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'Monaco are the most exciting, young team to watch in Europe with the most underrated manager'

French football expert Philippe Auclair gives us his thoughts on the Champions League semi-finalists ahead of tonight’s first leg.

Kylian Mbappé (left) has been phenomenal this season.
Kylian Mbappé (left) has been phenomenal this season.
Image: Steven Paston

AS MONACO ARE just a two-legged tie away from the club’s second-ever appearance in the Champions League final.

The Ligue 1 outfit, who lead Paris Saint-Germain by three points at the top of the table with a game in-hand, have deservedly earned plaudits for their youthful energy and free-scoring style in Europe’s elite club competition this season.

However, having seen off Borussia Dortmund in the previous round, Leonardo Jardim’s side face their stiffest test yet in tonight’s semi-final first leg as Italian champions Juventus are rock solid defensively while possessing enough firepower to trouble the most resolute of backlines.

When Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev bought a majority share in Monaco back in 2011, they were near the bottom of Ligue 2 having been relegated the previous season.

Claudio Ranieri was employed the following year and the Italian manager earned them promotion back to the top flight as champions. That signalled a spending spree of around £150 million as Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez, Ricardo Carvalho, Joao Moutinho, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Eric Abidal and Jeremy Toulalan all arrived.

But that period of excess was short-lived and the principality club began to sell off several of its biggest assets in 2014 — around the same time that Rybolovlev was ordered to pay his ex-wife Elena a world-record divorce settlement of £2.7 billion.

A new strategy was put in place to unearth some of the world’s top young talents at relatively lost costs and develop them before selling on to Europe’s elite. It proved successful as Anthony Martial, Layvin Kurzawa and Yannick Carrasco were offloaded at a huge profit.

Now, from the current batch, the likes of teenage prodigy Kylian Mbappé, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Fabinho, Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva are being eyed up.

French football expert Philippe Auclair of France Football and The Guardian’s Football Weekly among others, spoke to us on the topic ahead of a recent event for The Blizzard in Dublin.

“It’s a remarkable story,” Auclair told The42. “But we’ve got to be a bit more nuanced about this because Monaco are themselves a heavyweight. They’ve been a very big club in French football for the last 60 years now.

“The club was nothing until Rainier became the prince and, with the help of Grace Kelly, he started to turn Monaco into a glamorous club, take advantage of the very unique tax regulations in the principality and therefore he was able to bring players in.

“From the early 1960s onwards, they were a big force in French football. This is the club that Arsene Wenger took to a European Cup Winners’ Cup final [in 1992] and who reached the Champions League final under Didier Deschamps [in 2004].

“They’ve won a number of titles in France [7] and they are a heavyweight. It’s true that they had a hard time and were down in the Ligue 2 under the previous regime but then you had the billionaire [Dmitry Rybolovlev] arriving and putting an awful lot of money into the club.

That’s not the Monaco that we are celebrating today, which is strange because it is still Rybolovlev in charge. The tax regulations haven’t changed and there are still advantages to them but what has happened is that the club has chosen a different strategy, which has been a complete success.

“It has been done in the most spectacular and beautiful way possible and by staying true to the DNA of the club — which is youth, imagination in recruitment and bloody good coaching.”

FRENCH SOCCER Arsene Wenger managed the club from 1987 to 1994. Source: EMPICS Sport

Portuguese coach Jardim has been in charge of Monaco since 2014, and Auclair feels he can take a lot of the credit for their recent success.

“I believe that Jardim is probably the most underrated manager in European football,” he says. “I’m convinced of that. What he has achieved at Monaco is absolutely stunning and I don’t think people realise that because you only see the end product.

“When he arrived, Claudio Ranieri had done some donkey work and got them back into Ligue 1, but what Jardim has done is insane.

First of all, he has stabilised the club and turned them into the most difficult side to beat. Then, in a single summer, he transformed it into the most exciting, young team to watch in Europe. It’s amazing.

“It seems they have an endless supply [of talent]. We talk about Kylian Mbappé, but there’s also Benjamin Mendy, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Fabinho, Thomas Lemar, Joao Moutinho, Bernardo Silva, Valère Germain and Radamel Falcao.

“Everybody knew about Kamil Glik but suddenly we are all thinking ‘he’s bloody good, isn’t he!’. What’s the common thread in this? It’s a brilliant manager.”

France: Paris Saint-Germain v As Monaco - French Cup Semi-Final Monaco's Portuguese coach Leonardo Jardim. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Regardless of what happens in Champions League over the coming weeks, it may prove difficult for Monaco to keep their squad intact but Auclair says they are already planning for the future.

“They will sell but they are clever,” he added. “What I hear about Mbappé is that they are going to keep him for one more season. The boy is very level-headed and almost as impressive off-the-pitch as he is on it.

“They could get a lot of money for Bernardo Silva, whom I thought was Ligue 1’s best player last season. They could also profit from selling Benjamin Mendy, so with one or two players going they would have €60-€100 million in the bank.

“And they’ve already got some great targets. I’m told, as they say, that Youri Tielemans [of Anderlecht] is on his way there. He’s a brilliant player.

“They are just an extremely well-run club and probably have the most imaginative scouts in Ligue 1. When I compare what they do to what some of the English clubs are doing, I just laugh.

“Everybody goes crazy about what [sporting director] Monchi has done at Sevilla, but look at the kind of players Monaco have recruited and the ages at which they have recruited them over the last few years.”

Con Artist, who were behind The Blizzard event, are bringing The Guardian’s hugely-popular podcast Football Weekly to Dublin’s National Stadium on 7 June. Click here for tickets and more information 

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Ben Blake

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