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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Abandoned by Stars, French Sense Misery

PARIS -- France ought to be looking forward with optimism to the 1996-97 soccer season -- just two years before it hosts the World Cup finals. Instead, an exodus of top players during the summer break that has left France looking much less like one of the top five leagues in Europe has cast a cloud over the unprecedented exploits of last season.

When national coach Aime Jacquet named his 22-man squad for the European championship finals in mid-May, four of his players were with foreign clubs -- the Italian-based Christian Karembeu, Marcel Desailly, Didier Deschamps and Jocelyn Angloma.

But soon another nine members of France's Euro 96 squad followed their teammates across the country's borders.

Juventus bagged Zinedine Zidane while his Bordeaux club-mate Christophe Dugarry was snapped up by AC Milan. Internazionale signed Youri Djorkaeff from Paris St. Germain, Laurent Blanc went to Barcelona and Bixente Lizarazu became the first foreigner to join Athletic Bilbao.

Djorkaeff had just helped PSG win the European Cup Winners' Cup, only France's second continental club trophy. Zidane, Dugarry and Lizarazu had all played for surprise UEFA Cup finalists Bordeaux and Blanc had helped little Auxerre to the French double.

Jacquet's team was unbeaten and playing well going into the June European championship finals in England, but their failure to go the distance brought French soccer followers back down to earth with a bump.

Questions are rife as to how France, going into a new league season starting Aug. 10 without its major stars -- including the English-based Eric Cantona and David Ginola -- can prevent such a loss of talent in the future.

France has never before been faced with the age-old problem suffered by the likes of Argentina and Yugoslavia, who have more than half their national team players operating far from home.

The French league, looking for answers, hopes to develop its marketing, with a subsidiary of the Walt Disney corporation guaranteeing revenue of $3.36 million from now until the year 2001.

Critics point their fingers at the giant television company Canal Plus that has exclusive cover of first division matches.

Guy Roux, trainer of champions and French Cup winners Auxerre, believes it should be "Canal even more" with the television companies paying greater sums for the right to show soccer.

"All our neighbors get more," Roux told the sports weekly France Football.

"Before Bosman, you could manage with less money than the others because the clubs, however rich, could not line up more than three foreigners," Roux said. "That's no longer the case today. So we must ask television for more money."

But the reasons why France lags behind Italy, England, Spain and Germany in revenue and player salaries are numerous and complex, including a higher tax burden on club wages, smaller average crowds and less sophisticated advertising and marketing as well as the new post-Bosman transfer regulations.

But one welcome boost for French soccer, which is only now recovering from the match-rigging scandal involving 1992 European Cup winners Marseille, is the club's return to the first division.