Market analysis: player trading in Ligue 2

Analytics FC Head of Content and lead analyst Alex Stewart looks at trends in player sales in the French second tier

Ligue 2 has been a must-scout destination for top tier football clubs for some time. A robust academy system, especially at clubs that can leverage players released by bigger clubs with oversaturated catchment areas, makes the league a strong development centre.

Talent factory

Riyad Mahrez (Le Havre to Leicester City) and N’Golo Kanté (SM Caen to Leicester City) are arguably the league’s best and most well-regarded products of the last decade (although Kanté was actually signed after guiding SM Caen to promotion and playing one season in Ligue 1). But Laurent Koscielny (Tours to Arsenal via Lorient), Matteo Guendouzi (Lorient to Arsenal), Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konaté (Valenciennes FC and Sochaux to RB Leipzig), and Maxcence Lacroix (Sochaux to Wolfsburg) are all top tier talents to have been spotted in Ligue 2 before making high profile moves abroad. Indeed, Sochaux’s track record is especially strong, having also produced Marcus Thuram and Lucien Agoume, while Le Havre’s brilliant academy has also propelled them, helmed by manager Luka Elsner, to Ligue 1, with Arouna Sangante, Yassine Kechta, and Josué Casimir all coming through the Le Havre B side to reach the first team and valuations of €2 million or higher.

And there is plenty of talent in the league now. Using TransferLab’s Best XI function, we can see the best players in the league this season (with a 400 minutes played threshold), and the best U24s (with the same threshold).

Ligue 2 Best XI
Ligue 2 Best XI U24s

So we know that Ligue 2 will continue to attract the interest of scouts. But what about those in the market for clubs?

France and MCOs

With over 200 groups controlling over 300 clubs, the appetite for and growth of MCOs has been pretty exponential. And while top tier sides will always be the flagship investment opportunities, smaller sides with a strong track record of developing and selling players can be more robust investments, especially if groups can intelligently leverage the available synergies of multi-club ownership (although many seem to struggle with this).

There are a number of clubs in Ligue 2 in MCOs. City Football Group own Troyes, while Sport Republic, who own Southampton FC and Göztepe, are the controlling shareholders of Valenciennes FC.

Other clubs have been purchased while in Ligue 2 with varying degrees of success: RedBird bought FC Toulouse while it was in Ligue 2 and achieved promotion two years later, using a strong data-led approach to secure their top-flight status. On the other hand, PMG and NewCity Capital co-own AS Nancy Lorraine and have overseen relegation to the third tier of French football.

Even Ligue 1 is open for business, while John Textor’s Eagle Football Holdings taking over at Lyon and Chelsea owner Todd Boehly’s investment group acquiring Strasbourg.

Although Belgium seems to be the go-to destination for MCOs on the lookout for possible acquisitions, France remains popular. As Shiv Jhangiani, head of Strategy and Mergers & Acquisitions at sports consultants Sportsology, told ESPN in July 2023, “The French and Portuguese markets also see high penetration of multi-club structures. France are the biggest exporters of talent in Europe – second only in the world behind Brazil and offer direct access to major African talent hotbeds.”

Assessing Ligue 2’s player trading model

Many owners of MCOs see player trading as way to create value, whether that is within the MCO, or as a revenue stream that can then allow the club to either turn a profit, or invest further in facilities, players, or staff. If one were to buy a Ligue 2 club, how viable would that be?

Analytics FC has conducted an analysis of Ligue 2’s outgoing player trading model, crucial information for anyone looking to that market for a potential club acquisition. Aside from the kind of high profile names above, does the league have a robust trading model? What kinds of prices can players attract? And where do such players tend to go and at what ages?

The below heatmap shows all the outgoing paid transfers from Ligue 2 between 2017 and 2022. Some Valenciennes players have been highlighted as an example. The first thing that strikes us is just how many high quality players have come from the league, with many operating in Europe’s top five leagues now.

We can also see that there are two main clusters for player trading, a higher value one for players between 20 and 21 years old towards the upper left-hand side of the map, and a second, more voluminous but lower value cluster for players around 22 to 23 years old. While transfers dribble on to the upper age brackets, it is clear that the greatest volume of trades occurs before players reach 24 years of age, which clearly aligns with the idea that Ligue 2 is a great league for exposing academy players to first team minutes; if those players impress, they are quickly hoovered up by bigger teams. The ’emerging stars cluster’ is centred slightly after the age of 20 with an average transfer value of €6 million. This cluster contains the most interesting players, the vast majority of whom go to higher level clubs. The second cluster, with a €2 million, 22 year old average, represents clubs moving within the league, to comparable level leagues, or to lower leagues. For players under 25, the average transfer value is €4 million; after that age, it falls to €2 million.

