Substance as well as style to fire Monaco’s dream

Posted by Andy Brassell

On the walk up to the Parc des Princes, you see the motto of the new era Paris Saint-Germain everywhere. ‘Revons plus grand’ -- ‘dream bigger’. It’s a raison d’être that informs Monaco’s ambition too. The sheer depth of world-renowned talent on display as the side met on Sunday night made ‘El Cashico’ a moment for France’s football-watching public to pinch itself. The headline on the week’s edition of France Football, ‘PSG – Monaco, le miracle!’, summed it up for many.

Johnson: PSG draw with Monaco
Report: Paris Saint-Germain 1-1 Monaco

This was the test of exactly how big Monaco could dare to dream, for now at least. The last time they had met PSG, at the Stade Louis II just prior to relegation in May 2011, their side contained Vincent Muratori and Georgie Welcome. Now, equipped with Radamel Falcao and Joao Moutinho, Monaco arrived as Ligue 1 leaders and with the aim of proving themselves as PSG’s equals.

Ostensibly, the 1-1 draw that Claudio Ranieri’s side extracted from the Parc might be considered as evidence that they can begin to consider themselves thus. The course of the game’s events perhaps suggested otherwise, with a dominant PSG let down by an inefficiency in front of goal that had already cost them points in their title defence.

Yet the evening was about more than just the result. It was about Monaco’s ability to help create a sense of genuine occasion. There are now two clubs who, for better or for worse, have changed the face of the French game and will continue to do so over the coming years. They have spent €525 million between them on transfer fees alone since Qatari ownership arrived in the capital in May 2011 (Monaco having been taken over by Russian billionaire Dmitri Rybolovlev in December of the same year). That’s without counting investment in wages and, in the case of PSG’s guardians, a sizeable investment in television broadcast rights.

So there was no trash talk in the build-up, but acknowledgement by PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Monaco’s vice-president Vadim Vasilyev that co-operation was the way forward for the common good. The message was clear; PSG needed a bold opponent, they needed this match, and they need this nascent rivalry. PSG need Monaco.

Monaco were determined to contribute to the showpiece. Ranieri’s side were followed to Paris by 800 fans, a gargantuan turnout by the club’s modest standards, as their contribution to a sell-out at the Parc. It was indicative of attention to detail in Rybolovlev’s project.

A closer look at Monaco’s transfer window activities indicates the same. What has been widely reported as simply an exercise in mammon has actually been a well-planned and executed transfer policy, in three distinct stages; stage one being the heavy artillery (Falcao, Moutinho, James Rodriguez), stage two the experience (Eric Abidal, Ricardo Carvalho) and stage three the youth that will see Monaco for the duration (Geoffrey Kondogbia, Nicolas Isimat-Marin, Anthony Martial). Rybolovlev is no fly-by-night, having lived in Monaco for the best part of two decades.

Yet it was also a programme underlining the desire for instant impact. As Abidal told L’Equipe on the morning of the game, when Monaco have had "a transfer window like we have, you can’t hide your objectives."

Contrary to his image as the perpetual bridesmaid, Ranieri is probably the right man to oversee it. That is certainly the belief at the club. Vasilyev told Thursday’s L’Equipe: "I said in May that Ranieri would remain our coach. I never made contact with [Roberto] Mancini or any of the other [names mentioned]. Ranieri deserves Monaco. He’s top level."

Monaco’s fast start to the game underlined their ambitions, and their coach’s approach. It recalled his counterpart Laurent Blanc’s midweek reflections on his own brief time working with Ranieri, when the pair were at Napoli, back in 1991. "He already wanted to play good football," said Blanc. "It wasn’t easy at that time in Italy, where no defender really went past the halfway line."

The preservation of that spirit was underlined on the hour, when Ranieri replaced Geoffrey Kondogbia with James Rodriguez, in an ambitious move. It might even have come off spectacularly, with Salvatore Sirigu forced to box away one effort from the substitute. Falcao and the bright young winger Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco also had late opportunities to steal all three points, but that would have been a distortion of the night’s events.

With the amounts of money in play, it is sometimes easy to forget that this is still a young Monaco side. The €20 million Kondogbia struggled to keep his head above water against the experience of Thiago Motta and the energy of Blaise Matuidi in midfield, and €15 million Lucas Ocampos struggled to make a dent in the potential space behind the advancing Maxwell.

In terms of Monaco’s ability to last the course, this was a night for Ranieri’s supporting cast -- Fabinho and Mounir Obbadi, for example -- to confirm their good starts to the season and their usefulness to the project. The Brazilian right-back was frequently compromised by his compatriot Maxwell, with PSG’s left-back making the most of one of those unfettered runs to set up his old friend Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the opener as the home side quickly established a tight grip on the match.

Yet the older heads underwent a stiff examination too. Abidal and Carvalho were beneficiaries of the work-in-progress status of the partnership between Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani. Ibrahimovic remains the preferred out-ball, but that he received it some 40-yards from goal for the majority of the evening suited Monaco just fine.

Dealing with Ezequiel Lavezzi, who was effervescent for an hour, was a different proposition. The Argentinian wriggled away from Monaco captain Abidal to create one second-half chance for Ibrahimovic that Danijel Subasic somehow managed to divert for a corner. Moutinho sometimes struggled with the robust climate in the centre of the park, though he did deliver the cross for Falcao’s first-half equaliser.

Yet even when hanging on, Monaco showed the character and focus to stay with PSG. By the end, the Parc’s famous roar had quelled to a muffled whisper amid a flurry of misplaced passes. In prematurely dampening this occasion, Monaco suggested the possibility of plenty of rematches to come.

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