PARIS (AP) — Monaco has made a lot of money this summer on the transfer market, and the French league champions' bank accounts could look even better in a few weeks if Kylian Mbappe leaves for Real Madrid.
It's on the football pitch, though, where pundits wonder how the Principality club will cope with the wave of departures.
Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian billionaire who invested millions of euros to bring Monaco back to the topflight in 2013, has already sold left back Benjamin Mendy, central midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko, playmaker Bernardo Silva, forward Valere Germain and midfielder Nabil Dirar. All of them had been instrumental in Monaco's run to the French league trophy last season when Leonardo Jardim's side won the domestic title and reached the Champions League semifinals.
Monaco's successful combination has been dismantled, and now Jardim needs to rebuild a lineup with the aim of replicating the enthralling football over the past 12 months.
This is not the first time that Jardim has encountered such a complicated task, though.
Three years ago when Monaco faced a UEFA probe for overspending on player transfers and wages, the Portuguese coach had to deal with the departures of Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez. A year later, Anthony Martial, one of the brightest young players in French football at the time, was sold to Manchester United, after four other key players also left.
It took some time for Jardim to find the right balance, but he eventually managed to end four seasons of dominance from Paris Saint-Germain by clinching the title in glorious style last May. Monaco finished eight points clear of second-place PSG and scored 107 league goals in 38 games, and more than 150 in all competitions.
Regarded as one of the best coaches in European football, Jardim still hopes to keep Mbappe, who scored 26 goals in a tremendous breakthrough season. But in any case, rebuilding a competitive team with the same attacking flair as last season amounts to a near impossible job.
To compensate for Bakayoko's loss, Monaco has hired Youri Tielemans from Anderlecht, while Terence Kongolo has been recruited for defensive purposes. In attack, no major player has been hired but wingers Rony Lopes and Allan Saint-Maximin have returned from loans, and Radamel Falcao has signed a contract extension until June 2020.
"Important players have left this summer but quality players also arrived," Falcao said. "Hopefully we've got the team needed to achieve something as good as last year, or even better."
Despite Falcao's optimism, Monaco was not impressive in its first official game this season, a 2-1 loss to PSG in the Champions Trophy last weekend. After a strong start, Monaco faded during a second half characterized by technical errors and a lack of physical strength in the box.
Monaco has only a few days left to adjust, starting the defense of its title on Friday against Toulouse.
Unlike its big rival, PSG banked on stability to regain its supremacy, selling only a few players and bringing in Brazil full back Dani Alves while it still tries to secure Neymar's transfer from Barcelona.
Alves has been decisive immediately, scoring a nice free kick and setting up another goal in the Champions Trophy.
The 34-year-old Alves was signed to bring more experience to a squad whose main objective remains to win the Champions League after repeated failures that included a terrible humiliation at the hands of Barcelona last season.
"We want to go a long way and keep making progress," Alves said after the Champions Trophy. "I just hope that this title won't be the last one."
Behind PSG and Monaco, Marseille should also be a factor in the title race after securing the services of Germain, Brazil midfielder Luiz Gustavo, forward Clinton Njie and France defender Adil Rami.
The only French team to win the Champions League, Marseille has entered a new phase in the reconstruction project led by American owner Frank McCourt, mixing veterans and youth.
As part of McCourt's "Champions Project," Marseille coach Rudi Garcia has also finalized the return of 'keeper Steve Mandanda.
"With our recruits, the goal is clear: a top-three finish," Njie said.
Another potential contender is Nantes, which hired former Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri. It will be Ranieri's second experience in the French league after helping Monaco win the Ligue 2 title to gain promotion in his first season and then finish runners-up in the topflight in 2013-14.
Eight-time French champion Nantes couldn't persuade Sergio Conceicao to stay and so opted for Ranieri, who famously led English club Leicester to the Premier League title in 2016.
"The motivation is always very strong. My love for football and the players are always very strong," Ranieri said. "We must forget Leicester and work with humility."
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