With AFC Ajax tearing up Europe yet again, one cannot help but wonder about one such club which ruled Europe for two consecutive seasons but now find themselves seemingly fading into the night.

From Ligue 1 Champions to relegations candidates, AS Monaco’s fall from grace in French football’s top-flight is a classic case of bad management combined with shoddy transfer business. They were once considered the next big thing in European football (much like Ajax right now), peaking in 2016-17 when they reached the UEFA Champions League semi-finals after beating Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.

Rise of France’s giant killers

Monaco rose to prominence courtesy of billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev's wealth and gained promotion to the top-flight back in 2012-13. They finished in the top five for five consecutive seasons and it seemed like there was no stopping them. In the same year that they reached the last four of Europe's major club competition - the Champions League, they beat a cash-rich Paris St-Germain (PSG) to win the Ligue 1 title. It was the only season in the past seven that PSG failed to finish a campaign as French champions.

The fall from grace

However, the good times seem to be at an end. Although there were signs of decline in 2017-18, last season Monaco managed only three league victories until February. Their first home league win came on February 2 and the team survived relegation by one place and two points. Their Champions League outing was no different as they left Europe with a solitary point in the group stages.

During Monaco’s two seasons of domination (2015-16 and 2016-17), they had a win percentage of 71%. Key to their success were Kylian Mbappe, Fabinho, Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar and Tiemoue Bakayoko, all of whom faced Juventus in the Champions League semi-final in 2017 and were sold over the next two years for combined fees of £340 million.

While many might argue about their transfer business, this is how teams outside the elite clubs of European football tend to operate. After reaching the Champions League quarterfinals in 2015, beating Arsenal on the way, their team included Anthony Martial, Yannick Carrasco, Layvin Kurzawa and Geoffrey Kondogbia. All of them were sold that summer to high-profile suitors.

Inferior transfer policies

However, it is not Monaco's transfer strategy that has caused this downfall, but rather the execution of it. The management has spent £360 million on players over the past three seasons, but mostly on the wrong players at the wrong time. Monaco initially tried to recruit players who were blossoming and paired them with experienced players like Joao Moutinho, Radamel Falcao and Ricardo Carvalho to mentor those coming through.

However, their latest spending drive has brought in young players who need at least two or three more years to develop into first-team regulars. Pietro Pellegri and Willem Geubbels both 16, and they just two of several teenagers signed. While this policy worked on younger players like Mbappe, who had Falcao to guide him, the established players in Monaco’s team are not proving their mettle. New recruits Aleksandr Golovin, Nacer Chadli, Jean-Eudes Aholou and Cesc Fabregas have all struggled, while senior players like Kamil Glik, Adrien Silva and Gelson Martins have also underperformed.

Road ahead

Head coach Leonardo Jardim - the man who guided them to that Champions League semi-final, helped the club record consecutive league victories for only the second time in 13 months. Jardim remains philosophical but knows his job will be in danger again if performances do not continue to improve.

Thus, it is to be seen if Monaco manage to rise from their ashes or sinks deeper in the hole.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Valery Hache