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FEATURE | AS Monaco – continuity through change

After a sensational season in which their young side smashed PSG’s Ligue 1 monopoly, Monaco’s transfer window was bound to be fascinating.

Interest from Europe’s super clubs was rumoured early in the campaign and only intensified as they made a surprising drive to the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Virtually all of Monaco’s key players were linked with moves away.

The predicted exodus has not yet come to pass but Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) and Valère Germain (OM) have been sold and back-up goalkeeper Morgan de Sanctis left on a free transfer.

It seems likely that Tiemoué Bakayoko will also join Chelsea before long. Such losses would shatter most clubs. Monaco are among the world’s best players of the transfer market. They are not most clubs. After their 2004 Champions League Final defeat, following a fairytale run through the competition’s knockout stages not dissimilar to last season’s, Monaco lost a number of key players.

Dado Prso joined Rangers, Ludovic Giuly went to Barcelona, Fernando Morientes returned to Real Madrid and Edouard Cisse was recalled by PSG. Each had played in the Final defeat to Jose Mourinho’s Porto. In came Javier Saviola from Barcelona, the rugged Diego Perez and future Inter legend Maicon. Far from collapsing, Monaco finished third in Ligue 1 and reached the semi-finals of both domestic cups. In 2014, Eric Abidal, James Rodriguez, Emmanuel Riviere, Radamel Falcao and manager Claudio Ranieri all left. In their place came new boss Leonardo Jardim and Fabinho, Silva and Bakayoko — all heroes of the 2017 title.

This summer, Monaco moved swiftly and decisively to ensure next season’s title defence will be worthy of the name. The first signing, Youri Tielemans, was a real coup. The 20-year-old broke through last season with 18 goals and 16 assists from midfield as Anderlecht won the Belgian title. His long-range strikes were social media sensations but Tielemans was at the heart of everything Anderlecht did. His move to Monaco is a perfect one. His physical strength will protect him as he adapts to the new level of Ligue 1.

Having rejected Manchester City because of concerns over playing time, it seems as though Tielemans is quite sensible – or at least well advised. Tielemans looks young but he’s a leader and a winner. He has been nicknamed the ‘Baby Boss’ of Anderlecht and he’s as close as you can get to a sure-fire successful signing.

Zulte Waregem defensive midfielder Soualiho Meite was the next to join. A once highly-rated youngster, Meite’s career stalled with Lille and he spent the last 18 months on loan with Zulte in Belgium, before the Belgian side activated a buy clause only to sell him on immediately. This spell proved regenerative as he blossomed into a ball-winning machine. Strong, fast and big (6 foot 2 and 12.5 stone), the 23-year-old will be Bakayoko’s understudy or like-for-like replacement if the Frenchman leaves.

Veteran Wolfsburg goalkeeper Diego Benaglio also joined as a replacement for the outgoing De Sanctis. De Sanctis only managed one clean sheet last season, that in a 13-minute injury interrupted start against Fenerbahce. Veteran of over 300 appearances for Wolfsburg, Benaglio provides an assured back-up presence.

In June, Lyon’s Jordy Gaspar caused a minor controversy, signing professional terms with Monaco instead of his boyhood club. Having shone in the UEFA Youth League, Gaspar was handed a Champions League debut last September but when he refused to sign a contract, he was frozen out. Only 20, he’s an attacking right-back, capable on the left, with supreme physical tools. His technique needs refining but he may prove to be yet another shrewd Monaco recruit.

Monaco’s final recruit may prove their finest. Jordi Mboula, the jewel of Barcelona’s academy, was snatched for €3m. Mboula’s sensational UEFA Youth League goals, of which he scored eight, showed his serious talent. Usually playing on the right of the front three, Mboula has been described as a winger but is really a wide forward. Tall, deceptively quick and elegant, Mboula is reminiscent of a young Thierry Henry. So much so that he is nicknamed ‘Titi.’The prospect of Mboula lining up alongside Kylian Mbappé is tantalising for everyone except whoever will have to try to defend against them.

Five new signings will be joined in Monaco’s squad by a number of exciting youngsters returning from loan spells. Former Manchester City academy prospect Rony Lopes scored four goals and laid on four more for Lille last season and will be pushing to take Bernardo Silva’s now absent place. Allan Saint-Maximin, an endlessly pacy and skilful forward, completed more dribbles than any other Ligue 1 player at Bastia in the last campaign. He too will push for a place.

Monaco have done excellent work in this window. If they manage to keep most of the title-winning squad intact, they’ll have impressive depth. If, as expected, more big-names depart, Jardim will have the tools to build a new team for the title defence.

 



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