Doubts Already Creeping In over Monaco's Sporting Project This Summer

Andrew GibneyFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2014

Soccer player Radamel Falcao of Colombia, right, holding up his new shirt during his official presentation after signing for AS Monaco,poses with sports director of AS Monaco Vadim Vasilyed, Tuesday, July 9, 2013, in Monaco. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press

Football is full of cliches, but they are usually there for a reason. One of the best is, “12 months is a long time in football,” and for AS Monaco, 14 months is even longer.

On May 31, 2013, Radamel Falcao was pictured holding the iconic red and white strip of Les Monegasque club, standing in front of the beautiful French Riviera backdrop.

Fast forward to this summer, and the player parades have been kept to a minimum, which has cast a doubt over whether Russian billionaire owner Dmitry Rybolovlev is still dedicated to the project that he has heavily funded since his arrival in France just under three years ago.

After winning promotion back to Ligue 1, last summer was full of smiles as Monaco quickly showed their intent. Experienced veterans Eric Abidal and Ricardo Carvalho joined to bolster the defence, and former manager Claudio Ranieri was handed a trio of superstars.

Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press

Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez signed from FC Porto for a combined fee of £60 million, and then, they added Falcao for a further £50 million. The spending didn’t stop there. In came Geoffrey Kondogbia, Jeremy Toulalan, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and Anthony Martial.

Overall, Monaco’s spending topped £170 million last season, and it had the desired effect. Ranieri’s side finished second in Ligue 1, an amazing feat for a side that had just won promotion back to the top flight. They pushed Paris Saint-Germain far, but ultimately, the club from the capital had more experience and depth in each position and stretched out a nine-point lead by the end of the campaign.

In qualifying for the Champions League group stage, Monaco were set to build upon their success and create a team that could not only fight with PSG for the Ligue 1 title but help carry the burden of European success for French clubs.

With less than a month to go before the start of the new Ligue 1 season, Monaco have so far only acquired two players. Centre-back Aymen Abdennour joins from Toulouse, although he has spent the last six months on loan at Monaco, so he was technically already part of the squad.

The other signing is young France Under-20 goalkeeper Paul Nardi, but he has been instantly loaned back to AS Nancy to continue his development. That would leave Monaco’s list of incoming players completely empty for the new season.

Thibault Camus/Associated Press

A whole host of players have returned from loan spells, but not many are good enough to step into the first-team squad. To compound the situation, veteran defender Abidal has left for Olympiakos, rumoured to be because of Monaco’s treatment of his friend Victor Valdes, via 101 Great Goals.

Abidal’s move could just be the start of the outgoing players.

Real Madrid are very interested in playmaker and World Cup star James, via Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph. Falcao could also be set for pastures new, according to L'Equipe (via Tom Conn of Inside Spanish Football), and French striker Emmanuel Riviere is set to complete a move to Newcastle United, via Damian Spellman of The Independent.

That would leave the club from the Riviera with Dimitar Berbatov, young Martial and Valere Germain as the recognised strikers. Not an inspiring list of players for a club trying to make an impact on the Champions League.

Rybolovlev has hit with a huge blow in May when a six-year divorce hearing was concluded with the decision that he was to pay his ex-wife Elena Rybolovleva a sum of around £2.7 billion, estimated at half of the oligarch’s estate.

Although the Russian has never stated that this would have any effect on operations at Monaco, after seeing the amount of money PSG have spent to become a force in Europe, losing half his fortune may have sent doubts into the billionaire’s mind.

Interestingly, only hours before the announcement of his divorce settlement, Monaco took the decision to announce the departure of Ranieri as the club's coach. It was relayed as a joint decision, with Vice-President Vadim Vasilyev saying Ranieri had done “a very good job” before adding: "It was a difficult decision, it's never easy when the results are good, but we believe that at this stage of the project we need to find a new dynamic."

Former Sporting coach Leandro Jardim is the new coach at Monaco, and it seems his first job will be to pick up the pieces if an array of stars leaves in the next few weeks.

The sales of Falcao and James could spark a host of players coming into the club, but it is going to be virtually impossible to replace such talents with the same level of quality. No matter whom they bring in, if both players leave, Monaco will be considerably weaker than they were last season.

Another cliche says that “if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything," but this summer, the silence from Monaco regarding the signing of new players and continuing their project is almost deafening.

Playing in a city where the population is around 30,000 already makes it hard for ASM to achieve crowds of over 10,000 on a matchday. Failure to grow on last season’s success may not be the only silence the club will experience this season.