While he was not Roman Abramovich's first choice he now finds himself the wanted man for the job in the principality. Can he achieve what he never had the opportunity to do with his former London employers?
At the turn of the century AS Monaco were French football’s top side. In 2000 under Claude Puel they won Le Championnat by seven points from closest rivals Paris Saint-Germain as the strike force of David Trezeguet and Marco Simone tore through defences at will. The success at Monaco was of course built on the original plans set in motion by now Arsenal legend Arsene Wenger in the late 80’s that saw the emergence of young talent such as Lillian Thuram, Emmanuel Petit and Thierry Henry.
In one of the many tales in football where much intertwines and the clichéd swings and roundabouts of life genuinely come to fruition the next twelve years appear to have gone full circle in numerous ways.
AS Monaco’s finest hour of course came in 2003-04. Under the tutelage of current France boss Didier Deschamps they shocked many by progressing to the final of the Champions League where they faced a Porto side managed by a precociously talented and cocksure man by the name of Jose Mourinho. Of course just months later that same man sat in a press conference and called himself ‘the Special One’ as he took the reins at Chelsea FC.
His previous incumbent at the bridge was Claudio Ranieri who had been a popular figure with the Chelsea faithful and had managed to guide his Blues to the semi-final against Monaco in that fateful season. Bankrolled by the deep pockets of a slightly fresher appearing Roman Abramovich the Italian was widely expected to take his side to Gelsenkirchen where they would despatch of the Portuguese upstarts and be crowned Champions of Europe in Abramovich’s debut season.
Of course the Russian tycoon has had to wait a little longer than expected for that privilege, which was eventually brought to him by another Italian who was close to Ranieri. AS Monaco had not read the script and inspired by Fernando Morientes; who was ably assisted by Dado Prso, Hugo Ibarra, Jerome Rothen and Ludovic Giuly the French side who represent the affluent principality dumped ‘Chelski’ out of the running at the semi-final stage.
While all appeared to be running smoothly on the pitch behind the scenes a storm was brewing. When you picture Monaco you think of glamour, casinos, yachts and Formula 1 but at the football club bearing the name nothing could have been further from the truth as they sat in financial ruin. The star names left for new pastures and Deschamps was not about to play cello on board a sinking ship.
The ship sank slowly, never repeating the success of that famous season and eventually dropping out of the top-flight in 2010-11 and languishing in France’s second tier ever since.
Now things are changing. Just like their victims of 03-04 the affluent area known as Monaco has a new saviour and he is Russian. Dmitry Rybolovlev is a Russian billionaire who has promised to invest up to €200 million in the resurrecting of this quirky wreckage. This new found finance saw them snare a new manager in the summer; Claudio Ranieri. The Italian finds himself wanted by a Russian billionaire on this occasion and he has spent his money wisely on players far too talented for Ligue 2.
The way that things have turned out in less than ten years is quite extraordinary and now Monaco sit at the zenith of their league table, along with fellow fallen giants Nantes, and many pundits predict they will return this season.
Whether they can achieve the feats that their fateful relatives Chelsea have under their own passionate tycoon remains to be seen but it remains another great tale of how things work out in the wacky world of football.
image: © chris-yunker