‘Farmers League’ bears fruit for France's Ligue 1: Richard Buxton
Ligue 1 deserves more credit, even if Lyon's adventure comes to an end
European football has spent the past few years laughing at Ligue 1's expense.
A long-standing dichotomy between Paris Saint-Germain and the rest of the French top flight meant that it became the continent's default punchline.
But, like Thomas Mueller's recent attempt to pun on Robert Lewandowski, those jokes are now failing to land.
The so-called "Farmers League" is now leaving its most vocal critics choking on humble pie, with two of its teams venturing deep into the Champions League's den.
Lyon's semi-final showdown with Bayern Munich tomorrow morning (Singapore time) proves that the most well-heeled teams do not always prosper, with Manchester City and Juventus both suffering at the hands of Rudi Garcia's side just eight days apart.
Toppling the former English Premier League and current Serie A champions in swift succession is no mean feat, especially for a team that finished seventh this season.
Even Kylian Mbappe applauded PSG's prospective opponents in the final for dispelling the myth that Ligue 1 is a division made up of glorified part-timers and prima donnas.
Underdog spirit may not be enough to repeat the trick against a Bayern side heavily favoured to win the tournament and still basking in an 8-2 humiliation of Barcelona.
On the other side of the draw, the mere presence of PSG at the business end of the Champions League knockout stage underlines the true depth of their country's much-derided competitiveness.
France's flagship league does not boast world-champion status on geography alone.
Nine players from Didier Deschamps' 23-man squad which triumphed in Russia over two years ago hailed from a fine balance of Marseille, Monaco, PSG and Lyon themselves.
Separately, the gritty suburbs of Paris alone contributed eight members of Les Bleus' successful fraternity and a further seven who represented other nations at the Finals.
A total of 48 players from 18 teams within the top two divisions were called up by their respective countries at the 2018 World Cup, with only one hailing from outside Ligue 1.
On the home front, too, it has not always been a one-horse league. Between 1994 and 2013, eight teams shared the title before PSG's domestic drought was finally ended.
Petrodollars rolling into the Parc des Princes, however, could not stop Monaco from breaking the capital's stranglehold by winning both the championship and reaching the Champions League semi-final in 2017 with a team containing future household names.
Benjamin Mendy, Fabinho and Bernardo Silva all went on to conquer the EPL, in addition to Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder adding a European crown to his personal collection.
Mbappe is also indebted to the principality for sealing his own big-money move to PSG.
Enrichment has not been exclusive to individuals, with the rest of Europe's top five leagues continually reaping the benefits of Ligue 1's successful proving ground.
In the Lyon camp, French midfielder Houssem Aouar has also been linked with English clubs.
The 22-year-old, who drew praise from Kevin de Bruyne after City's defeat, might not be staying at the French club for long, admitted Lyon's sporting director Juninho Pernambucano recently.
But Lyon's recent success was also borne from those perceived to be on the way down rather than heading for the stars.
Memphis Depay heads up a growing band of mid-20s misfits at the Groupama Stadium that have been cast asunder by many of the continental elite.
Even if this proves the end of their adventure, the "Farmers League" tag should still die with it.