Monaco and Falcao making a splash on the Cote d'Azur

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Nine years ago, Monaco were playing some of the best football in Europe and, against the odds, reached the 2003-04 Champions League final, where they came up against an equally unheralded Porto side led by their charismatic coach Jose Mourinho.

We are all by now familiar with what happened next. Porto won 3-0 and a star was born in 'the Special One', who joined Roman Abramovich's Chelsea. The then-rising star has since gone on to become one of the most reputable coaches in Europe, winning the trophy again with Inter Milan in 2010.

- Monaco sign Falcao from Atletico
- Press Pass videos: Real Story? - Farewell Atletico
- Marcotti: Falcao's choice

For Porto, a succession of short spells under new coaches followed as the Portuguese struggled to replace Mourinho. For Monaco though, that moment was the pinnacle of their existence, at least in European terms, and the club have not come close to replicating it since.

That is, until now.

Following that match in 2004, Monaco slipped from the summit of the French domestic game and became a mid-table side, before a surprise relegation to the second tier in 2011. In December of that year, with Les Monegasques reeling from the drop into Ligue 2 and looking at the very real possibility of dropping straight into Championnat National (France's semi-professional third tier), Monaco-based Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev purchased the club from Prince Albert II.

This season, after substantial investment from their new owner in the second tier and the appointment of Claudio Ranieri as coach last summer, the Principality outfit sealed the Ligue 2 title. Now back in the top-flight, the seven-time French champions have started preparing for life back in the big time in earnest.

"Now my objective is the Champions League," said Ranieri after Monaco secured the title. "Why not right away? For that, we'll need to build a competitive team."

"We have big plans for the future," Ranieri added.

He wasn't kidding.

No sooner had a two-year exile from Le Championnat been officially ended by that promotion, than the club moved to secure their first two recruits of the summer. Without having even played their last match in Ligue 2, Monaco announced a staggering double swoop for the highly-rated Porto duo of Colombian sensation James Rodriguez and Portuguese international Joao Moutinho. The combined fee is believed to be in the region of €70 million. And former Porto defender Ricardo Carvalho swiftly followed suit, joining from Real Madrid on a free transfer.

However, those signings pale in comparison to Friday's capture of Atletico Madrid's Radamel Falcao for €60 million.

The Colombian marksman has been one of Europe's most highly sought-after signatures for the past couple of years and represents the key part of ASM's ambitious future plans. Having scored a staggering 71 goals in 93 matches in the Spanish capital, the Colombian signed a five-year-deal with Les Monegasques. The contract is reportedly only marginally worth less than that of Paris Saint-Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic (approximately €15 million).

Falcao's first words as a Monaco player were: "I'm very happy to join AS Monaco and I'm happy to wear these new colours."

While Rybolovlev said: "We're pleased Falcao chose our project. It's a great honour one of the best players in the world has joined Monaco."

The 27-year-old has come in for criticism over his club of choice, but the Monaco's ambition and capability of putting together a mammoth project that can attract the world's best players must have also played its part. The high salary is an extra incentive, and one that will soften the blow of playing for a side with a limited fan base inside of Monaco, which often results in sparse crowds for matches domestically. But the lure of Monaco over some of Europe's elite means that the club are planning to flash their cash even more.

Monaco have always been a club associated with money and the glitzy lifestyle of the Principality because of the area's status as a tax haven since 1869, but in recent season's PSG have taken that mantle. The capital club has become France's most instantly recognisable side and the country's most affluent by a long way. Now, though, with Monaco back in the top-flight and with cash to burn, PSG have competition for that title, and the calibre of recent signings will have Les Parisiens' hierarchy worried.

Their Ligue 1 rivals have already voiced their displeasure at ASM's privileged position, but the reality is that measures currently being taken by the French Football Federation and the French Football League (LFP) to limit the club's financial potency have come too late. Had the Principality outfit been confronted about their fiscal status outside of France before the arrival of Rybolovlev, there would arguably have been less of a fuss made over the club's position.

But Monaco are now fighting in court the decision to force them to relocate their headquarters to mainland France and it adds to the current frenzy surrounding the Stade Louis II caused by the transfers. Carlos Tevez, Hulk and Eric Abidal could all yet follow if the rumours are true, but with Rodriguez, Moutinho and now Falcao already secured, no story including ASM is far-fetched any longer.

Many might have wondered how the landscape of football would have changed had Monaco defeated Porto in Gelsenkirchen back in 2004, but Les Monegasques are intent on making up for lost time. The signing of Falcao once again alters the face of European football and dramatically alters that of France's domestic game.

If recruitment continues at the same phenomenal pace, perhaps their next Champions League showpiece final is not that far away. If they do reach their ambitious goal, you wouldn't bet against the score being different this time around.

ESPN Conversations