December 2011. Sitting last in Ligue 2, the second tier of French football, AS Monaco was facing the worst crisis in their history only seven years after their successful run in the Champions League where they were only beaten by Mourinho’s super FC Porto in Gelsenkirchen. Known for its opulence and richness, the Principality attracts the richest persons of this world so it was only natural that, with the football club in desperate need of a saviour, someone would come and be the new Monaco hero.
In came Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian billionaire following the steps of fellow country man Abramovich, ready to pump cash into the AS Monaco bank in order to get them back to their rightful place, keeping in sight the difficult task of dethroning the now Qatari-bound PSG.
After getting promotion in 2012-13, Claudio Ranieri could hand pick the players he wanted to try and do something historic as would be winning Ligue 2 and Ligue 1 in back-to-back years, and for that Rybolovlev invested €160m in such stars as Falcao, James Rodriguez and João Moutinho. They ended up in 2nd, only nine points behind PSG, guaranteed a place in next year’s Champions League but still released Ranieri, in a move that shocked everyone. Was this another billionaire with no notion of football, chasing the results not looking at the long-term?
Explanation came during the summer, with Uefa’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules putting a break on Rybolovlev’s spending spree. A new form of investment was needed, but more than that there was the need for a new captain to take the steering wheel. There was definite surprise when, to replace Ranieri, Monaco went for Portuguese manager Leonardo Jardim, a man with no great experience outside his home country where he managed a 2nd place with Sporting CP. But it wasn’t his experience they were after, it was his sustainability. Monaco needed someone with proven ability to transform young players into stars, much like he did with William Carvalho.
All of the sudden we stopped hearing from Monaco’s big investments, changing to great sales like James Rodriguez (€80m), Martial (€50m) or Kondogbia (€31m), and these were the numbers necessary to comply with FFP rules, as Monaco was facing difficulties from UEFA officials, worried about the sustainability of the Rybolovlev’s project.
After a very poor start, Jardim was able to solidify the defensive side of things, something he’s a proven expert as his teams rarely concede goals against, and qualify Monaco to the quarter-finals of the Champions League but was still very far from challenging PSG. Same happened in 2015-16, with Ibrahimovic and teammates proving to be just too big of a challenge for the young Monaco team.
Jardim’s process is finally being looked at with the admiration it requires, as he was able to find in this very glamorous place the perfect park to apply his teachings to a bunch of young talented kids eager to triumph in world football. Monaco sits first in Ligue 1 at the moment, and created a lot of troubles for Man City at the Etihad, for the 1st leg in the 16-round of the UCL, guided by raw talents like Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar or Kylian Mbappé and a reborn Falcao. It might not be pretty to see sometimes, as Jardim’s focus on defensive solidity is always present, but they never shy away from putting some goals past the opposition, as proved by the 78 goals they scored in 28 games for Ligue 1.
When Rybolovlev took over, surely many people thought and hoped to see the big stars coming to the Principality of Monaco but there are no stars here. It’s the team that matters and their success is mainly due to Jardim’s ability to transform promising youngsters in world-beaters. And if they keep like this, the silverware will come running and nobody will care that the big investments didn’t last that long.