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Left, Monaco’s Champions League finalists team of 2004. Right, Monaco’s team of 2017.

Written by Yani Ourad,

A unique football club in a location foreign to the normal footballing city. Rather than a population of working class, one in three of Monaco’s nearly 38,000 residents are millionaires. There are more billionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world. For this is Monaco, a tax-free haven where the richest of the rich come to bask in 2,500 hours of sunshine per year and where the life expectancy – just shy of 90 years old – is the highest on earth. The hallmarks of wealth are well-publicised: casinos, Formula 1’s Monte Carlo, James Bond film location, Arab princes, super-cars and a chopping cacophony of helicopter blades providing the instrumental for boundless lines of super yachts. This is the place where the 148th wealthiest man on earth resides, Dmitry Rybolovlev, the president and owner of AS Monaco FC. It was in fact, a trust acting on behalf of Ekaterina Rybolovlev, Dmitry Rybolovlev’s daughter, who purchased a 66% stake in AS Monaco FC in 2011 – the remaining 33% is owned by Monaco’s ruling family – the House of Grimaldi. The trust is the investor, while Dmitry is the club president.

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Formula’s One’s Monte Carlo circuit

AS Monaco FC

Monaco has been one of France’s most successful clubs, winning the Ligue 1 seven times, the Coupe de France five times and the Coupe de la Ligue once. In crisis before the Russian billionaire’s arrival, Monaco were struggling in Ligue 2but made a £2.6 million profit on player-trading in 2011-12, as their best players were sold after relegation. The new regime stabilised the club in Ligue 2, finishing 8th. The following season Monaco were crowned champions and promoted to Ligue 1. Aiming to re-establish Monaco as a superpower, Dmitry Rybolovlev and then manager Claudio Ranieri, unrolled a summer of lavish signings with Falcao the most lavish of all. Porto duo James Rodriguez and João Moutinho, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Jeremy Toulalan, Ricardo Carvalho and Eric Abidal completed the total summer spending of £146 million for Monaco, alongside a bloated wage bill. The 2013/14 season Monaco finished second. A complete change in philosophy – but to comply with UEFA’S Financial Fair Play Regulations – sales were unavoidable. Rybolovlev wanted to rein in the spending; thus in the summer of 2014, the wage bill was slashed and seventeen players were either sold or loaned out. Most notably; Rodriguez, sold for £75m to Real Madrid (for twice the money they originally paid) and Falcao on successful loans to Manchester United (4 goals in 29 apps) and Chelsea (1 goal, 12 apps), before returning to Monaco this season. No longer was Rybolovlev interested in signing high profile players and achieving immediate success. He wanted to explore a new strategy, and in the words of vice president Vadim Vasilyev, there were two ways to go. “One is either to invest a lot of money and do it quickly, the other is you build up an intelligent project and you have to base yourself on your academy and sound principles of working and scouting well.”

Interesting fact: despite being under a loan contract at United, Falcao said he would fight to stay at United for many years and become a legend…a LEGEND at the club. Man United opted against signing Falcao on a full time deal.

2016/17  Season

Monaco have scored 108 goals in all competitions this season, a staggering 76 goals in the league – after 25 games – with a goal difference of +52. They were the second team, a day behind Barcelona, to reach 100 goals in Europe after 38 games.

“Paris can buy the star players, but from our side, we make the stars of tomorrow”  – Dmitry Rybolovlev

The Monegasques are known for their academy, “for its brilliant players” Vasilyev says. “Lilian Thuram and David Trezeguet are players that came from our academy and became great stars. This is part of our DNA. We have made it a priority to really take young talents [sic] from France”. Vasilyev and Rybolovlev are correct. Monaco has become a European hotspot for talent development, and the summer of 2015 saw players sent to some of the most glamorous addresses in the football world: Anthony Martial (£36m initial fee to Man United), Geoffrey Kondogbia (£26.4m to Inter), Yannick Carrasco (£17m to Atletico Madrid) and Layvin Kurzawa (£19.6m to PSG).

Intelligent project

Bernardo SilvaAge: 22 Position: Attacking midfielder (Centre, Left, Right)  Goals 9. Assists 7.   

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“I think Bernardo Silva could be one of the greatest players in the world. He has a lot of quality…he takes risks. That’s why I like him. He can be the No 10 of the national team for years” – Deco

Unable to mimic the big signings from before, Monaco opted to focus on their youth and to sign young and cheap talents with the goal of adding value to them and selling them on; an approach that was brilliantly exemplified by Rodriguez’ replacement, then 19-year-old Bernardo Silva.  In the mould of a traditional number 10, the Portuguese youngster is known for his movement, dribbling ability and superb left foot. Bernardo Silva has also earned recognition from the footballing community for his achievements: He has won the Ligue 1 Star of the Competition, the Ligue 1 Best Player, Ligue 1 Most Assists and the Confederations Cup Best Player. A consistent performer who has persistently delivered for Monaco since his arrival from Benfica two years ago. As a result, he is already deliberated by Ligue 1 specialists as the best and most expensive player in the French league ahead of players like PSG’S Marco Verratti and Edinson Cavani. For those who do not know Silva, this is one of Monaco’s most coveted players, the artist behind every attacking move.

Thomas Lemar –  Age: 21 Position: Attacking midfielder (Centre, Left, Right) Goals 10. Assists 7.

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An immensely talented youngster. One of the players who symbolises the new age Monaco project is Thomas Lemar. My favourite player in this Monaco team and a player I always buy on Football Manager. I remember this one beauty of a goal he scored for me in the quarter final of the champions league against Juventus. 4-3 down in the 80th minute, I needed only one more goal to put me into the Semi finals on away goals. A corner headed away by Chiellini, is sweetly hit on the half-volley by this man right here!!! A truly memorable goal.  

