Until recently, mistakes were rare at Monaco. In just five years, the Russian duo of billionaire owner Dmitry Rybolovlev and vice president Vadim Vasilyev led the club from the second tier to the Ligue 1 title. But the club collapsed this season and the owner has now acted, sacking Vasilyev. “Now it is time for change,” said Rybolovlev in a statement on Valentine’s Day. “I have made a personally very difficult decision to release Vadim Vasilyev from his post as vice president and CEO of the club.”
Initially appointed as an advisor in January 2013, Vasilyev was quickly promoted to CEO and vice president, becoming the club’s spokesperson and spearhead. His strategy centred on realism, revenue and hardball negotiating. He knew Monaco were working within certain restraints and that copying PSG’s model simply wasn’t sustainable. “You need more than money and ambition,” he explained. “You need to be in a big town, to have a population around you, play in a big league. There are several elements which just don’t exist [here].” With a population of just 40,000 and the smallest crowds in Ligue 1, Monaco would have to do things differently.
At the start, Vasilyev brought in big-name players. James Rodríguez, Radamel Falcao and João Moutinho all arrived in the Principality, but Rybolovlev grew tired of being fined for breaking Financial Fair Play rules and the star signings did not attract as much sponsorship as the club had hoped. “We thought Monaco would make earnings much quicker,” conceded Vasilyev.
Monaco changed tack, morphing from the ultimate buying club into the ultimate selling club. Vasilyev called it “a project for the long haul – it takes longer, it is less glorious, but we believe in it.” When the club sold Kylian Mbappé, he restated their approach: “Everyone knows our philosophy. We are a selling club.” This switch played to Vasilyev’s strengths. Working in tandem with director of football Luís Campos, he had an unmatched ability to balance transfer revenue with sporting success.
Academy graduate Mbappé was sold for €180m. Lemar, the quintessential Monaco signing – a cheap, talented young player who was ready for first-team football – cost just €4m and was sold to Atlético Madrid for €70m. Benjamin Mendy cost €12m and was sold to Manchester City for €58m. Fabinho, Bernardo Silva, Anthony Martial, Tiémoué Bakayoko, Layvin Kurzawa, Yannick Carrasco, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Guido Carrillo were signed for about €60m and sold on for nearly €300m under Vasilyev who, according to Mediapart, personally pocketed 10% of all profits on transfers during his tenure – quite the incentive.
Despite dismantling two successful teams in four years, Monaco have still managed to finish in the top three in Ligue 1 for the last five seasons, while also reaching the Champions League quarter-finals in 2015 and semi-finals in 2017. Largely thanks to Vasilyev, Monaco became an example of how build a sustainable, profitable club.
However, that changed this season. As Rybolovlev put it in his statement on Thursday: “Over the past year, serious mistakes had been made that have led to the team’s worst performance in seven years.” Paramount among them was a transfer policy shift that coincided with the arrival of sporting director Michael Emenalo from Chelsea. Since then, only Aleksandr Golovin and Jean Aholou truly represented the ideas behind previous additions. Instead, the club focused on signing raw, inexperienced prospects.
The club spent €40m on Pietro Pellegri and Willem Geubbels, two 16-year-olds who had just 11 senior league games between them, and 18-year-old Sofiane Diop was given a first-team role having never made a senior appearance at Rennes. Meanwhile, Moutinho left for Wolves and his experience was not replaced. Streetwise older pros such as Moutinho, Kamil Glik and Falcao have been key to Monaco’s achievements, but their importance has been overlooked recently. Emenalo remains in his position but is expected to be sacked imminently.
A change of coach proved a massive mistake for Vasilyev. Leonardo Jardim’s ability to swiftly and repeatedly mould a disparate group into a winning team while also developing younger players had been pivotal. When Lemar and Fabinho departed last summer, the Portuguese manager admitted that repeating the feat this season would be more difficult than ever. So it proved. Jardim left in October and the club replaced him with a man who had never been in charge of a football club. Thierry Henry was handed a squad as inexperienced as he was; he failed, dramatically.
The club sacked Henry in January and replaced him with the man he had replaced. “I called Leonardo Jardim myself, apologising for the mistake made back in October and asked him to return to lead the team.” said Rybolovlev in his statement. “I have approved all of his proposals in relation to the acquisition of new players.” Youri Tielemans was sent to Leicester on loan at Jardim’s request, with Portuguese speakers Gelson Martins, Carlos Vinicius and Adrien Silva all arriving. In their three games since Jardim’s return, Monaco have won seven points and climbed out of the relegation zone.
“Now it is time for change,” said Rybolovlev. Incoming CEO Oleg Petrov will be that change. Petrov mirrors Vasilyev’s strong business background and negotiating skills, but whether he can match French football’s master negotiator remains uncertain – he has no handle of the French language for example. As Rybolovlev admitted, mistakes have been made at Monaco. Vasilyev’s removal may prove their biggest yet.