Monaco in battle to keep stars after Ligue 1 crown

PARIS • For Monaco, after the euphoria of a French league title won in brilliant style, will come the realisation that this could be the start of a glorious era.

A thrilling young team coached by Leonardo Jardim clinched the Ligue One crown by beating Saint-Etienne 2-0 at home on Wednesday, ending Paris Saint-Germain's recent domination.

Having made the capital its home for the past four seasons, the trophy goes to the Mediterranean principality for the eighth time, the first since 2000.

In the intervening period, Monaco have gone from the highs of a Champions League final to the low of a stint in Ligue Two, but they have now struck gold with a group of players around whom Europe's top clubs are circling.

French teenager Kylian Mbappe, who netted his 26th goal in all competitions on Wednesday, has taken France and Europe by storm, while the Colombian Radamel Falcao has gone from busted flush to a 30-goal striker once again.

Bernardo Silva was nominated for France's Player of the Year prize and the likes of Thomas Lemar, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Benjamin Mendy have been transformed from exciting youngsters into some of the most coveted performers on the continent.

Monaco forward Kylian Mbappe hoisting the Ligue 1 trophy after they beat Saint Etienne 2-0 on Wednesday. He opened the scoring and substitute forward Valere Germain sealed the win for the side's first French league title in 17 years.
Monaco forward Kylian Mbappe hoisting the Ligue 1 trophy after they beat Saint Etienne 2-0 on Wednesday. He opened the scoring and substitute forward Valere Germain sealed the win for the side's first French league title in 17 years. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Though cut down to size by Juventus in the Champions League semi-finals, at home Monaco have racked up the goals at an alarming rate to hold off PSG's formidable challenge, becoming just the fifth team to hit the 100-goal mark in a French Ligue One season.

"We are aware that we have done something historic because the club had not been champions for a long time," said Mbappe.

On the face of it, Monaco's championship triumph looks to be the culmination of the project started when Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev bought a controlling stake in December 2011.

At the time, the club were languishing at the bottom of the second division.

It has been an upward curve since, the renaissance stunning, overseen by vice-president Vadim Vasilyev, a Russian ex-diplomat.

But, in a modern game dominated by an elite few, there is a risk that the young side will be quickly torn apart.

The 18-year-old Mbappe, dubbed the new Thierry Henry, has been linked to Spain's Real Madrid and England's Manchester United. It will be difficult for Monaco to resist an eye-watering offer.

English Premier League clubs are keen on Frenchman Bakayoko, a revelation after a difficult first two years at the club, and Chinese clubs could come in for Falcao.

There will be comings and goings, but how many changes are made is the key. Monaco face a dilemma between cashing in and risking looking back at this season as a glorious one-off, or keeping a team together and making this title the first of many.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2017, with the headline 'Monaco in battle to keep stars after Ligue 1 crown'. Print Edition | Subscribe