By Jim Wirth
While the famous names of Real Madrid CF and Manchester United FC may imply royal status, perhaps no other club in Europe has blue-blooded connections quite like AS Monaco FC.
The crown that sits on top of the club's crest is an indication that the club has long been associated with the principality of Monaco's ruling family - the 700-year-old Grimaldi dynasty - and the current heir to the throne, Prince Albert, is a particularly keen supporter of Didier Deschamps' side.
However, along with even the most optimistic of Monaco supporters, the 46-year-old prince has been staggered by the progress his side has made in Europe this season, especially after the club recently came close to being relegated from the French top flight before the beginning of the campaign for financial problems.
"I don't think we've ever dreamt of having this kind of season," he said. "A few months ago we were not even sure we were going to play in the French first league and we didn't know what we were going to be able to do on the European front so all of this is just slightly overwhelming."
For the prince, it was clear that Monaco were on the right track when the squad decided to stick together despite their financial woes. The prince said: "I put [a lot of that spirit] down to facing tough times and having a relatively new coach but some of these players have been together a few years now and have been through a lot together. The fact that Didier Deschamps had ambitions which met the club's ambitions and the players' ambitions helped produce what we've seen.
"He's not only given his experience and his technical ability but also has kind of transmitted his fighting spirit," he added. "He was a player with that kind of spirit and to be able to translate that into coaching, to give that to your players, is extremely valuable and difficult to do especially when you are a young coach but it's worked for us."
No stranger to the world of sport, Prince Albert competed in the bobsled event at the Winter Olympics in 1988, 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2002. However, his most famous sporting association is still the one he has with his local football club, where he remains a major figure, and a familiar one to most of the players.
"I'm not here every day but I see then often enough to be able to have a rapport with them and to be on friendly terms with them and I've always been very emotional at games," he said. "The players in any team feed off the energy of their fans and of people who are around the team."
Now the prince is hoping that some of that enthusiasm can rub off on Monaco in the final. "We hope to produce a good game," he said. "I think chances are pretty much equal. Porto are a very good team and a very difficult one to play but I think we know this and respect this.
He added: "Obviously we also want to put our hands on the cup and I think expectations are high. You can feel the enthusiasm and the excitement around Monaco but we've broadened our fan base way beyond the borders of Monaco.
This has been very positive not only for the players but for everyone in Monaco."
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