Having lost their two biggest stars last summer few predicted much for AS Monaco FC but Leonardo Jardim's youthful side made giant strides, and the future looks bright.
Article top media content
Sell a major contributor and allow your star striker to depart on loan. Blend one or two experienced heads with a healthy dash of youthful promise and you get a UEFA Champions League quarter-finalist. It may sound an unlikely formula for success but it certainly worked for AS Monaco FC this season.
When James Rodríguez and Radamel Falcao both left the Stade Louis II last summer after helping Monaco finish second to Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1, a speedy, inglorious group-stage exit appeared the almost inevitable fate of the principality club. At the start they had just four squad members with more than ten UEFA Champions League career appearances.
Yet Leonardo Jardim – himself a new arrival to replace Claudio Ranieri – coped remarkably well with the club's change of tack as the purchasing of established stars was replaced by investing in youthful promise.
"I think Monaco deserved better. Congratulations to them," said Juventus's Patrice Evra, who helped the Bianconeri hold off his former club at the Stade Louis II to clinch a semi-final berth with a 1-0 aggregate win. "After the departures of James Rodríguez and Radamel Falcao people said Monaco would sink, but they found themselves in a quarter-final against Juve."
Geoffrey Kondogbia admitted after Monaco's valiant but ultimately unsuccessful performance in the goalless second leg: "Nobody expected us to do well. But we knew we had quality players."
Kondogbia has shown he is one of them, earning himself man of the match honours for his second-leg display; but the 22-year-old is not alone. Despite the high stakes against a Juve side boasting in Andrea Pirlo a man who – with 104 UEFA Champions League appearances – had played twice as many games in the competition as Monaco had as a club, Jardim flooded his lineup with names whose renown will surely quickly extend beyond French football.
Six of the second-leg starting XI were 22 or younger with Bernardo Silva, 20, making his first UEFA Champions League start and 19-year-old Anthony Martial preferred to the vastly more experienced Dimitar Berbatov as the side's lone striker. It provided the starkest indication yet of the club's change of direction, and Jardim's unswerving faith in his young players.
"We just needed a goal, but we didn't manage to score it. Certainly we lacked experience. Experience counts, but it's not the most important thing," left-back Layvin Kurzawa, 22, told UEFA.com. "If we have managed to get this far it's because each of us is proving it on the pitch. We're proud and on the other hand, we're disappointed. But for the future it augurs well."
That future could be back in the UEFA Champions League again next season. Monaco occupy the third and last of the French top-flight's qualifying places with five games left this season.
"We are disappointed but proud. Over two games Monaco were never inferior to Juventus," said Jardim, himself a relative youngster in the dugout at 40. "We showed Europe our collective and individual qualities. After this excellent campaign we will have to change our objectives and make sure we qualify for Europe next year."