Football

Hands off Mbappe

Monaco determined to hang on to prized asset after winning first title in 17 years

For Monaco, after the euphoria of a league title won in brilliant style will come the realisation that this could be the start of a glorious era.

A thrilling young team coached by Leonardo Jardim clinched the French Ligue 1 title with a 2-0 win over St Etienne yesterday morning (Singapore time), ending Paris St Germain's four-year stint as champions.

Having made the capital its home for four seasons, the trophy goes to the Mediterranean principality for the eighth time, the first since 2000 and the days of David Trezeguet.

In the intervening period, Monaco have gone from the highs of a Champions League final to the low of a stint in Ligue 2, but they have now struck gold with a group of players around whom Europe's ogres are circling.

Teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe has taken France and Europe by storm, while Radamel Falcao has gone from busted flush to a 30-goal striker once again.

Bernardo Silva was nominated for France's Player of the Year prize and the likes of Thomas Lemar, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Benjamin Mendy have been transformed from exciting youngsters into some of the most coveted performers on the continent.

Cut down to size by Juventus in the Champions League semi-finals but, at home, they have racked up the goals to hold off PSG's formidable challenge, becoming just the fifth team ever to hit the 100-goal mark in a French season.

"It's my biggest achievement. Monaco winning the league is the equivalent of PSG winning it four times. Paris winning it has been a habit," Jardim told L'Equipe.

"We are aware that we have done something historic because the club had not been champions for a long time," said Mbappe.

On the face of it, Monaco's championship triumph looks to be the culmination of the project started by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev when he bought a controlling stake in December 2011.

At the time, the club were languishing at the bottom of the second division.

It has been an upward curve since, the renaissance stunning, but this triumph seemed unlikely when their project changed dramatically just after Jardim's arrival in 2014.

James Rodriguez was sold to Real Madrid, Falcao loaned out, and Monaco went down the road of signing talented young players who could be sold in the future for huge profits.

After their run to the Champions League quarter-finals in 2015, Monaco sold Layvin Kurzawa, Aymen Abdennour, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Anthony Martial.

But, no worry, they built again, their project overseen by vice-president Vadim Vasilyev, a Russian former diplomat, and the current crop has turned out even better.

Close links to Portuguese super agent Jorge Mendes have helped, but a lot of homework has been done behind the scenes to put together a side that have wrested the title from PSG with a comparative fraction of the budget.

In a modern game brutally dominated by an elite few, there is a risk that a great side will be quickly torn apart.

Mbappe, who is the youngest player in the top five European leagues to reach 14 league goals in the 21st century, was in devastating form again yesterday morning, beating St Etienne goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier with a deft feint to put the hosts ahead in a 2-0 win at the Louis II Stadium.

It took the 18-year-old's tally to 15 goals for the season and he has been linked to Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and Manchester United.

Monaco vice-president Vasilyiev is confident that Mbappe would stay for at least one more season.

"Our intention is that he stays, we are going to do everything we can so that he can stay with us," the Russian said.

"I have not discussed with any club, because what the player wants is the priority."

- WIRE SERVICES