Monaco’s youthful resurgence offers reason for optimism
Monaco’s galactico dream is dead, but they’ve still got the makings of a seriously good team.
When Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev acquired a majority stake in Monaco three years ago, he had ambitions of following in Paris Saint-Germain’s footsteps and building France’s second nouveau riche European challengers. Back in the summer of 2013, when they dropped €150 million on star players like the Colombian duo of James Rodríguez and Radamel Falcao, it seemed the project was well underway. Had all gone to plan, by now they’d be cruising to the French title.
But, as Rybolovlev found out the hard way, buying your way to glory is one thing at a big club with a reasonably big fanbase like PSG or Manchester City, and another altogether at a relatively tiny outfit like Monaco. With a small stadium and comparatively pitiful attendances, it quickly became clear it would be impossible for them to stay within the new Financial Fair Play regulations. And so, this summer, their expensive squad was dismantled. The project was over before it had really begun. Rodríguez and Falcao left for Real Madrid and Manchester United respectively, and João Moutinho was the only true remaining member of the tragically short-lived Monégasque galacticos.
When they started the season with only one win in their first five games, it seemed Monaco would once again gradually fade into mid-table obscurity; their brief flirt with stardom never to be anything more than a bizarre historical anomaly. However, over recent weeks, young coach Leonardo Jardim has led his side to an impressive resurgence at both home and abroad. Not only have they won their Champions League group, but on Sunday they recorded a third consecutive league victory, only this one was at home to league-leading Marseille. Importantly, the defining characteristic of their recent upturn in form is its youthfulness.
Against Marseille, Moutinho started in midfield anchored by a couple of 20 year olds, Tiemoué Bakayoko and Bernardo Silva. 21-year-old Fabinho started at right-back. Spearheading the attack was 19-year-old Anthony Martial, flanked by 21-year-old Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, who could make a reasonable claim to have been the man of the match. Later in the game, 20-year-old Argentine wonderkid Lucas Ocampos came on and sparkled, very nearly capping his side’s performance with a brilliant goal. That list doesn’t even include midfield anchorman Geoffrey Kondogbia, or full-back Layvin Kurzawa, two youngsters who have already been capped by France, and who were unavailable for this match.
And, with coach Jardim having already shown the ability to encourage and nurture a youthful squad in his short but successful time at Sporting Lisbon, they seem to have the right man in charge.
While Monaco’s dream of building a World XI of superstars has been smashed, there’s still reason for optimism in the principality. Indeed, Marseille’s brilliant exploits with an equally raw squad this season show that talent and tactical nous can still trump a PSG team that, on paper, looks domestically peerless. They’re going to have to take the long, difficult Borussia Dortmund route rather than the Real Madrid one, but if they are patient and hold onto their young starlets, Monaco could still have a squad of players eventually capable of challenging for Ligue 1 glory.