In recent years, AS Monaco have re-established themselves as one of France’s, and indeed Europe’s, elite. They have managed to finish within the top three in each of the last four seasons domestically and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League last year giving them their best performance in Europe since reaching the final of the competition in 2004. When the club suffered a shock relegation to Ligue 2 in 2010/11, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev became the principal owner and pumped money into the squad. A large part of their revival and success can be put down to this investment, but smart management and purchases have pushed the club even further.
Although Monaco benefit from strong finances and success in France, each summer key members of the squad leave for pastures new. One of the most impressive parts of their recent success is their ability to replace those players with relative ease. In the summer of 2014, they lost James Rodríguez, Radamel Falcao and Emmanuel Rivière to foreign clubs. These players were the three top goalscorers that season. Bernardo Silva, among others, was brought in and Anthony Martial was promoted to a more senior role within the team. These two players finished as the top scorers that season.
In the most recent transfer window, Monaco have been at the centre of attention for European talent. Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy joined Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium, Chelsea bought Tiémoué Bakayoko, and Kylian Mbappé has been loaned to Paris Saint Germain with an obligatory purchase clause for next season in his contract. If the rumoured fee of £165m for Mbappé is to be believed, Monaco will have brought in over £320m in player sales alone in the last two months.
Having this money is one thing, but being able to reinvest is another. Fortunately for the club, their manager Leonardo Jardim looks capable of doing exactly that. This summer Monaco rejuvenated their attack with the highly rated youngsters Adama Diakhaby, Youri Tielemans and Keita Baldé, who joined for just over £60m combined. Diakhaby has one goal and two assists in three league appearances this campaign, Tielemans already has four Belgium caps under his belt at the tender age of 20, and Baldé was only outscored by two other under 23 year olds in Europe’s five major leagues last season. Jardim did opt for some experience up front too, adding Stevan Jovetic to the ranks, but it is easy to see that his emphasis is on budding, young footballers.
Monaco have a good recent tradition of giving game time to younger players. This promise of regular football at a Champions League club is quite the attraction for Europe’s future stars. It is rumoured that Tielemans turned down both Manchester clubs among others to make a move to the Côte d’Azur. They have started the season perfectly with three wins, but the real challenge for Monaco will be keeping hold of these young talents for more than one season; after all, Martial and Mbappé were both snapped up after just one season of regular first team football.
Another reason for the sustained strong league campaign performances is retaining vital players. Last season, six players from Monaco made the Ligue 1 team of the season. Three of these (Mbappé, Mendy and Bernardo Silva) were sold in lucrative deals, but those who remained (Subasic, Sidibe and Glik) were just as important, if not more so, to the title winners. Glik is often considered to be among the best centre halves in the league and Sidibe is beginning to cement his position in the France national team at right back. Jardim has shown that he can balance his priorities in the squad in this way, sanctioning the sales of players who he knows that he can replace, and keeping hold of other crucial members of the team.
Another important player that remained at Stade Louis II was Thomas Lemar. We were given a glimpse of the Frenchman’s future when he struck twice against the Netherlands in a World Cup qualifier last week. Despite rumours of bids being accepted, eventually Lemar stayed at Monaco and he will be a major part of any success this season.
Monaco have their work cut out this campaign with PSG spending even larger sums of money to bolster their already stellar squad. Neymar is already making a large impression in Ligue 1 and Mbappé will add even more pace and trickery to the Parisian attack. But Monaco have kept pace with them so far, with both teams winning all four games and scoring 14 goals in the process. Though if they want to challenge for the French league title this season and in years to come, Jardim will have to do his best to protect his squad in the January transfer window and beyond.