By Daniel Ruiz
Having opened their Ligue 1 campaign with a 1-0 win at newly-promoted AS Saint-Etienne, and a 3-0 win against Slovenia's ND Gorica in their opening UEFA Champions League game, AS Monaco FC are back to business as usual after the excitement of their trip to the European Champion Clubs' Cup final in 2003/04.
Some of the heroes of that campaign, such as strikers Fernando Morientes and Dado Pršo, winger Ludovic Giuly and full-back Hugo Ibarra, have left the club since that trip to Gelsenkirchen, but perhaps the club's biggest asset - coach Didier Deschamps - has stayed on.
"I could have gone elsewhere," he told uefa.com. "But it's a very interesting job this season, a different one really and a more difficult task. We have lost players and we have had to change things around quite a bit. As a coach, this is a massive challenge and I will be better for going through this.
"Those players all did a good job for us and it is disappointing to lose them, but this is a new start for us," he added. "The new team will need to work hard in training, and above all, in games, to improve the understanding among the new players. And I'm confident we can do that."
Having lifted the FIFA World Cup with France, Deschamps knows all about the value of teamwork, and while the team so closely associated with Monaco's ruling Grimaldi family may have lost some of its crown jewels, the coach hopes a new generation of players can emulate their predecessors' achievements.
"While it is important to acknowledge the importance of the players who have left, and the contributions they made to the club, it is also important to remember that new players have come in to replace them," explained the 36-year-old former Juventus FC and Chelsea FC player.
That new generation of players includes the Uruguayan pairing of Ernesto Chevantón and Diego Pérez, Sierra Leone's Mohamed Kallon and Brazilian defender Maicon. With a move for Deschamps' former France team mate Nicolas Anelka also being mooted, Deschamps is confident the new Monaco, given time, can be a force.
We are changing as a team, but the most important thing is that we are determined to carry on working as hard as we did last year," explained Deschamps, who also counts Olympique de Marseille and FC Nantes Atlantique among his former clubs.
Having not won a league title since 1999/00, Monaco are as keen as anyone to break Olympique Lyonnais' three-season run of Ligue 1 successes, but Deschamps knows that will be tough. "Right now Lyon are the best side in France," he said. "The rest of us must raise our standard to break their hold on the domestic game."
Raising the standards in Ligue 1 can only have positive effects for French teams, who enjoyed an uncharacteristically successful in Europe last year as Olympique de Marseille reached the final of the UEFA Cup. For Deschamps, those successes were part of a bigger trend.
"The advantage that the bigger sides have has been reduced with the disappearance of that second [Champions League] group stage," he said. "The 'smaller' European teams last year, not just French clubs, showed that there might be a levelling out in terms of quality.
"The gap between the smaller and bigger clubs is closing, just as it is at international level," he concluded. All of which points to another potentially glorious season for Monaco.
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