“He’s a player I like a lot, he has really improved and he has become an important player for us” – Leonardo Jardim.

Having come of age, Lemar has played 18 times in Ligue 1 this season already, and his contribution is immense. The French international’s most glaring attributes are his ability and technique with the ball at his feet and his freekicks; ousting João Moutinho as the club’s regular set-piece taker at the tender age of 20 years old.

Elegant and inventive, he has quickly emerged as one of the club’s leading players. He averages more tackles won (21), interceptions (21) and goals scored (10) than Bernardo Silva in fewer minutes played this season. He has also a higher amount of chances (40). This player has the potential to become one of world football’s global superstars.

Kylian Mbappé – Age: 18 Position: Attacking midfielder (Left, Right) Goals 11. Assists 5

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“Mbappé is exactly, well not exactly Thierry Henry, but it is true that he has similar qualities and the talent is similar, the potential is similar”, Wenger told The Ligue 1 Show on beIN Sports. “After that, has he the same levels of motivation and desire and intelligence that Thierry had? The next two or three years will tell us that… the first signs you see are very promising, yes.”

Mbappé’s early career into football has been identical to that of Henry. Raised in Paris before honing his talents at the Clairefontaine academy, he became Monaco’s youngest ever goalscorer – breaking Henry’s long standing record – when he scored against Troyes aged 17 and 2 months.

“He’s one of our most promising academy players and his emergence shows we’re doing good work”, said AS Monaco vice president Vadim Vasilyev. “This also demonstrates that young players are given a chance here at Monaco…I believe that at Monaco we have the best sporting project in Europe for young players.”

Monaco’s Kylian Mbappé may be just 19, but the precocious attacker is already one of the most sought-after talents in Europe. He scored his second hat-trick for the club in a 5-0 thrashing of FC Metz on Sunday, 12th February.  11 goals and 5 assists in all competitions this season is a very impressive return for the teenager.

Tiemoue BakayokoAge: 22 Position: Midfielder (Centre, Defensive) Paris born, Rennes raised. Made by Makelele. Goals 2. Assists 1.

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“Tiemoue is a boy who needs a little more time to realise his potential”.

Interesting story to this player: signed from Rennes in August 2014, Bakayoko endured a nightmare debut for Monaco, barely lasting half an hour before he was subbed off in a 2-1 defeat to Lorient. This marked the start of a turbulent relationship with coach Leonardo Jardim. A relationship lacking in mutual trust between manager and player.

“From then on, something was a little broken between him and me”, Bakayoko told L’Equipe in December.

The midfielder then suffered a severe thigh injury in January 2015 that ruled him out for four months. On his return, he was given a rare chance to prove himself when Jardim brought him on for the final 15 minutes against Marseille, in a match they were winning 1-0. They lost the game 2-1. After playing just 31 Ligue 1 games in his first two seasons, Bakayoko knew he needed a swift and radical revision if he was to exploit his encouraging talent at the Stade Louis II.

“It was hard during two years that have served as a lesson to me. I know how I have to behave” said Bakayoko.

The results were remarkable, and not just on the pitch. Bakayoko changed the way he took care of himself too. He moved from a flashy villa into a more sober apartment of his own makeover, started boxing courses, consulted specialists about his diet, and even changed the colour of his car from pink to black. Although, he recently dyed his hair from black to pink. The guy loves pink.

“I don’t regret these two years, they have shaped me. Today, I’m ready to take up any challenge”.

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While his old mentor from Rennes, Menu, deserves some credit, the lion’s share goes to Makelele. The influence he had on Bakayoko is still being felt. “He told me that I had a tendency to get distracted. It was true,” Bakayoko told L’Equipe after heeding the advice of the man who defined the ball-winning midfielder role. “I took too many risks, but when you play in this position, you have to be calm and effective. He helped me channel myself. While the words of Makelele have helped form the Bakayoko of today, as a youngster, he dreamt of playing the more marauding game of Yaya Touré. “If there’s one player I admire, it’s Yaya Touré”, he said of the Manchester City and Ivory Coast star in 2011. “Because he has everything I would like to have in my game one day”.

Midfield general of the team, Tiemoué Bakayoko has completed 787 passes this season with a pass accuracy of 87%, of which 78% were forward passes. The Frenchman has helped transform Monaco into title contenders, providing balance with an energy that underpins his incredible work-rate. His ball-winning quality in the middle of the park is perhaps his strongest trait, yet it is his attacking game that is most impressive: 2.3 successful dribbles per league game is also a fine return, while a 70.6% success rate of those to attempt 50 or more dribbles in Ligue 1 this term ranks third.

Future of Monaco

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We want to be an important player on the European scene and be associated with everything for which the principality of Monaco stands”.

Dmitry Rybolovlev had lifted the club off its knees as it toiled near the bottom of France’s second tier. Since then, the Russian billionaire has promised to take the club back to the top of French football. “I think this club has enormous potential. I hope it can now realise this potential, both domestically and in Europe”. They are now back playing among the European elite and next week will see Monaco battle it out, over two legs, with Pep Guardiola’s Man City for a place in the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier competition. A competition in which Monaco came so close to winning. Twice semi-finalists in ‘94 and ‘98, they were also runners-up in the 2003-04 Uefa Champions League final, having lost 3-0 to José Mourinho’s Porto. Monaco may be treated as a stepping stone for some players, but this shouldn’t be the case. They are developing into a formidable force, under the management of Leonardo Jardim, and the guidance of Dmitry Rybolovlev.

This is Monaco, a club and place like nowhere else and if this project secures trophies soon, maybe the city will be known for Ligue 1 rather than Formule 1.

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