As luck would have it, two days after a wonderful match between AS Monaco and Nice on February 4th, a book about Dmitry Rybolovlev, owner and president of the ASM since the year 2011, was released in all bookstores on February 6th 2017. A secretive and discreet person, the man finally agreed to confide to Arnaud Ramsay, author of the book.
The book retraces the history of Perm’s former medical student. Arnaud Ramsay did not leave any stone unturned. The journalist had the opportunity to discreetly meet the president twice, once on his yacht, off the Mediterranean island of Skorpios, which he owns. The author talks about the president in an interview with Nice Matin.
Why write a book about Dmitry Rybolovlev?
What interests me is to tell stories, trajectories. And the character of Rybolovlev attracted me because he came out of nowhere. When he arrived in Monaco, in League 2, nobody had ever heard of him. I was amazed that so little was known. He was quickly compared to Roman Abramovich because they have the same nationality, the same age, but in the end they have little in common. As Vadim Vasilyev, the Francophone vice-president, seemed easily accessible, Rybolovlev is more in decline. There are stories around him: his divorce presented as the most expensive in history, the scandal of paintings, the fact that he went to jail because he was accused of having sponsored the murder of the boss of a chemical company, his career as a doctor. With all these stories, I wanted to get started on the book.
An interesting part in your book is the meeting you had with him on his yacht near Cyprus when he was running from the media.
I enjoyed meeting him. I started by encircling and approached little by little. I started wide: the presidents of League 1, Aulas, Calazzo, Triaud, then I approached the Monegasque circle with Vadim Vasilyev, Sergeï Chernitsyn. Little by little, he knew I was preparing something about him. And then I worked for a long time at France-Soir where I had a Russian boss Alexander Pugachev who had the same dislike and resistance to the media. Somehow, it made me endearing. I then sent the message to Rybolovlev that the book would end up finished with or without his approval. The important thing was that he did not stop people from talking to me, if he did not want to meet me.
However, you were able to see him for the first time in Monaco, in 2015.
Yes, it was before a match of ASM at Louis-II. I had already made good progress with my book and I had an appointment with him. I think he wanted to gauge me. So I found him in his penthouse near the port. He looked at me curiously, but at the same time, calmly. He was neither talkative nor seductive. He established a kind of distance. Someone translated the proposals. I felt something was happening when I told him my history with France-Soir and I told him that when you have money, the best way to lose it is to buy a newspaper or a football club. At the end of this first meeting, we had the idea to meet again but without formalities.
And then comes the month of July…
Yes, I receive a call from Sergei, his spokesman, who asks me to be in Skorpios in the shortest possible time. It is a scorpion-shaped island off Cyprus. I arrive within 24 hours. Two large men met me on the banks of the water and take me on his yacht called “My Anna”. Sergeï tells me I’m going to stay with Rybolovlev for three hours. I discover him in jogging trousers, unshaven, and he indulges. He answered all my questions, about his divorce, his life, his time in prison, his childhood, his fortune. He knew I had been to Perm, his hometown, for the book, he took this as a mark of trust. He did not evade any questions, even about his imprisonment for eleven months. Since then, I have not seen him again. He is a man who flees the media because he has nothing to sell.
Is he a good club president?
He manages the ASM as a businessman. He is not afraid of losing money but he is aware of the realities of football. Initially, he was destined to be a doctor like his parents and finally ends up a billionaire. He comes from Perm, which is not a sexy city, he wasn’t born a billionaire, he’s an opportunist in business. He was a unique son, with fragile health but ends up in Monaco in luxury. He has been portrayed as an oligarch or close to Putin, but this is not the case. Even when he talks about personal things, there is a certain coldness. He is a character of a novel. Unlike other billionaires, he does not spread his fortune, he is not a high-flyer. He is not seduced by his audience as a politician can be. And then he realizes that when he arrived in Monaco he did not master everything. He said it easily:Jorge Mendes was his front door.
What is his relationship with the Palace? We have often heard about a story about Monegasque passports.
Yes, he would like to obtain one, but it’s not completely necessary. There is a pact of non-aggression between the Palace and Rybolovlev in some way. We note that there are few Monegasques in the club’s organization. I think the influence of the Palace and therefore of Albert II has diminished with the arrival of the Russians. I tried for several months to contact the Prince to discuss his relationship with Rybolovlev, but I never had a positive answer. So that gives some idea of their relationship. They tolerate one another for the good of the club.They are two great figures who have found themselves in an alliance of circumstances. I think the Palace regrets having lost a certain influence with the club.
Do you envisage Dmitry Rybolovlev’s departure from ASM?
It is difficult to guess, especially because of his attachment to the club. I do not see him leaving immediately, he is established on the Rock. He is thoughtful but follows his intuitions. He has taken a passion for football, he has been here for five years and he has brought the club back to center stage. These people are out for blood, but he will not leave Monaco if they win the championship, for example. Since he arrived, the club has become more structured but he also wants to develop infrastructure. Everyone has made mistakes picking the right players, but the only mistake he has done since he began, was overestimating the club’s power of attraction, be it in marketing, ticketing or TV rights. So he’ll switch plans, he’ll adapt.
Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian Novel about the President of AS Monaco, by Amaud Ramsay, 256 pages.