VALERY HACHE/Getty Images
“Sous les paves, la plage.” That famous phrase, immortalised in the Paris student protests of 1968 (meaning “under the paving stones, the beach”), is one that might come to mind for supporters of AS Monaco this summer.
As their side—which has thrilled the continent throughout the campaign—stands on the brink of glory in league, cup and Champions League, they also face what is likely to be a last hurrah of sorts.
Those fans, small in number but present and vocal throughout their team’s European adventure, hope that the ride will continue into the last four after Wednesday’s quarter-final return leg with Borussia Dortmund, with them hosting with a 3-2 advantage from a surreal away leg.
They will also hope that, when the rocks of their side are peeled away, something new, fun and appealing is revealed underneath.
For that exodus is, unfortunately, inevitable. Monaco vice-president Vadim Vasilyev, who runs the club day-to-day on behalf of billionaire owner Dmitry Rybolovlev, is preparing to field major offers for stars including Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Fabinho, full-backs Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy and Tiemoue Bakayoko.
All this group’s tremendous performances this season have done is intensify strong interest in them that was already there, with Mbappe and Thomas Lemar the subject of late summer bids last year from Manchester City and Atletico Madrid, per L’Equipe.
You would have to own the mother of all crystal balls to accurately predict the Monaco starting XI for the weekend of August 4, when season 2017-18 gets underway.
Antonio Cordon, the successor to Luis Campos (now at Lille OSC, preparing for the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa) as sporting director, is already busy behind the scenes, finding fillers for the holes that will appear.
According to L’Equipe, rising Anderlecht midfield star Youri Tielemans, who has been in dazzling form this season, is on Cordon’s list—probably to replace Lemar.
They’ve been here before, of course. If we project back to the last great Monaco side—Didier Deschamps’ 2003-04 Champions League finalists—the parallels are clear. In the aftermath of their final heartbreak against Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto in Gelsenkirchen, Ludovic Giuly, Jerome Rothen and Dado Prso were sold, while Fernando Morientes and Edouard Cisse went back to their parent clubs.
JACQUES MUNCH/Getty Images
For today’s Monaco, the link with that era is perhaps less relevant—from a business perspective, at least—than the connection with their opponents from the 2004 final. Les Monegasques’ modus operandi has changed from the free-spending times when they were promoted back to the top flight in 2013 under Claudio Ranieri.
The signings of Falcao, Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez cost €130 million just between the three of them, while Jeremy Toulalan, Eric Abidal and a teenage Anthony Martial were also drafted in. Not without reason were their clashes with Paris Saint-Germain that season billed in some quarters as “El Cashico.”
Things changed radically for two reasons; firstly, the shadow of financial fair play hanging over the club and secondly (and even more pertinently), the divorce that owner Rybolovlev went through, with a Swiss court originally awarding his ex-wife, Elena, a record-breaking $4.5 million in 2014. An undisclosed compromise figure was later reached, in 2015, after Rybolovlev got the amount reduced on appeal, per Forbes, but it wasn’t cheap.
Subsequently, Monaco moved away from the aim of being a boutique plaything towards something far more resembling a viable business.
As they sought out elite young talent to supplement their perpetually excellent academy products, commentators in France started referring to the club as Ligue 1’s answer to Porto, such as in a June 2015 discussion on L’Equipe du Soir, the flagship show on the newspaper of the same name’s television channel.
“Obviously Porto are experts at this type of deal,” pundit Yohan Riou said in the aftermath of Geoffrey Kondogbia’s transfer to Inter Milan. “Taking a young player and selling him on for an unbelievable price—like buying Kondogbia and selling him for €40 million. I think it’ll be the same with Fabinho and, in the future, Bernardo Silva, (Yannick) Carrasco, and (Danijel) Subasic.”
Subsequently, co-panelist Herve Penot’s counterpoint was an interesting one—that the French transfer landscape is nothing like the Portuguese one with (at the time, at least) third-party ownership still prevalent. “All of the money goes straight into Monaco’s pockets,” Penot said. So, even if the plan is to be like Porto, it could work out even more effectively in France.
So, when the exciting names start trickling out the door this summer, there will be few tears shed. This is Monaco’s model and as such, nobody at the club will be crestfallen to see this squad begin to break up. They are prepared for it. It’s just the business, and they’re fine with that.
A revolving-door summer is something they’ve seen before and something they will see again.
VALERY HACHE/Getty Images
Still, this season’s success has its roots in stability. Certainly, the defence is a different one from last season, with Sidibe, Mendy and Kamil Glik all joining up in 2016, but they were the only notable permanent signings.
The return of Radamel Falcao and Valere Germain from loan spells has been influential too, but what has been just as important is the fact that there were no major sales last summer.
This was Vasilyev (and, by implication, Rybolovlev) saying to manager Leonardo Jardim that they believe in the project and the squad; let’s watch them fly.
Last summer was about evolution, not revolution. Even Sidibe’s signing was a nod to that, buying in a top right-back to allow Fabinho to stay permanently in the midfield anchor role, with veteran Toulalan’s departure to Bordeaux an indication of the new hierarchy.
It bore no comparison whatsoever to the previous summer when, before 2015-16, 11 new players were signed for the first team—including Lemar, Stephan El Shaarawy, Fabio Coentrao and Rony Lopes—with the same number let go. Those exits included those of Kondogbia, Carrasco, Martial, Layvin Kurzawa, Aymen Abdennour for combined fees in excess of €150 million. Falcao and Germain, of course, also signed up for temporary spells away.
As the home straight of the season approaches, it is reasonable to expect a recess more like 2015 than 2016 on the other side. The rebuild has already begun by stealth, with 20-year-old Almamy Toure ably filling in for the ill Sidibe in the first leg against Dortmund, and Gabriel Boschilia expected to fill the potential gaps left by Silva or Lemar leaving when he recovers from a knee injury.
These players understand exactly what they are: commodities. Given that, they will savour every moment of this extraordinary campaign, to be treasured later—and they intend to make it last for as long as possible.