By Robin Bairner
It was almost exactly a year ago that the big-spending folly of Anzhi Makhachkala spectacularly imploded, leaving the team to fight a relegation battle they failed to win in Russia.
At that time, Monaco had already embarked on a big-spending summer, capturing stars with the allure of Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez – players of the highest quality. A year on, and the playmaker has already been moved on, while the project of owner Dmitry Rybolovlev has drawn to what appears to be a standstill.
Having spent lavishly over the course of the last 12 months, Monaco have added only Tiemoue Bakayoko from Rennes to the squad that finished last season. The teenager may be prodigiously talented but he is not of the same calibre of the world-class players signed last season.
And in the meantime, the wage bill has been slashed. As many as 17 players have left what was a bloated squad – admittedly six of these are youths moving on loan – but it seems that more could follow.
Despite the protestations of both the club and player, Radamel Falcao continues to be increasingly linked with Real Madrid. These rumours were further fuelled on Tuesday evening when he began following several of the Bernabeu’s finest on both Instagram and Facebook. In addition, Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, a winger wrought from the club’s fine youth system, looked to be on his way to Roma, although it seems now that he will instead sign a contract extension.
But perhaps the greatest sign of the weakness of Monaco’s position is the manner in which Jeremy Toulalan has been associated with Rennes. The defensive midfielder was one of their most reliable players last term, so for him to be so hotly pursued by relatively modest opposition for so long is truly concerning. Rennes possess little of the glamour of Madrid and only a fraction of the money.
Are these the signs of a dramatic U-turn in Monaco’s ambitions?
EXODUS | Falcao could be set to join James Rodriguez in leaving Monaco
Certainly, it seems that Paris Saint-Germain’s brush with Uefa over Financial Fair Play has at least stalled the ambitions of the Stade Louis II side, whose crowds remain pitifully low given the talent on display every fortnight at the modest arena.
But there are other issues at work, too. In April there emerged reports that Rybolovlev, the Russian whose billions have recently bankrolled the club, had started to lose interest in the club as his relationship with Prince Albert of Monaco became strained.
Additionally, the fertiliser magnate recently completed what has been billed as the ‘divorce of the century’, losing half his fortune (an estimated €3.29 billion) to his ex-wife.
CEO Vadim Vasilyev has insisted, however: “The club has a project that is enabled and has nothing to do with the personal problems of the president.”
In an interview with Monaco Hebdo, conducted at the end of February, Vasilyev said: “Mr. Rybolovlev will be installed at Monaco for several years. He is a lover of football and the club.
“His project is in the long term. We must continue to build the team and the project gradually. The project does not extend over one or two years, but over the long term.
“The objective is to balance the books in the coming years – as soon as possible. And for that, we will need to have very good on-field results and build a very good project. And I hope we will attract more people to the stadium and more sponsors.
“There was no longer an agreement on the project,” he stated. “I asked for three or four players to help the team grow and the president saw things differently. Later I understood why: he sold James, and perhaps Ferreira-Carrasco and Falcao.”
In truth, Monaco were likely helpless to keep James, whose stunning performances at the World Cup saw him rapidly outgrow the club as Madrid came calling.
“James is a fantastic player who achieved great things with Monaco and the club had no intention to sell the player,” Vasilyev admitted in the aftermath of the deal.
“However the time came when the solution of a transfer was considered to be the most beneficial solution for all parties.”
Having agreed a fee of up to €80m, Monaco knew they got a good price for a player bought for little more than half that price a year earlier, particularly as the draw of the 10-time European champions ensured it was a dream move for the 23-year-old.
The Colombian playmaker’s bumper move to Madrid has certainly eased concerns over the ability of Monaco to comply with FFP over the course of the next season and should allow for new coach Leonardo Jardim to strengthen his squad before the end of the window.
But there remain more suggestions that players will leave than stars will arrive, and if there is no significant incoming movement before August 31 then the rebranding of Monaco into a European super club once more will certainly be in jeopardy.
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