Sport Other Soccer

Thursday 22 March 2018

Monaco have already performed one football miracle and they hold the means to do it all over again

Monaco rebuilt themselves after waving goodbye to their top players two years ago. Now, they look set to repeat such feats again as they prepare for another summer exodus

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Monaco have already performed one football miracle, now they have to go out and do it again.

The exodus of players from the Stade Louis II in 2015 was said at the time to symbol the end of Dmitry Rybolovlev’s ambitious project for the principality club.

That summer they waved goodbye to more than half of their first-team: Anthony Martial, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Layvin Kurzawa, Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco and Aymen Abdennour were all sold, while Dimitar Berbatov was released.

It felt like the end of something, certainly like the end of Monaco’s hopes of getting anywhere near the top of the European game. They raked in the best part of £150m in fees that summer, making it the mirror image of 2013, when they spent that much on new players.

But the pessimists were wrong. Leonardo Jardim needed just one year to recalibrate the team – they finished a steady third in 2015/16 – and prepare them for their next big push. Last season, one year on from the big sale, they were better than anyone could have imagined.

Champions of France, Champions League semi-finalists, and conveyors of brilliant, free-flowing football along the way. It was a triumph of planning, buying and coaching.

So the big question facing Monaco this summer is this: can they do it all over again? They are in the midst of a second exodus, one that could become even more lucrative than the 2015 round.

Bernardo Silva, the brains of the team, has gone to Manchester City for £43m. Valere Germain has joined Marseille and Nabil Dirar has gone to Fenerbahce.

That will not be the extent of it. Tiemoue Bakayoko, the midfield anchor, should join Chelsea for £35m next week, once Nemanja Matic has gone to Manchester United.

Even after that signing, Jose Mourinho still wants Fabinho, Monaco’s utility man, who would cost even more than midfield partner Bakayoko.

Then after all of those there is Kylian Mbappe. Courted desperately by Real Madrid, he will be the most expensive player of all time if he leaves this summer. It would certainly be a nine-figure fee and could reach as high as €130,000,000.

How do you replace players like these? That is the job for the new sporting director Antonio Cordon, formerly of Villarreal, who joined last year.

With the help of Monaco’s meticulous scouting network, arguably the best in Europe, he has already started the process of finding the men to help them defend their Ligue 1 title next season.

The big star is Youri Tielemans, the precocious Belgian midfielder, signed from Anderlecht for €25m.

Tielemans had been a regular for Anderlecht from the age of 16 and at any point he could have left for a big English or Spanish side.

He very nearly joined Atletico Madrid last year. But he wanted an intermediary club after four years in Belgium and where better than Monaco? Still just 20, he can run their midfield before leaving in a few years for another huge profit.

If Fabinho follows Bakayoko out of the door, then Tielemans will be paired in midfield with Soualiho Meite.

The 23-year-old spent last season impressing on loan in Belgium at Zulte Waregem, and was owned by Lille, and Monaco only had to pay €8m for his signature last month.

Meite, an impressive athlete and reader of the game, is expected to slot straight into Bakayoko’s role, destroying opposition attacks and starting Monaco’s own.

The youth recruitment does not stop there. Monaco is now such an attractive destination for the best and brightest in Europe that they can almost have their pick of brilliant academy products who want good coaching and a fast proven route to the top.

That is how they have landed Jordi Mboula, the brilliant little Barcelona winger who lit up the Uefa Youth League last year, scoring a goal against Borussia Dortmund that has become a viral sensation.

Cordon had long been an admirer of Mboula and, like plenty of La Masia products, he doubted whether the youngster had a clear pathway to the first team at the Nou Camp. Monaco’s pathway is well-established, so Mboula jumped ship. And with Benjamin Mendy lined for a move away too, Monaco have already recruited another young full back, landing 20-year-old Jordy Gaspar from Lyon.

It is not just about young players, either. Monaco have signed Switzerland and Wolfsburg legend Diego Benaglio to provide experience in goal should they need it.

Of course this is not the end of it, and if all the possible departures end up leaving then they will have so much money they will have to spend more. Dmitry Rybolovlev does not set out to make a profit.

It sounds implausible, for a team to sell all of their best players, replace them on the cheap, and continue to improve. But one of the best-run clubs in Europe has done it all before, very recently, and has the medals to prove it. Why bet against them doing it again?

 (© Independent News Service)

Independent News Service

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport