AS Monaco: Rising Superpower or Flash in the Pan?

AS MonacoDespite all of the events occurring in London, Manchester, Madrid and elsewhere, since this transfer season began, the eyes of the footballing world have been firmly fixed on one of the world’s most glamorous locations: Monaco. Based at the Stade Louis II on the iconic Monte Carlo seafront, AS Monaco are one of France’s most successful clubs with numerous domestic successes and Champions League Finals to their name.

But the club have underachieved in recent years; they were relegated to Ligue Deux in 2011 and spent two seasons in the second tier, but were promoted as champions under former Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri in the season just finished. Their owner, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, has signaled his ambition with a show of spending power rivaling that of Real Madrid and their French opponents Paris Saint-Germain, with the signings of Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez from Porto and the world’s best out-and-out striker Radamel Falcao from Atlético Madrid.

The question must be asked – as it was when PSG splashed the cash on the likes of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimović – whether we are seeing a new world superpower in its infancy or whether Monaco will be just another flash in the pan. While the quality of the players they have bought can’t be questioned, everyone knows it takes more than good players to make a good team – think how long it took Manchester City to start properly challenging for titles after they started their spending spree with Robinho.

Some have questioned whether the likes of Falcao, who could have gone to literally any club in the world, is doing the best thing for his career by joining a club who won’t even be in Europe next season, but this could be a good thing for the squad as a whole. Without the pressures of European games to worry about, the players may stand a better chance of gelling as a team rather than a group of players, and they won’t be as closely scrutinized by the world’s media.

Claudio RanieriIt also gives them a better chance of winning silverware; although the Coupe de France is not as loved in France as the FA Cup is in England, nothing brings a team closer together than winning silverware. Again, think how brilliantly Manchester City began the next season after they won the FA Cup in 2011. That said, Monaco did win the cup in 2010, their last season before relegation to the second division.

A team is nothing without a manager, and Monaco certainly have a good one in the experienced Ranieri. Last season was his fourth promotion as a manager, and the wily Italian has won trophies at Cagliari, Fiorentina, and Valencia in a career spanning 25 years. These clubs show that he has form in winning honors with smaller clubs in countries with perennial trophy-winners at the top, but will he be able to cope with the heightened expectation in Ligue Un, where six different clubs have won in the last six years, and where Monaco were once one of the established winners in the sixties, seventies and eighties? Rybolovlev certainly seems to have faith in him, given the financial backing he has offered.

When all is said and done, though, it is the players on the pitch who win and lose games. One could be forgiven for not recognizing the names of any of the current squad, but the numerous superstars heading towards Monte Carlo would improve many of the world’s top sides.

Tottenham Hotspur target João Moutinho has been a fan favorite at every club he has been at due to his dynamism and determination, coupled with his overall skill on the ball. One of the standout performers at Euro 2012, Moutinho has amassed 57 caps for his native Portugal despite still being only 26 years old, and has the talent to become one of Portugal’s greats. He switched from boyhood club Sporting Lisbon to Porto in 2010 and won eight trophies in his time at the Estádio de Dragão, including the 2012-13 league title in stunning fashion, overtaking rivals Benfica with a stoppage time winner in the penultimate game of the season (see video below).

James Rodriguez & Joao MoutinhoMoutinho is known as an excellent passer of the ball as well as a tenacious ball-winner, although his scoring rate has fallen since his move to Porto. His relationship with James Rodríguez, who also makes the move from Portugal to France, should help the team to gel more quickly, as they already have a good understanding with each other.

Rodriguez is said to be one of the most exciting young prospects football has to offer right now, and already has 12 caps for Colombia at the tender age of 21. Many in South America have declared him the successor of icon Carlos Valderrama, and his speed, creativity, and shooting have led some to liken him to a South American Cristiano Ronaldo. He has a fantastic scoring record for a winger, and his exhilarating talent has already seen him rank in The Guardian’s top 60 players in the world. As such, his transfer was reportedly worth €45million of the double-deal with Moutinho. Although he still has to fulfill his promise, his £60million compatriot needs no introduction.

Radamel Falcao García Zárate is widely accepted to be the best striker in the world outside of Messi and Ronaldo, and his goal tally confirms this. Since he moved to Europe (another ex-Porto star) in 2009, Falcao has plundered 142 goals in 177 games, won six domestic titles, and three European honors. He helped Atlético to third place in La Liga behind the big two, and a surprise Copa Del Rey Final win against neighbors and hated rivals Real.

Atlético MadridDespite not being especially tall, he is incredibly strong and a superb header of the ball, and is one of very few people to have scored five goals in a La Liga match: against Deportivo earlier this season. With Moutinho supplying him and Rodriguez providing support, he should find scoring goals no problem against weaker French teams, and he should seek to emulate Ibrahimović’s 35-goal season last term. That in itself creates an interesting match-up, not only between the two big spending clubs of French football but also between its two biggest superstar strikers.

More signings have been promised by the club, with Victor Valdés and Ricardo Carvalho the most likely next arrivals, adding defensive steel to the already-imported attacking flair. Ranieri has been clever in his signings; three of them have played together before, and all speak the same language having played in Spain and/or Portugal at some point in their careers.

It seems unlikely that players of this caliber can do anything other than challenge for titles, domestic and European, but it remains to be seen how long such players will stay around if no silverware is forthcoming. There are already rumors that Falcao could be using Monaco as a stepping-stone to a bigger club such as Real Madrid, but the project of helping to rebuild a formerly great club may excite the players to enough of an extent to keep them in France for a few seasons at least.

With a less challenging league to compete in, Monaco should be guaranteed a Champions League place next season, but after that, nothing is certain. Will they crash out in the group stages like Manchester City, or challenge one of the greats like PSG? Literally millions of pounds are at stake, but whatever happens, with players such as Rodríguez, Moutinho, and Falcao around, there will certainly be excitement, and lots of goals.