Week 4: A.S Monaco – from fighting fire with fire to Europe’s most exciting offense

Monaco. That part of France that is not really France. The Principality, known for its extraordinary riches among residents, its Motor GP and Formula One races, and ruling monarch. The football club associated with city; A.S Monaco, first made big headlines in recent history by announcing the purchase of star-striker Falcao for €60 Mio from Atletico Madrid in 2013. This venture was funded by Russian billionaire Dmitri Rybolovlev, who purchased the majority stake of the club in 2011, following their relegation into Ligue 2, France’s second division of professional football. While many expected Monaco to rival Paris St. Germaine following their return to the first division two years after their relegation, their expensively assembled squad (€160.7 Mio) finished in 2nd place. Fast forward three years, the tables have turned as Monaco claimed their first Ligue 1 since the year 2000. While millions are still being loosely flung around in Paris, the tide of change has come to Monte Carlo; but, what changed from a club that originally appeared to challenge the Parisians as biggest spenders in France, rather than on the football field.

 

To answer this question, we will have to take a look into the history books. At the beginning of the 2013/2014 season, Monaco, following their return to Ligue 1, spent €160.7 Mio on recruitment to challenge PSG. Their strategy seemed sound; out-spend their Parisian neighbours and success will come. Alone €60 Mio was spent on star-striker Falcao, and another €70 Mio on Porto duo James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho. The season began promising, but ended in disappointment as Monaco were held to second place, finishing eight points behind PSG. The lavish spending also seemed to have come to halt as owner Dmitri Rybolovlev seemed uninterested after failing to beat their Parisian neighbours. Or so it seemed.

Rybolovlev is not in the position of billionaire football club owner out of nowhere, and proved a keen eye for investment potential when he recruited Leonardo Jardim, a young up-and-coming coach from Portugal. Rybolovlev was aiming to replicate another club’s recipe for success, but this time it was not that of their French neighbours. Rybolovlev looked towards the transfer and development methods implied in Portugal, specifically that of the F.C Porto. The Portuguese club has a reputable history of sustained domestic success, along with an excellent record of extraordinary scouting and development of talented South American players. For many years, Porto has pulled-off deals for South America’s biggest talents, giving them a platform for development, to later then cash-in on them once they had outgrown their environment. Monaco themselves were part of that chain of events as they purchased the duo of James and Moutinho for €70 Mio, generating nearly a profit of nearly €50 Mio for the Portuguese club. Rybolovlev realised that while spending hundreds of millions on players may lead to success, it will drain you economically. Therefore, implying a more self-sustainable method of financial revenue that includes fewer costs, no immediate gratification but long term potential both financially and in sporting perspective is ultimately better.

That following summer is when the strategy took effect. James Rodriguez left the club following a dominant showing in the World Cup that led to Real Madrid buying the Columbian midfielder for €75 Mio. Record signing Falcao was shipped off on loan to England to save costs of his salary. Into the team came Portuguese youngster Bernando Silva, French midfielder Tiemomoue Bakayoko, along with several academy players, and the permanent signing of Aymen Abdennour. In total, from the 15 new additions that the club acquired through both transfer windows, only two were above the age of 25. Monaco finished the season in 3rd place, as well as reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Financially, the team generated a profit of €50 Mio through the sales of James, Falcao and co.

During the 2014/2015 season, Monaco generated almost €180 Mio through player sales. Anthony Martial was sold to Manchester United for €60 Mio, while fellow youngsters Geoffrey Kondogobia, Yannick Carrasco, Aymen Abdennour and Layvin Kurzawa almost €90 Mio together. These talents were replaced by likes of Ivan Cavaleiro, Fabinho, Adama Troare, Jemerson, Thomas Lemar and co. In sum, the 17 players Monaco acquired cost the club a grand total of a little over €100 Mio. A profit margin of nearly €80 Mio shows continued growth financially. In little under two years, Monaco had made back the €150 Mio that the club had spent in 2013, while still finishing in the Champions League places.

Yet it is the work of Coach Leonardo Jardim which should receive the highest of praise as he continuously managed to integrate new young players, providing them a base to perform and display their talents. Jardim continuously managed to get the best out of his squads, and it is this previous year where his work has probably stood out the most. The 2015/2016 off-season included the promotion of 17-year old striker Kylian Mbappe to the first team. While one cannot say to what extent Jardim was part of the tutelage of the young French forward, he must be credited for devising a system which centred on the young forwards clinical finishing and speed. Mbappe also had a great role-model from which to learn by the name of Radamel Falcao, the striker that was initially in-line to lead Monaco’s expensive purchases on to the field, was now leading Europe’s most exciting offensive team, filled with numerous youngsters such as Thomas Lemar, Bernando Silva or Benjamin Mendy on to the Stade Louis-II. The rest is history. Monaco claimed the Ligue 1 in their final home-game of the season with 2-0 victory over St. Etienne, while also making into the Champions League semi-finals, outdoing their French competitors in Paris.

This summer window is looking like another profitable endeavour for Monaco as Bernando Silva and Bakayoko have already departed the club for a combined €90 Mio. Their exits are not to be the last as Benjamin Mendy is continued to be linked to Manchester City for a reported €50 Mio, Fabinho to Manchester United for €45 Mio, while their star-striker Mbappe is considering joining Real Madrid for a record breaking €150 Mio. Monaco have proven themselves as both reputable footballing destination while being one of the most well-run clubs financially. The team has already replaced the departed with further promising players. One is none-other than Belgian sensation Youri Tielemans, who has impressed (understatement) for Anderlecht since his promotion into the team at the age of 16.

If the club is kept together, the sky is the limit. Having identified a solid platform and transformed the club, Rybolovlev can now reap the rewards of success that he envisioned for the club five years ago.

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