Will Les Monégasques Ever Have Their Time in the Sun Again?

For a city whose very foundations lay in competition and sporting chance, and the host of perhaps the most famous sporting event in the world, it should be no surprise that it is also home to one of the major forces in European football. It has been far from plain sailing for Monaco however. Two seasons ago, after a period in the wilderness, it looked like Les Monégasques were back to reclaim their place in Europe’s elite, but recent events have made us reconsider that, or at least readjust the timescale. So where are they in the pecking order, what went wrong, and what does the future hold for this historic club?

A Brief History

The club, or the club that would morph into the modern AS Monaco FC, was founded in 1919. The following four decades were spent flirting with the professional leagues in France, before gaining promotion to the first division in 1953.

They only had to wait seven years for their first taste of real success when they won the French Championship and qualified for a European competition for the first time. The following three decades were characterised by domestic success, but disappointment on the European stage, where they were unable to progress beyond the first round.

The 1990’s were to be the most successful time for Les Monégasques. With Arsène Wenger and subsequently Jean Tigana and Claude Puel at the helm, the club continued their success in Ligue 1 and domestic cups, but this time they were able to carry on that success in Europe, reaching semi-finals and even the final.

With events off the field overtaking those on it, the first decade of this century saw the fortunes of the club decline sharply, resulting in their 2011 relegation into the second tier. That brought current owner Dmitry Rybolovlev onto the scene to orchestrate a recovery. And it worked. By 2013, Monaco were among the biggest spenders in world football. Back in Ligue 1 they were challenging for the title, winning it in 2016, and reaching the semi final of the Champions League in the same year. They followed that up with a second place finish in the league.

What has gone wrong, and why so quickly?

Will Les Monégasques Ever Have Their Time in the Sun Again?
Too much too soon for Henry. Photo by Thuymi Do CC BY 2.0

The most frustrating part for the fans is that that incredible rebuilding and progress was not able to be turned into consolidation and stability, and there are various reasons why the wheels came off. Some internal, some external. What are effectively the best 8 teams in Europe currently are defined by the Champions League listings on Oddschecker. The one thing those eight teams have in common, even more than massive investment (something Porto cannot be accused of), is that they have developed a team over several years.

The year after Monaco triumphed in Ligue 1, their subsequent second place papered over the cracks. In terms of top quality and week after week challenges, Ligue 1 is not on a par with its counterparts in England, Spain or Germany. It is possible to flatter to deceive, picking up points and maintaining a good league position until the harsh spotlight of Champions League football shows up your deficiencies. Just how far the team had fallen was evident in their performances in that competition, managing only two draws. That was as a result of a complete dismantling of the league-winning side.

Bringing Henry in was a bold move, but unfortunately one that ultimately did not work. The legendary striker was incredibly unlucky with the injuries that decimated his side, and was hamstrung by the transfer dealings in the summer where replacements for genuine world-class players were just not up to the task of stepping into their predecessors’ illustrious footsteps. An experienced coach may have been able to cope, unfortunately Henry was not and could not, and unfortunately for everyone involved what could have been a tremendous story and period for the club was stalled.

What Does the Future have in Store?

The first thing that has to happen is that there needs to be stability behind the scenes. Leonardo Jardim, if he is to remain in his position, needs to be given three things. First of all investment is crucial. They don’t have to again be the biggest spenders in Europe (PSG have shown that does not necessarily translate into success in Europe) but they need to target proper replacements and have the financial muscle to get them. He also needs to be given time and trust – two of the hardest things to be given in the higher echelons of football – to put a squad together. The basis of a competitive team is there. The team needs to be tweaked and added to, not torn down and rebuilt. The likes of Porto have shown that success can be earned not just via the chequebook. It just takes a little bit more hard work, time and faith. With those three ingredients, then yes, Les Monégasques could once again be dining at Europe’s top table.

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