Lyon live on without Essien
The end is finally nigh for the summer's most tedious transfer saga after Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas finally gave Michael Essien the green light to join Chelsea.
The ongoing uncertainty caused a shaky start to the season, although the cracks have been papered over by the goalscoring feats of giant Norwegian John Carew.
Yes, that's the same John Carew whose wonky radar made him a laughing stock at Valencia, where he managed just 20 league goals in three seasons. When former Liverpool coach Gérard Houllier signed him from Besiktas, he seemed to have 'Emile Heskey' written all over him. But six goals in four games have made him an instant hero.
Houllier already possesses a ready-made replacement for Essien in French international Benoît Pedretti, while the club have kept hold of anchorman Mamadou Diarra and set piece genius Juninho Pernambucano. Plus they are set to receive a staggeringly large pile of cash.
A year after Marseille picked up a scarcely credible €36m for Didier Drogba, Lyon will scoop even more from Roman Abramovich's vast coffers in exchange for Essien.
While Chelsea's enormous wealth means clubs will always demand top dollar for players, chief executive Peter Kenyon's tendency to overpay massively means the situation can only get worse for them. Next summer, €100m for Bonaventure Kalou - you read it here first…
Kalou presently looks the best player in France after making an exceptional start to his career at Paris Saint-Germain. The twinkle-toed playmaker has taken immediately to life in the capital, where the intense pressure has suffocated bigger names than him.
The chance for a wider audience to see Kalou's magical skills would be reason enough for neutrals to celebrate the Ivory Coast's likely qualification for next summer's World Cup.
Kalou plays at the Stade de France on Wednesday evening but, for once, Parisian eyes will be elsewhere. Zinédine Zidane, Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele make their international return against the Ivorians and have been charged with reviving France's own flagging World Cup chances.
It is safe to assume they did not come back in order to collect backside splinters, and all three will start against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin next month. A defeat would leave Les Bleus needing a miracle to reach Germany, although most Frenchmen claim they have already received one.
|“||God is back ”|
|— Henry on Zidane|
An anxious bunch at the best of times, French nerves have been frayed by a desperately anaemic campaign that sees them languishing fourth in their group, behind the Irish, Switzerland and even Israel.
Furthermore, France have not qualified for the World Cup for 20 years. They appeared in 1998 as hosts and in 2002 as holders, but suffered traumatic failures in 1990 and 1994. French failure is always traumatic, never simply disappointing or frustrating; the country has more neuroses than Woody Allen's entire back catalogue.
This is the climate in which Raymond Domenech has junked his modernisation of the squad and put his faith in a gang of fading greats with nearly 100 years between them. He even handed Zidane the captaincy, no doubt much to the annoyance of the now armband-less Patrick Vieira.
Makelele has the most to prove at international level. He owns just 38 caps and was a key part of neither the 1998 World Cup nor Euro 2000 triumphs, yet could be the most important of the three.
He will provide the usual impeccable shield for the back four, allowing Vieira to concentrate on creating attacks where recently he has looked vastly overworked alongside the inexperienced Rio Mavuba.
Eventually he acquiesced with a grudging: 'A French player cannot refuse to play for France.'
Zidane, meanwhile, may already regret stepping back into the limelight, considering the fuss over the mysterious presence that appeared to him in the middle of the night and convinced him to return. No matter that said 'enigma' was actually his brother; the story hogged the headlines for days.
Ironically, he only opened up about his late-night tête-à-tête to silence rumours that pressure from sponsors had forced him to come back.
The quiet, thoughtful Zidane has better things to do than justify himself to the press, and such attention was surely a major factor behind his initial retirement last summer.