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Dublin: 5°C Thursday 6 May 2021

12 years since a Champions League final, could Monaco be set for some overdue success?

Much has been made of Mario Balotelli and Nice but it’s the principality who currently top Ligue 1 and their Champions League group.

THERE WAS A time when Monaco were a consistent force domestically and in Europe.

They won Ligue 1 titles in 1997 and 2000 while there was a run to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 1998 and a 3-0 defeat to Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto in the 2004 decider.

Over that period they developed a number of supremely talented youngsters – Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Martin Djetou, Willy Sagnol, Ludovic Giuly, Patrice Evra and Emmanuel Adebayor.

Soccer - World Cup - Group C - France v Italy - Stade De France - France Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet were Monaco team-mates when they both were crowned world champions in 1998. Source: RICK BOWMER

But subsequent to the period of success, amid serious financial mismanagement and a litany of different coaches, the club suffered through a lost decade. In 2011, they were relegated to the second tier.

And as much as their standing and history meant many assumed they’d bounce back immediately, it wasn’t the case. Despite a well-documented takeover by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, things were still hap-hazard and lacking in strategy. He hired former striker Marco Simone as coach and then fired him after a few months.

In 2012, Claudio Ranieri arrived and the side breezed to the second division title. The following season, the Italian pushed the club to second place in the top-flight – a remarkable achievement given how Monaco were in the depths of despair prior to him being appointed.

France Soccer Source: Thibault Camus

Rybolovlev had splashed the cash after promotion. Monaco were back where they belonged – the top. So, he spent £60m on Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid. He spent about the same on Porto pair James Rodriguez and João Moutinho. He spent £18m on Geoffrey Kondogbia from Sevilla. And there were the inflated wages to pay veterans like Ricardo Carvalho and Eric Abidal.

But second-place wasn’t good enough and Ranieri was sacked. The team still had no long-term foundation as Rodriguez and Falcao were off-loaded to Real Madrid and Manchester United respectively.

But, what they did – in line with the likes of Henry, Trezeguet and Evra years before – was a couple of young players stepping up and impressing.

France Soccer League One Source: Lionel Cironneau

New coach Leonard Jardim led the side to a third-place finish in 2015 with Anthony Martial and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco racking up 22 goals between them in all competitions.

Both were subsequently sold for huge profit though Jardim still managed to get the team a top-three place at the end of the campaign despite losing a couple of star players.

And Jardim continues to work his magic, as evidenced by the current state of the Ligue 1 standings.

Despite Mario Balotelli’s performances at Nice making all the headlines, they’re not in pole position. Neither are Paris Saint-Germain. Top of the league right now is Monaco, owing to their astonishing goal numbers.

In 13 fixtures, they’ve managed 39 goals – an average of three per game. On Friday, they hit three again and beat Lorient.

On the scoresheet for the fifth time so far was a certain Falcao, who’s back with Monaco after his torrid spell in the Premier League.

The Colombian has been handed the captain’s armband too and the added responsibility seems to suit him, though he almost certainly feels he’s got a point to prove as well.

Most striking however is that Falcao isn’t the driving force at Monaco – it’s the continued faith Jardim has in his younger players, two of whom also scored against Lorient.

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Tottenham Hotspur v Monaco - Champions League - Group E - Wembley Stadium Source: Yui Mok

Signed from Caen last year, Thomas Lemar was recently called up to the senior French national team and the 21-year-old made his debut against the Ivory Coast last week. Like Falcao, he also has five goals to his name so far and scored the winner against Tottenham in their Champions League clash at Wembley.

A year younger, diminutive Brazilian attacking midfielder Gabriel Boschilia was also acquired in 2015 and signed a five-year deal.

But the real jewel in the crown is a player destined to have a litany of Europe’s elite chasing his signature.

Kylian Mbappé is just 17 and only signed professional terms earlier in the year. He was a crucial ingredient in Monaco winning the Youth Cup back in May while he subsequently went to the Under-19 European Championship with his country in the summer and scored five times as France claimed the title.

France Soccer Source: Lionel Cironneau

Comparisons with Henry are inevitable and Monaco have been careful to use him sparingly. But his talent makes it hard to ignore him. Also, it’s inevitable well see more of Mbappé because Monaco are battling on a number of fronts.

In the Champions League they’re currently top of Group E and unbeaten after four games. Next up is Spurs at home on Tuesday – a game that can confirm their place in the knockout round.

Monaco have certainly had their critics, especially in the last number of years with an oligarch fuelling a wild spending spree.

But their current success – just like the glory days of 1998 – has young players at its root and that’s always something to applaud.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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