France during the recent international break, and it will be interesting to see if PSG coach Thomas Tuchel starts him on Saturday against Dijon or gives him a rest ahead of the Champions League trip to Istanbul Basaksehir.

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