PARIS: The French football season gets underway on Saturday with players and fans well aware that some remedial action is required to patch up its tainted image after a disastrous World Cup campaign in South Africa.
The national team had a terrible time on the field, losing two of their three group matches and drawing the other.
They also hit the headlines off it thanks to a one-day player strike caused by the French federation`s decision to send home striker Nicolas Anelka after an abusive tirade against coach Raymond Domenech.
Not surprisingly the players involved, such as Marseille winger Mathieu Valbuena, are bracing themselves for a volley of abuse from the stands when they kick off on Saturday.
"I expect everything," Valbuena told France Football. "I understand fully that our behaviour and our performances have disappointed the French. This is normal. But at some point, we must move on."
However, his teammate Mamadou Niang, top scorer in Ligue 1 last year as Marseille ended their 17-year wait for the title, has played down the problem of fans booing the French players.
"It is just a problem for the French team," the Senegalese striker told L`Equipe.
"Half of them play abroad, the presumed ringleaders play outside France. It annoys me when I hear that what happened with the French team is going to have repercussions on the championship."
Whatever backlash there is looks sure to be short-lived, however, as Marseille, Lyon and Bordeaux lead the fight for the championship.
Last year it was a tight race for much of the season with Montpellier, Lille and Auxerre also in the mix until Marseille, who also won the League Cup, took a grip in the final two months.
Marseille, with Didier Deschamps calling the shots from the bench, again look well-equipped although the lack of transfer movement during the summer raises questions about their ability to make much of an impression in the Champions League.
The biggest transfer to date in France has been Marseille`s capture of Spanish right-back Cesar Azpilicueta from Osasuna for a fee rising to 9.5 million euros.
"It`s the economic reality, lots of clubs are suffering," said Deschamps.
Niang, who has been linked with a move to Turkish outfit Fenerbahce, is ready for another long battle.
"This is the toughest season for sure because Marseille are the champions," said Niang.
"We are ready for that mentally. We want to do at least as well as we did last season but that is going to be difficult."
It is two years since Lyon were last crowned French champions - the last in an extraordinary seven-season sequence of titles - but expectations are high at the Stade Gerland after last season`s strong finish in the league and an impressive run to the Champions League semi-finals.
"There are still things we can work on," said coach Claude Puel after Sunday`s friendly draw against AC Milan.
"We need to fine-tune a few things. We won`t be at the level required straight away but we have to improve in each match."
Bordeaux, the 2009 champions, are facing another year of change under new coach Jean Tigana who has taken over from the much-respected Laurent Blanc, the man appointed to clear up Domenech`s mess within the national team.
They will also wonder where the goals will come from following the sale of their Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh to Arsenal.
Of the outsiders, Paris St Germain, last year`s French Cup winners, and Monaco are as usual poised to break the top three but it looks like being a tough season for the newcomers.
Caen were promoted as second division champions while Arles and Brest return after lengthy absences.
They take over from relegated Boulogne, Grenoble and Le Mans with the primary intention of avoiding a similar fate.
BDST: 1045 HRS, AUGUST 02, 2010