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SPIRO: The secret to Monaco's rise

Ligue 1 Conforama > Spiro Blog

By M. Spiro

Ahead of Saturday's Coupe de la Ligue final,'s Matthew Spiro examines how AS Monaco have closed the gap on Paris Saint-Germain thanks to hard work behind the scenes.

The Coupe de la Ligue final between Monaco and PSG is stirring great excitement and anticipation in France - and rightly so. It's hard to recall a cup final in the modern French era between two such strong and evenly matched teams. Not only will the contest be packed with quality but the stakes are extremely high as well.

Crucial juncture

Winning this competition might not be the priority for either side, yet the importance of scoring psychological points is huge. Win the club's first trophy since 2003 and Monaco will be supremely confident of sustaining their advantage over PSG in the title race. Lose and the doubts will creep in at exactly the wrong time. Above all, though, Saturday's showpiece will highlight a fascinating contrast in club policies, pitting PSG's team of established stars up against Monaco's carefully assembled collection of blossoming talents.

When, in 2014, Monaco's Russian owners started selling off their top players it was seen as a sorry and unexpected retreat. Observers were disappointed that the one club seemingly capable of following PSG's rapid development were suddenly tightening their purse strings. Three years on, however, the canny nature of Monaco's switch in strategy is paying off.

Transfer window wizardry

James Rodriguez, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Anthony Martial, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, Aymen Abdennour and Layvin Kurzawa were sold for huge sums. They have been replaced by Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva, Jemerson, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Djibril Sidibé, Fabinho and Benjamin Mendy - players on the whole who were younger and much cheaper. Now not only do they have a better team than in 2014, they are also adhering to UEFA's financial fair play regulations.

Monaco's former sporting director Luis Campos deserves great credit for identifying and homing in on so much fine potential, which has since been nurtured cleverly by Leonardo Jardim. Monaco now have such an impressive reservoir of burgeoning talent the scouts who pour into the Stade Louis II every other weekend no longer know which player to watch.

Monaco's true strength is their structure. Jardim was a good appointment to replace Claudio Ranieri, but the Portuguese has only thrived because the set up behind the scenes is so thorough. The sporting director is arguably the most important position of all, knitting together as he does all the rest. After Campos left for Lille last summer, he was replaced by Antonio Cordon, a highly reputed Spaniard who did such a fine job with Villarreal.

Power behind the throne

Few lauded Campos in the past, and the discreet Cordon is talked about even less. Yet his appointment was far more significant than the (admittedly inspired) signing of Kamil Glik or the sale of Jérémy Toulalan. The unseen work Cordon is doing right now - whether that is in scouting and recruitment, or in defining a coherent sporting strategy for teams at every age level - will define Monaco's success in the coming years.

PSG, on the other hand, appear to have got themselves in a muddle. Their sporting director Olivier Letang has neither the network nor the pedigree of a Campos or a Cordon, and the decision to name Patrick Kluivert as director of football last summer seems to have created confusion more than anything else. The capital club have still not found an equal replacement for Leonardo - despite the Brazilian having left four years ago - and it is beginning to tell.

Jury out

Much like Monaco these days, PSG used to tap in to top young talent with the ability to grow. With Leonardo, they signed Marco Verratti, Marquinhos, Javier Pastore and Lucas, players who may have cost a lot but whose value has largely risen. The recent recruitment hasn't improved PSG. Hatem Ben Arfa and Grzegorz Krychowiak have certainly not adequately replaced Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Luiz. The jury is very much out on expensive youngsters Gonçalo Guedes and Giovani Lo Celso. Indeed, of the recent crop only Thomas Meunier and Julian Draxler can be deemed successes so far.

Yet for PSG fans, perhaps the most grating aspect of Saturday's final will be seeing two exceptional Parisian kids strutting their stuff in red and white shirts. Newly-capped France internationals Tiemoué Bakayoko and Kylian Mbappé both grew up in Paris but joined Monaco's youth academy rather than continuing their development in the capital.

Well-trodden path

PSG have made giant strides in improving their youth set up of late - and they will point to the presence of Adrien Rabiot and Presnel Kimpembe as proof of that - yet Monaco's longstanding ability to attract the best youngsters from Paris region (think Thierry Henry) is a permanent reminder that there is still work to be done.

Last summer, France won the European Under-19 Championship with Mbappé and Jean-Kévin Augustin in attack. PSG's Augustin finished as the tournament's top scorer. Nine months on, he is kicking his heels in the PSG reserves while Mbappé is playing for France, scoring in the Champions League and partnering Radamel Falcao in the Monaco attack. That story speaks volumes about the current functioning of the two clubs, and it is just one of the many sub-plots in what should be an epic saga at the Parc OL on Saturday night.

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