Montpellier

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Montpellier’s Improbable Victory in Ligue 1

Ligue 1 in France is quickly becoming one of the most enticing leagues in all of Europe.  Many players in the league are developing into the world’s best, such as Eden Hazard, who has drawn interest from all the best teams ranging from Real Madrid to Manchester United.  Additionally, new money is flowing into Ligue 1 through Paris Saint-Germaine.  PSG was recently purchased by the wealthy Qatar Investment Authority, who are rapidly building the club into Champions League contenders.  With all these stunning developments, the most miraculous of all was that Montpellier, a typical Ligue 1 bottom-feeder just stunned everyone and became champions.

Last season Montpellier finished the league in 14th place.  The team was plagued by the fact that it depends on youthful talent for success.  The players were simply too young to compete on the professional level.  However, this season proved that waiting for players to develop and mature can reap bountiful rewards.

Striker Olivier Giroud is about to be a major star.  He led Ligue 1 in goals scored with 21 and at age 25, is just starting to blossom.  He has been called up to the national squad and will shine in EURO 2012.  He will be an interesting player to watch there.  Karim Benzema is the first choice striker, but Giroud may be given an opportunity to display himself on the international scene as a substitute or could even feature if manager Laurent Blanc opts to play two strikers.

Speculation has begun with Giroud linked to several major clubs in Europe.  Montpellier owner Louis Nicollin declared that any team wishing to purchase the striker would have to pay at least 50 million Euros.  Giroud wasn’t the only reason for the club’s success however.

Another young star is Moroccan playmaker Younes Belhanda, recently named France’s Young Player of the Year.  The 22 year old is a smart player whose best position is right behind the striker.  He has been compared to French great, Robert Pires for his brilliance.  Belhanda naturally has also been thrust into transfer speculation.  PSG is interested, as is Arsenal and Manchester City.

The captain of the squad is another youngster, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.  The 23 year old Frenchman also recently has been called up to join the France squad in the EURO’s and is on the radars of major clubs.  One club is Borussia Dortmund, the Bundesliga champions in Germany.  Yanga-Mbiwa plays as a central defender and was vital in Montpellier’s success.

Regardless of the summer transfer possibilities, Montpellier will grace the UEFA Champions League next season.  It is a major achievement for a relatively minor club, and hopefully these three stars will have the opportunity to represent the club for at least one year on the international stage before moving to larger clubs.  They have already proven themselves as victors in Ligue 1 and will be no pushover against the big boys in Europe.