Two years after sweeping aside some of Europe’s best teams, Monaco could become the continent’s laughing stock.
A Champions League semifinalist in 2017, Monaco is in danger of dropping into the French league’s second division. Following this weekend’s 1-0 loss at Nimes, the Principality team is in 17th place with two matches left, above the bottom three only on goal difference.
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How could a team featuring the likes of Radamel Falcao, Djibril Sidibe, Kamil Glik and Aleksandr Golovin rank so low in a league lacking competition?
A household name among French soccer’s top guns, Monaco finished runner-up to Paris Saint-Germain last season, a year after clinching its eighth league title in remarkable fashion. Monaco secured top-three finishes over the past five seasons but the club’s financial strategy, largely based on the sale of its best players, proved to be problematic throughout a catastrophic season.
Monaco have sold £768m (A$1.4bn) worth of players since the 2014-15 season according to transfermarkt.com.
Things started to go wrong with the combined sales of Joao Moutinho, Fabinho and Thomas Lemar last year.
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Monaco recruited young players, including Golovin, to compensate for their loss but the hole left especially by Fabinho’s departure to Liverpool was not filled. With its trademark defensive solidity suddenly gone – Monaco has conceded 55 goals this season – the team slumped to the relegation zone.
Despite his vast experience of dealing with the departure of key players, coach Leonardo Jardim was this time unable to rebalance his team. He was fired in October and replaced by Thierry Henry following a winless run of 10 games. But the former Arsenal striker’s maiden experience as coach was a failure and Henry was fired after three months in charge, with Jardim called back to rescue the team.
After rehiring him, powerful Monaco owner Dmitry Rybolovlev – the Russian billionaire who invested millions of euros to bring Monaco back to the top division in 2013 – also fired vice president Vadim Vasilyev, who oversaw the sale of several key players from the title-winning side in 2017. Monaco’s results improved at the start of Jardim’s second stint, a good run of results that culminated with a 1-0 win at Lille mid-March. Yet Monaco failed to win its next seven games, recording four losses and three draws in the interval. Before Renaud Ripart scored the winner for Nimes at the Stade des Costieres on Saturday, Monaco had not lost to its southern rival in more than 40 years. Monaco has two matches left to salvage its season. It hosts 16th-place Amiens next weekend and then faces a trip to Riviera rival Nice in its last match. “We continue to believe that we can stay up,” said Jardim, before casting doubts about his players’ self-belief. “Maybe we don’t have a squad with the mental qualities needed for a relegation battle.”