Cash in or keep going – what next for Monaco?
For Monaco, after the euphoria of a league title won in brilliant style will come the realisation that this could be the start of a glorious era.
A thrilling young team coached by Leonardo Jardim clinched the Ligue 1 title on Wednesday, ending Paris Saint-Germain’s recent domination of the French game.
Having made the capital its home for four seasons, the trophy goes to the Mediterranean principality for the eighth time, the first since 2000 and the days of David Trezeguet.
In the intervening period, Monaco have gone from the highs of a Champions League final to the low of a stint in Ligue 2, but they have now struck gold with a group of players around whom Europe’s ogres are circling.
Teen sensation Kylian Mbappe has taken France and Europe by storm, while Radamel Falcao has gone from busted flush to a 30-goal striker once again.
Bernardo Silva was nominated for France’s player of the year prize and the likes of Thomas Lemar, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Benjamin Mendy have been transformed from exciting youngsters into some of the most coveted performers on the continent.
Cut down to size by Juventus in the Champions League semi-finals, at home they have racked up the goals at an alarming rate to hold off PSG’s formidable challenge, becoming just the fifth team ever to hit the 100 mark in a French season.
“We are aware that we have done something historic because the club had not been champions for a long time,” said Mbappe.
On the face of it, Monaco’s championship triumph looks to be the culmination of the project started when Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev bought a controlling stake in December 2011.
At the time the club were languishing at the bottom of the second division.
It has been an upward curve since, the renaissance stunning, but this triumph seemed unlikely when their project changed dramatically just after Jardim’s arrival in 2014.
James Rodriguez was sold to Real Madrid, Falcao loaned out, and Monaco went down the road of signing talented young players who could be sold on for huge profit.
After their run to the Champions League quarter-finals in 2015, Monaco sold Layvin Kurzawa, Aymen Abdennour, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Anthony Martial.
But no worry, they built again, their project overseen by vice-president Vadim Vasilyev, a Russian former diplomat, and the current crop has turned out even better.
– Will Mbappe stay? –
Close links to Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes have helped, but a lot of homework has been done behind the scenes to put together a side that has wrestled the title from PSG with a comparative fraction of the budget.
“Hard work pays off. We are seeing the success of everything that has been put in place,” said Vasilyev recently.
“Some experts doubted the Monaco project, but it is a source of great pride to see what Monaco have become today.”
Given the way in which Paris romped to the title last season, wrapping it up in early March, Monaco’s championship triumph is enormously refreshing.
For a club from a glitzy millionaire’s playground this is no fairytale. Monaco are no minnows, but in a modern game brutally dominated by an elite few, there is a risk that a great side will be quickly torn apart.
Eighteen-year-old Mbappe, dubbed the new Thierry Henry, has been linked to Madrid and Manchester United. It will be difficult for Monaco to resist an eye-watering offer.
Premier League clubs are keen on Bakayoko, a revelation after a difficult first two years at the club, and Chinese clubs could come back in for Falcao.
There will be comings and goings, but how many changes are made is the key.
Monaco face a dilemma between cashing in and risking looking back at this season as a glorious one-off, or keeping a team together and making this title the first of many.
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