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Journey to the final four: The dramatic fall and rebirth of AS Monaco

9:00 AM WAT 03/05/2017
Kylian Mbappe Borussia Dortmund Monaco Champions League 12042017
The Principality club risked losing it all but this week return to the final four of the UEFA Champions League, 13 years after their last appearance

The dream was over. They’d awoken to catastrophe. Overrun and outplayed, Porto destroyed Monaco 3-0 in the 2004 UEFA Champions League final in Gelsenkirchen.

"I'm disappointed for the players,” said coach Didier Deschamps. “They have done very well during a long, long season.”

It had been a very long season, one which the club had expected to play in France’s second tier after debts estimated by UEFA to have been between €53m and €87m had seen them dumped out of Ligue 1 in May 2003.

Monaco had spent big to try and hold onto Fabien Barthez and Thierry Henry. And even bigger to sign the likes of Christian Panucci, Oliver Bierhoff, Vladimir Jugovic and Marco Simone. Now they were paying the price.

After four frantic weeks, Monaco earned a reprieve, winning back their Ligue 1 status on appeal after securing new investors. To have gone on to see off Real Madrid and make it to within 90 minutes of conquering the continent had been quite an achievement.

"This is something very special because it's a young team," said Deschamps after his side dumped Chelsea out of the final four.

Patrice Evra, Ludovic Giuly, Emmanuel Adebayor and Jerome Rothen topped wish lists all over continent. In Deschamps, they had a young coach with the world at his feet. Monaco were a club on the up.

“I couldn't imagine our team playing in Ligue 2,” said general manager Henri Biancheri. He wouldn’t have to.

Over the next seven years, Monaco fell from third to 10th to 12th and, eventually, relegation in 2011 – this time for their failings on the pitch. The purse strings had been tightened and mismanagement cost them dearly.

Deschamps and all his stars moved on. A series of big-name arrivals including Freddy Adu, Christian Vieri and Mahamadou Diarra brought little return, neither did eight coaching changes in seven years. Halfway through their first season in France’s second division they sat bottom of the table.

Then came a saviour. From Russia with love, and with more money than even many of the Monte Carlo locals could dream of, billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev arrived to lead a revival.

Claudio Ranieri was brought in and the big spending resumed. Norwegian scout Tor-Kristian Karlsen joined as sporting director, setting the club’s sights on sensible signings designed to lead the club back to Ligue 1, and on youngsters for the future.

Monaco romped to the title and the following season the chequebook came out for real. Over €150 million was invested in the likes of James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao, Joao Moutinho and Geoffrey Kondogbia.

But PSG’s Qatari owners were taking Ligue 1 spending to unprecedented new heights. Monaco couldn’t compete, and wouldn't compete, despite the tax breaks they received in the principality.  

A bitter divorce and a costly relationship with a suspect art dealer is said to have cost Rybolovlev around half his fortune. Kondogbia, James and Anthony Martial were all sold. 

ASM needed to find another way. They turned to youth. “What I learnt during my time at Monaco is that the club had the best youth scouting network in France,” Karlsen told the Guardian. “Players down to the age of 11 or 12 were tracked all over the country.”

One of those identified was Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s leading scorer in the UCL this season. The 18-year-old Parisian was plucked from the capital three years ago after a spell in the Clairefontaine academy and has just been valued by the club at over €100 million.

He was joined by the likes of Ivan Cavaleiro, Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Boschilia, Jemerson, Fabinho and Guido Carillo – young, foreign imports with big futures – while a whole host of youngsters were recruited from the domestic market, including standout UCL performers Tiemoue Bakayoko, Djibril Sidibe, Benjamin Mendy and Thomas Lemar.

Monaco found someone to lead them, too. Leonardo Jardim, a former handball coach, was a surprise arrival from Sporting but is now being coveted by Europe’s leading clubs. “He's a very intelligent coach who reads games very well,” Falcao told “He's also very good at reading players and understanding what they need.”

Jardim gave them exactly that, unleashing his dynamic, full-throttled approach which transformed Monaco into the highest-scoring club across Europe’s top five leagues this season, hitting 145 goals in 55 games.

The goals are coming from everywhere. Their front pairing of Mbappe and Falcao have 51 between them. Reserve striker Valere Germain has 16 and no fewer than six players have scored between seven and 12 goals across the campaign.

It’s been a very, very long road back to the top for Monaco. Almost 13 years after their last appearance at this stage, ASM have a new dream. The future once again looks bright.

And they have the experience to avoid another catastrophe, regardless of how they wake up this time around.

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