The UEFA Champions League Round of 16 not only delivered the greatest comeback in soccer history in the PSG-Barcelona clash, but it also brought some surprise invitees to the next round. Probably the most unexpected team to make it through to the next round was AS Monaco FC, who defeated Manchester City (1-3) in the return match, and qualified thanks to the away goals rule. Manchester City were the clear favorites to pass, because they had beaten Monaco (5-3) in the first leg of the round, and since the newly brought in manager Pep Guardiola had always gotten past this round in his previous 7 years in the competition. An amazing accomplishment for a team that just 4 seasons ago was in the Ligue 2 (French second division).
Prioritize the youth
However, Monaco never stopped believing in their possibilities, and perhaps one of the greatest contributing factors was the team’s youth. Of the starting lineup that defeated Manchester City, only 2 players were older than 26, and 7 of the 11 were bought in the last three years. This exemplifies Monaco’s new philosophy when it comes to investing. When Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev took over the club in 2011, he first tried to imitate the strategy of Paris Saint Germain owner Nasser Al-Khelaifi, of bringing in top players in Europe in exchange of large salaries. However, this initial phase only lasted until 2014, since then the club shifted its transfer policy and focused on bringing in young prospects with high potential. The idea was to develop young prospects into elite players, and that way in a few years be able to compete with the top tier teams.
With this new policy also came a change in the coaching department, the club opted to replace Claudio Ranieri in June 2014 despite his decades of experience, since Ranieri represented an old fashioned concept of football, and they needed a coach who could place trust on young players and develop them. Therefore a completely new coaching staff led by manager Leonardo Jardim took over 2 seasons ago. The Venezuelan born-Portuguese manager had recently had successful experiences in Sporting Lisbon and Olympiacos, despite only being 42 years old. In Sporting Lisbon he led a team of young players to the second position in his debut campaign, along with 25 points more than the previous year. Therefore, he seemed like the ideal coach for what Monaco needed.
Recuperate the investment
Not all players will develop as expected, which is why Monaco’s philosophy is to sell while the player’s value is still high in order to maximize the profits. Over the last few years Monaco has also been known for selling many of its players to other club on high transfers. This allows the club to recuperate the investment originally made, and that way use it to acquire more assets. Here is a table showing some of the most recent transfer, and it clearly illustrates how much profit the club is making.
Key players now
In the current squad there are many young prospects which could develop into elite players in a few seasons, but the three most interesting are Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar, and Kylian Mbappe.
Bernardo Silva is a 22 year old midfielder and Portuguese international. Silva arrived to Monaco from Benfica in August 2014, and has been a key player throughout this season. Known for his technique the winger has scored 9 goals, and delivered 8 assists in 44 games, and is increasingly being linked to a move to a Premier League team this summer.
Thomas Lemar is a 21 year old French international who mainly plays winger. Lemar joined Monaco in August 2015 after two seasons in Caen in the French Ligue 2 (second division). Lemar most impressive quality is his speed and the winger has been vitally important with 9 goals and 7 assists this season.
Kylian Mbappe is quickly becoming the player of the moment, he’s an 18 year old French forward, who has already been called up for the national team. The youngster is playing his first full season with Monaco this year, and already has scored 14 goals along with 5 assists, including 2 goals in the decisive clash against Manchester City. These impressive stats at such a young age are making him the next jewel in European football, and he’s been linked with moves to Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Manchester United along with many other clubs.
The success of the French squad hasn’t been limited to the European competition, since Monaco are currently leading the Ligue 1 (French national league) and have a 3 point advantage over PSG.
The next rival they will face in Champions League will be German squad Borussia Dortmund who easily went past Benfica in the previous round. The matchup is very even on paper, and it seems that both teams have strong chances to make it through the next round. The first leg of the round will be played on April 11 in Germany, giving Monaco home court advantage on the decisive return game.