The Revival of AS Monaco (video)

Just 9 years ago, AS Monaco – the French principality’s only professional team – competed in the final of Europe’s premier club competition, losing 3–0 to Jose Mourinho’s Porto. Monaco defied all the odds to reach the Champions League final, beating both Real Madrid and a Chelsea side – then managed by Monaco’s current coach Claudio Ranieri – over two legs.

As significant as Monaco’s run to the final in Gelsenkirchen is the club’s subsequent fall from grace. In the 2010/11 season, ‘Les Rouges et Blanc’ were relegated to the second tier of French Football for the first time since 1976. However, following a myriad of changes in both the boardroom and the dugout, Russian billionaire Dimitry Rybolovlev purchased a majority shareholding in the club in December 2011. Currently joint top of Ligue 2, only now are the 7-time French champions beginning to show signs of a revival.

In spite of Monaco’s success on the pitch, financial mismanagement and boardroom unrest underpinned the club in the early 21st Century. In 2003, the French Professional League ordered that Monaco be relegated to Ligue 2, owing to unpaid debts estimated to be between 53 and 87 million Euros. Then club President Jean-Luis Campora – who had been at the helm at the Stade Louis II for 28 years – claimed that AS Monaco’s wealth, forever associated with the glitz and glamour of the French principality and the Monaco royal family, had never been anything more than a myth. The club successfully appealed LFP’s decision and remained in the top flight, however Campora exited his post shortly afterwards.

Unable to attract fresh investment, those most instrumental in guiding Monaco to the Champions League final soon left the club as a mass exodus took place in order to pay off rising debts. The following summer, Captain Ludovic Giuly, winger Jerome Rothen and strikers Fernando Morientes and Dado Prso all departed. Then Monaco coach and current French national boss Didier Deschamps was soon to follow after a disagreement with the club President Pierre Svara and a poor start to the season 2005/06 season: there have been 9 different managerial appointments at Monaco since Deschamps’ departure in September 2005. Patrice Evra and Emanuel Adebayor also left the South of France for the English Premier League in January 2006.

9 years on from their Champions League Final appearance, Monaco already appear to have heralded a new era under the stewardship of Dimitry Rybolovlev. Upon his acquisition of the club the self-declared “passionate football fan” claimed that Monaco are a club with “enormous potential” adding “I hope it can now realise its potential, both domestically and in Europe”. For the first time this Millennium, Monaco are on a financially sound footing and at the time of writing, occupy the 2nd promotion slot in Ligue 2, behind fellow big-boys Nantes only on goal difference.

In his attempt to fulfil Monaco’s potential, Rybolovlev appointed veteran Italian coach Claudio Ranieri at the start of this season and invested over 18 million Euros in the playing squad, 15 million Euros of which was spent on 18 year old Argentinean Lucas Ocampos from River Plate. Ocampos, a rumoured target of both Chelsea and Manchester United, along with the likes of top scorer Ibrahima Toure, who has netted 17 goals in just 21 appearances this season are players that the club will be aiming to keep at the Stade Louis II in order to achieve progress. Monaco has long since held a reputation as being a selling club, having offloaded their Champions League stars as well as the likes of World Cup winners Thierry Henry, Fabien Barthez and Emanuel Petit and foreign stars George Weah, Yaya Toure and Rafael Marquez in order to satisfy the huge debts bestowed on the club. The financial backing of Rybolovlev should prevent this from happening as the club look to build for the future.

With an average attendance of just 4,281 spectators at the Stade Louis II this season – less than half of the average of 10,830 during their Champions League Final season – Monaco’s supporters have perhaps yet to be fully convinced of an optimistic future. However, having flirted dangerously with previously unthinkable relegation to the National division – France’s third tier – before Rybolovlev’s arrival last season, Monaco’s progress in the past year means that memories of the 2004 Champions League Final may not appear so distant and that once again AS Monaco may dare to dream of competing with Europe’s elite.  Their greatest challenge – should they achieve promotion this year – will be rivalling PSG whilst not contravening UEFA’s new financial fair play regulations.