Wednesday 17 May 2017, Monaco secured the Ligue 1 title for the first time in 17 years after a 2-0 win at home to Saint-Etienne.
Needing a point to be crowned French champions of the eighth time, the mesmerising young forward Kylian Mbappe, 18, scored the opener in style latching onto a fine through ball from Falcao, skipped around the goalkeeper slotting in his 14th league goal of what has been a remarkable and breakout season for the French starlet.
Forward Valerie Germain made sure of the victory in injury time with a tap-in from close range. The home side all but secured the title before kick off, with Paris St Germain three points behind with just one game to go and a far inferior goal difference.
French Ligue 1 Table
|2||Paris St G||38||27||6||5||83||27||56||87|
The new champions rarely looked troubled in registering their 11th consecutive victory and subsequently lifting a trophy that has eluded them since the turn of the millennium. As coronations go, their performance the week before – a 4-0 win over Lille – a pitch-perfect, a performance that was microcosm of the team’s style, attacking prowess, evolution and success it has produced this season.
Players such as Thomas Lemar, Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Fabinho and Benjamin Mendy have all written their own narratives this season, you could even throw in right-back Djibril Sidibe. Putting aside the brilliance of Radamel Falcao, all of these young players have encapsulated what Monaco have been about for the past couple years, a club hell-bent on bringing through youth. Remember players such as Anthony Martial and James Rodriguez? Yeah, these guys. Even if these talents aren’t home grown, Bakayoko and Bernardo Silva for example – moulding and nurturing them into household names, almost overnight on the back of an unlikely title and en even improbable run to the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Throw in the experienced players such as Radamel Falcao, Danijel Subasic, Kamil Gilk, Joao Moutinho and Valerie Germain, coach Leonardo Jardim has managed to expertly blend in experience with youth to create a side worthy of blowing any of the big sides in Europe – fair enough they were outplayed and outclassed by Juventus in the semi-final, but they did give the Italian giants a run for their money at certain points in the tie.
Fair play to Jardim, for getting the best out of Radamel Falcao who looked a lost cause in the Premier League during his time at Manchester United and Chelsea, has been reinvigorated scoring 28 goals in 41 appearances – returning to the kind of form that labelled him the best forward in Europe in his glory days at FC Porto and Atletico Madrid, offering a firm rebuke at his critics that still linger in England.
Still only 21, left-winger Thomas Lemar has overcome doubts and questions about his size and goal-scoring abilities to become – along with Bernardo Silva – one of Monaco’s most creative fulcrums as well as his break into the French squad. Only three players in Ligue 1 has recorded more assists than Lemar – a total of 9 assists and also 9 goals in the process, a remarkable return for a player slowly finding his awesome potential.
On the other wing, is Bernardo Silva who has shaken off the injury that kept him out of last year’s tournament Euro 2016 to perhaps become the best playmaker in France. His stats over the season tell its own story – a player who has been brimming with confidence ever since the start of the season – 8 goals, creating 58 chances, laying on nine assists for his teammates, completing 897 passes with a pass completion rate of 81%, of which 71% of those passes have been forward attempts. No wonder why clubs such as Manchester United and Barcelona have been sniffing down his neck since the turn of the year.
Of all the young crop of stars in this Monaco side, Silva is the most likely to depart the Stade Louis II with Jose Mourinho sharing the same agent as the Portuguese starlet. It is believed Mourinho feels Silva can be the player to take United to the next level in the Premier League – adding the sort of thrust and quality to their game, a quality they have sorely missed this season, as a result, failing to mount a serious assault on the Premier League title many expected when Mourinho signed.
Whatever happens, Jardim will hope his young starlets stay another year after such a remarkable season.
Then there’s probably the hottest young prospect in the whole of European football, Kylian Mbappe. He has caught the eye from a number of suitors around Europe including Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Real Madrid. 21 goals for a player of his age is no joke, then if you add in his 6 goals in the Champions League – 5 in the last 5 in the Knockout stages meant he was the youngest ever player ever to reach that feat in the Knockout phase. Truly outstanding for a player so young. It’s not only his scoring prowess but the way in which he goes about his business. The way he weaves past his markers with consummate ease, using his skill, speed and agility to bombard his opponents. He sure ain’t the finished article yet, but he is a true representation of Monaco’s progress and evolution over the past few years.
