French clubs explain Ligue 1 concertina effect

PARIS, Nov 18 (Reuters) - The closest French top flight table for over 30 years is a sign of healthy competition and a system which is working, Toulouse president Olivier Sadran told Reuters.

Leaders Brest and second-bottom Nancy are separated by just eight points in the tightest major league in Europe.

"It is true that the gap between the leaders and the 19th-placed club is very small but that's also the beauty of sport," said Sadran who said it was good that TV rights were equally shared between the clubs.

"I'm happy that French football does not behave like the financial markets," he said.

Others argue, however, that teams are cancelling each other out by adopting similar tactics.

Sochaux president Alexandre Lacombe said French coaches have been copying the style of Aime Jacquet, who led the national team to the World Cup title in 1998 with a 4-3-2-1 formation and conceded only two goals in the tournament.

"We have a generation of coaches who, after the 1998 World Cup title, have put tactics ahead of the beautiful game," Lacombe told Reuters.

He said the recent economic problems had made clubs scared to lose.

"If you are in the relegation zone, you have a huge pressure so you cannot lose. So you just play not to lose. Tactics have killed the show because defeat is a forbidden word," said Lacombe whose Sochaux side lie 14th on 15 points, seven behind Brest.

Valenciennes coach Philippe Montanier is blaming this year's World Cup.

"Several players were still worn out because of the World Cup when the season started and the big guns have been struggling because of that," he told Reuters.

"Add to that a brilliant start by a promoted side, Brest, and you have a squeezed up league."

Stade Brest, Ligue 2 runners-up last season, have been surprise packages in the top flight with 22 points from 13 matches and RC Lens president Gervais Martel said that was a good thing.

"This does not mean our league is weak. It means that we don't have a big club, like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Chelsea capable of utterly dominating a league," he told Reuters.

"Does that mean our Ligue 1 is weak? Obviously not. It is highly contested, homogenous, tight. That's all."