We are reaching the end of this season and, inevitably, teams around Europe and worldwide are preparing themselves for the summer transfer window. The focus for many will be on exciting prospects and young talents from around the globe. Here is a list of 13 talented African footballers who are going to be high on […]
Usually, when a football club becomes a billionaire’s plaything, it only heads in one direction when the money dries up: down. It wasn’t so long ago that it looked like Monaco could be heading in that direction, too. Instead, they saw an opportunity to reinvent themselves and with it, eclipse big-spending Paris Saint-Germain.
Before then, Monaco were PSG lite. Bought by Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev when they were languishing at the foot of the French second division, he appointed Claudio Ranieri to lead them to promotion in his second season as owner.
Once promoted, Rybolovlev used his connections and not-inconsiderable funds to purchase the likes of James Rodriguez, Joao Moutinho and Radamel Falcao, with the aim of making the principality club a force both domestically and in Europe.
Then everything changed. Rybolovlev and his right-hand man Vadim Vasilyev (Monaco’s vice president) realised that the big name signings weren’t quite taking the club to a higher level.
Hoped-for sponsorship deals and commercial tie-ins never arrived. Relatively sparse crowds at the club’s unloved Stade Louis II stadium didn’t improve. They also lived in fear of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations coming to bite. All that meant Rybolovlev scaled back his spending, and looked to cash in on players when he could.
In the space of two years, Monaco lost James Rodriguez, Lucas Ocampos, Radamel Falcao (on loan), Yannick Carrasco and Geoffrey Kondogbia.
As if losing the big names wasn’t enough, even promising youngsters were for sale. Fans were aghast as Anthony Martial departed for Manchester United. There was a new plan in Monaco. A focus on bringing in young and hungry players, and trusting the youth system.
That youth system brought through Kylian Mbappé. His name is on everyone’s lips at the moment. Strong rumours persist that the striker from Monaco’s youth system could be sold this summer for a world record fee. Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid are circling.
Though they aren’t all youth system products, if and when they leave they will all fetch transfer fees far in excess of what Monaco paid. Their names are first on the wanted lists of managers across Europe who are planning for the summer transfer window. It’s all very different from the days of Monaco trying to sign the game’s biggest names.
So far, the change in strategy has worked. This season, under the astute management of Leonardo Jardim, Monaco reached the Champions League semi final, against the odds. They also sit top of Ligue 1, three points ahead of PSG with a game in hand and a far superior goal difference, having scored 102 league goals.
After beating Lille 4-0 at home this weekend the title is as good as theirs – six points clear with two game to go, with PSG having to make up a chasm in goal difference. Barring a miracle, it will be Monaco’s first league title in 17 years.
150 – Monaco have scored 150 goals in all comps in 2016/17. Only Barcelone (160) & Real Madrid (158) have done better in the Top 5. Armada. pic.twitter.com/gmBvq4vMCT
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) May 10, 2017
All this seems a world away from the days when it looked like Monaco were going to go the way of Anzhi Makhachkala. The Russian outfit made headlines with signings like Samuel Eto’o, Roberto Carlos and Willian but suffered relegation when they could no longer rely on the owner’s largesse. Unable to spend huge sums of money any longer, Monaco forged a different path.
There is one dark cloud on the horizon. The likelihood is that this vibrant young team will be broken up this summer as Europe’s traditionally bigger clubs look to assert their dominance over this upstart team. But Monaco fans by now will know better than to be angry at the sales, as many were when Rodriguez and Falcao departed.
They will know there is a plan in place. There is a strong scouting system. And plenty of young players – like Gabriel Boschilia – waiting on the conveyor belt to replace any who may leave. Who knows, perhaps Monaco could replace PSG as the dominant force in French football. Securing a first Ligue 1 title since the 1999/00 would be a good place to start.
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Featured image credit: Gasdub via Flickr