When Monaco’s mega millions stormed the Champions League

Monaco

Radamel Falcao. Kylian Mbappe. Bernardo Silva. Fabinho. Joao Moutinho. The list of iconic, talented players to have lined out for Monaco in the 2016/17 season is endless. The French outfit were at their very best that year, securing their first league title in 17 years, as well as making it all the way to the semi-finals of the Champions League.

The beginning’s of their modern rise to the very top of French football can be pinpointed to December 2011, when two-thirds of the club was sold to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev.

The French side were, incredibly, bottom of Ligue 2 at the time. But in came the money, and combined with the genius of newly appointed manager Claudio Ranieri not long after, Monaco won the 2012/13 Ligue 2 title to get back to where they belonged.

New faces in the squad included Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez, and Ricardo Carvalho, with a fresh-faced Anthony Martial also involved in this new-look side. But a second-place finish in 2013/14 wasn’t good enough for the powers that be, and Ranieri was replaced by Leonardo Jardim.

An impressive run in Europe in 2014/15 saw them reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League, helped by three new youngsters on the scene; Bernardo Silva, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Fabinho.

But they went one step further in a hugely impressive 2016/17 campaign. It was truly the year the footballing world finally stood up and took notice of AS Monaco.

Monaco
Stade Louis II: The stunning home of AS Monaco

A tricky start for Monaco in Europe

Another third-place finish in Ligue 1 meant their Champions League adventure began in the third qualifying round. But by no means was it plain sailing. A stern Fenerbahce outfit were difficult to overcome over two legs, with Jardim’s men narrowly progressing 4-3.

Another tricky test followed in the form of Villarreal in the play-off, but a more straightforward 3-1 aggregate victory clinched a spot in the group stages.

Kicking off in September 2016, Group E saw Monaco drawn with Tottenham Hotspur, Bayer Leverkusen and CSKA Moscow. It was by no means an easy task, but the Ligue 1 side were impressive going forward and resolute at the back in their search for glory.

And glory was exactly what they got, clinching top spot with 11 points. Two 2-1 wins were secured against Spurs, with tricky winger Thomas Lemar netting on both occasions. Strikers Falcao and Valere Germain were the heroes in the other win of the group stages at home to CSKA Moscow.

Two 1-1 draws against Moscow and Leverkusen ensured Monaco remained unbeaten in their first five matches, before losing 3-0 at Leverkusen. But their 11 points were enough to finish one ahead of their German opponents. Having only featured from the bench in the group stages, a certain Kylian Mbappe was about to introduce himself to the world…

Chaos in the knockout rounds

The knockout stages began with an astonishing encounter against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. The goals simply didn’t stop at the Etihad, with the hosts running out as 5-3 winners in the eight-goal thriller.

But it was all about Monaco in the return fixture. The French side turned on the style to win 3-1 on the night, going through on away goals after a 6-6 aggregate scoreline. The unstoppable Mbappe netted in both games.

Champions League
Radamel Falcao netted five goals in the 2016/17 Champions League campaign

An exciting Borussia Dortmund outfit was the next challenge in the quarter-finals. And young sensation Mbappe was the man of the moment in the first leg in Germany, netting a brace in another thrilling match filled with goals. The visitors ran out 3-2 winners, before clinching a 3-1 victory in the return leg, with the young French striker on target yet again.

A 6-3 aggregate scoreline saw Monaco drawn with old foes Juventus in the semi-finals. The two clubs had come face to face in the quarter-finals of the 2014/15 campaign, with the Italians narrowly progressing 1-0 over the two legs.

Unfortunately for the Ligue 1 outfit, it was a similar story once again. Gonzalo Higuain came and conquered the south of France in the opening game, netting both goals in a 2-0 win for the visitors. A 2-1 loss in Turin in the return leg secured Juve’s place in the final, with Monaco’s courageous journey finally coming to an end.

Mbappe and Falcao finished the tournament with six and five goals respectively, with Lemar grabbing four assists. Bakayoko – along with Mbappe – was selected in UEFA’s Squad of the Season. The young French forward's six strikes came in just six matches.

The devastating aftermath

Teams often have their tails up after such an extraordinary season. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for Monaco. On the pitch, the club came up short in their first competitive game of the new campaign, losing the Trophée des Champions 2-1 to rivals PSG.

It was, however, off the pitch where most of the troubles lay, namely in the form of transfers. Silva left for Manchester City, while Bakayoko also made a switch to the Premier League with Chelsea. Germain, the player with the most appearances in that astonishing season, left for Marseille.

But the most pain was, of course, felt in the loan transfer of Mbappe to PSG. One of the most promising players in the world was never going to stay for long, but fans knew that this indeed was the moment they would say goodbye to their young star for good.

Mbappe wasn’t even the last of the outgoings, with Fabinho and Joao Moutinho heading to England with Liverpool and Wolves respectively in the summer of 2018. Lemar meanwhile went to Atletico Madrid.

Managerial madness at ​​Stade Louis II

The exits from ​​Stade Louis II weren’t limited to players. Jardim lost his job in October that year, replaced by Arsenal legend Thierry Henry. But a dismal period saw the Frenchman lose his job just three months later, with Jardim returning to the post soon after.

Monaco
Arsenal legend Thierry Henry lasted just three months in the Monaco dugout

Further chaos soon followed as Jardim was replaced by Robert Moreno, but the Spaniard didn’t last long in the dugout. The same can be said for his replacement, former Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovac. He lasted just 18 months, leaving at the beginning of 2022 to be replaced by current manager Philippe Clement.

It’s no coincidence then that Monaco haven’t appeared in the knockout stages of the Champions League since that memorable 2016/17 season. The French side finished bottom of their group in the two campaigns that followed, having failed to even qualify for the group stages this season. Perhaps they will never come close to that unforgettable European adventure ever again.