The size of Monaco’s achievement should not be understated. Yes, they too have a billionaire owner and resources to recruit and hone outstanding players, but their operating budget is still roughly a third of Paris Saint-Germain’s.
Certainly, most of their players aren’t home-grown or brought through the academy ranks but the club and Coach Leonardo Jardim must take huge credit for nurturing these players into world beaters. Fabinho was scouted from mid-table Portuguese side Rio Ave (initially on loan) and has been a revelation since his switch from right-back to midfielder resulting in major interest from Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Kamil Gilk was hardly the most astute defender at Serie A side Torino, but he’s been outstanding. Left-back Benjamin Mendy has massively improved since his move from Marseille. Jemerson has been a steel alongside Gilk in central defence, and he only joined the club from Atletico Miniero last summer. All in all, Leonardo Jardim has redesigned and re-invigorated these players into one of Europe’s most exciting teams while wiping away the misery of finishing an astonishing 30 point lead from Paris Saint-Germain last season. This title has been majestically won, not bought, and rightly so.
When Monaco spent upwards of $160million on players in a single transfer window four years ago, it appeared that French football had a new powerhouse in town. The club had only been promoted to Ligue 1, but utilized the resources of a Russian Prince, Dmitry Rybolovlev to secure the signatures of world class talent such as James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao. A second place finish followed, as fans revelled in a long awaited challenger to the Qatari wealth of Paris Saint-Germain. However, Monaco were unable to maintain their spending power and had abandoned its lavish spending, and one by one, those ‘Galactico’ signings departed.
PSG, meanwhile, continued to lure the some of the best players in the world to the French capital, utterly dominating French football and wrapping up last season’s Ligue 1 title by early March. Over 30 points clear of their nearest challengers in 2015/16, PSG’s star studded squad were expected to look down on their closest rivals once again.
How wrong the were.
In an era of super agents and the trend of spending big buck to secure ‘World Class’ talent. Monaco’s CEO Vadim Vasilyev has abandoned those traditions and has gone for all for a more grass roots approach. In a game where a former leading British pundit famously once stated “you can’t win anything with kids,” Monaco ended the season atop the French League comfortably 8 points in front of their Mega-rich rivals.
So what is the next step for these brilliant group of young stars? Questions have been inevitably been raised on the sustainability of an exciting Monaco project. Will they keep some of their young stars this summer? Over the course of the year, widespread reports rapidly emerging surrounding the futures of the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Fabinho, Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva and Thomas Lemar. Three of those most likely to leave, Bakayoko who has been attracting much interest from Antonio Conte at Chelsea. As stated previously, Bernardo Silva reportedly on the verge of completing a move to Manchester United for a fee of around £70million. Last of all, Benjamin Mendy could be on his way also, with Manchester City and United interested in his services after an outstanding season at Left-back. Even coach Jardim has been subject of intense speculation recently regarding a move to Arsenal replacing Wenger but those rumours seem to have weathered down much to the joy of the Monaco board.
These rumours are just a few of the dozen making the rounds, but the club are already planning for the future with highly-rated Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans joining the club for a fee of around £21million. An attack-minded central midfielder, his tactical versatility and eye for goal make him an ideal replacement for Bakayoko, even if he does not possess as much physical presence.
More players are sure to follow, but Monaco also have an impressive stable of players out on loan as well. Allan Saint-Maximin’s dazzling ability on the ball has impressed at Bastia, while Corentin Jean and Rony Lopes have also looked good in flashes. Malian midfielder Adama Traoré, a former U-20 World Cup Golden Ball winner, remains an intriguing if erratic prospect.
Many are afraid the club will not be able to carry on its dominance at the top of Ligue 1 for much longer, but the club itself are confident they sustain its challenge despite the supposed mass exodus expected to occur this summer, but the lack of competition for Ligue 1’s top places, at least compared with the Premier League, allows the team to attract young players who have proven themselves to some extent but are not yet full fledged stars. There are some stories emerging that they might just be able to keep some of their star players this summer. If that’s to happen, expect them to challenge PSG again next year and sustain another assault on the Champions League.
As Leicester City remarkably won the Premier League last season without the trend of splashing the cash, Monaco have followed suit – instead, nurturing and moulding emerging talents into League champions. You don’t need the riches to succeed.