This means that Ligue 2 is still somewhere to look for bargains, as such players can go on to do well, and the relative financial power of clubs in the league is such that they may find it hard to hold out for big valuations for all but the most-prized assets. Nonetheless, relative to club operating costs in Ligue 2, which averaged €17.25 million in 2021/22 (although with some significant difference between the bigger and smaller clubs) such a turnover could still represent good value for the selling club, especially if there is a ready cohort of academy players to step up.


Most of these players, however, go to Ligue 2, even if they then end up somewhere else. This is clear from an assessment of player destinations below, which shows that Ligue 2 dominates, followed by the third tier of French football. Ligue 1 is next, with just over 75 transfers in the 2017-2022 period; the Bundesliga is the only other top five league that makes the top 15 outgoing transfer destinations. This is interesting, because it shows that while younger players can be bought up for relatively high fees, most of those players are making the step to Ligue 1 and not often directly elsewhere in elite level football. Of course, we tend to remember the high profile (or high cost) transfers, such as Mahrez or Kanté, but in reality, few players are actually ready to make the jump to top tier sides straight away. Ligue 1, of course, is a great staging ground for players then moving on to the four bigger leagues in Europe.

In terms of external markets, while countries with strong language ties like Belgium and Switzerland score high on the list, it is interesting that the destination regions for departing Ligue 2 players is very diverse. Both Turkish leagues feature high in the stats (4%), as do other Balkan countries like Greece and Bulgaria. MLS also seems to be a major player in the market.

Only 3% of the players go to the other top 5 leagues (excluding Ligue 1), with the Bundesliga leading the way as observed above. Just 1% of the players headed to England (the Premier League and Championship combined) where clubs clearly prefer to buy from Ligue 1, in part because it’s much harder to get necessary GBE points in Ligue 2.

Nonetheless, although Ligue 2 might not present elite options for scouts in top five leagues, there is also enough of a reputation for producing high quality, lower cost players to see a really good spread of destinations: Ibrahim Sangaré went to PSV in the Eredivisie (and is now in the Premier League with Nottingham Forest), another Toulouse player Amine Adli ended up in the Bundesliga, the excellent André Cubas moved to MLS, and Bryan Mbeumo helped Brentford win promotion to the Premier League from the Championship.

Costs and issues

But, while that could mean that our view of Ligue 2 as a scouting paradise for the elite is biased by a few, high profile successes, does that actually mean much for club owners? In short, the answer is no. Firstly, there is a decent spread of player sales among clubs, and players such as Serhou Guirassy, who bounced around a few sides before excelling at Amiens and catching the eye of Rennes, can make a good profit. And while there seems to be a ceiling on valuations, with only three breaking the €10 million mark (and all of those to Ligue 1 clubs), there is plenty of business in the healthy €3 million area.

However, a note of caution: given that the French internal market is Ligue 2’s strongest, the overall health of French football should be a concern. As you can see below, there is an overall decline in fees paid, a picture born out by research done by LFP themselves: this shows that while foreign sales between 2018/19 and 2021/22 have trended slightly down, sales within France have declined steeply. This is one of the issues with player trading models as a revenue source: football’s interdependent ecosystem is not all that robust, and issues such as media rights in Ligue 1, or external factors such as the pandemic of 2020-2021, can cause massive issues. That said, players sales can still be a good source of revenue, especially if the players are developed from an academy set-up.


If you thought the point of this article was to show that you should buy a Ligue 2 club, then perhaps you are disappointed. But, with an increasing appetite for club acquisition, and trading models being so central to the rationale for making a club part of an MCO group, this kind of analysis is absolutely crucial. Sporting due diligence can take the form of assessing the club itself, its squad, facilities, and staff, for example. But an appreciation of context, of the league’s trading flows and pricing structures, is just as important. Clubs do not operate within a vacuum, and any owner seeking to use player trading to enhance a club’s revenue model needs to be aware of exactly this kind of analysis.

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