PARIS — Last season’s great entertainers are slowly rebuilding.
The youthful, vibrant Monaco team that scored more than 150 goals with an intoxicating brand of attacking soccer is finding things difficult after selling the spine of the team that won the French title and reached the semifinals of the Champions League.
Monaco trails Paris Saint-Germain by four points after 11 games and is on the verge of elimination from Europe. With two points from four games in Group E, Monaco’s hopes are thin.
For a team that tore opponents apart before falling to Juventus in the semifinals , it is an embarrassing turnaround.
Although the situation is a difficult one for Portuguese coach Leonardo Jardim, it is of his and the club’s making. Simply put, they dismantled a team that could have been competitive in Europe for many years to come.
Teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe went to Paris Saint-Germain, while powerful holding midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko joined English champion Chelsea. Bernardo Silva, the French league’s best attacking midfielder by some margin, and Benjamin Mendy, easily the league’s best left back, were sold to a Manchester City team led by former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.
Even forward Valere Germain, a player of lesser caliber but still a very useful one, was offloaded to Marseille.
They were sold for a huge profit , with Monaco raking in about 340 million euros ($396 million).
Of the team’s integral players last season, only wide midfielder Thomas Lemar and defensive midfielder Fabinho stayed — and only just.
While Monaco’s ambition is questionable, it’s deja-vu.
In 2015, Monaco sold forward Anthony Martial to Manchester United. Midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia, winger Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and left back Layvin Kurzawa were all sold, too. The previous year, forward James Rodriguez went to Real Madrid.
In Monaco’s defense, it was because of the Financial Fair Play rules designed to control club finances. But that is not a defense this time.
Monaco’s continued revolving door policy generates huge cash flow, but is somewhat risky in terms of sustaining ambition.
The idea is to sign up talented young players — spotted by the club’s incredibly prolific scouting network — integrate them quickly into the side and make them so good that Europe’s elite clubs fight to sign them.
It worked last season, because Jardim had had the previous season to work with young talents — without the pressure of expectation — and developed their skill thanks to his astute coaching. But Monaco started this season with a vastly superior status: French champions and European Cup semifinalists.
The players recruited are too raw for a leading side, although some — like attacking midfielder Rony Lopes — are showing immense promise.
The 21-year-old Lopes scored a fine goal, a curling effort from the edge of the penalty area, against Besiktas in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw. He was loaned out to Lille last season but has cemented his place in Monaco’s side with his wide passing range, skill, speed and excellent shooting.
Monaco is also banking on 20-year-old Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans to deliver on his huge potential. Tielemans, who was signed from Anderlecht, has shown glimpses of his undoubted ability but is somewhat inconsistent.
As he struggles to get his side to gel quickly enough to challenge PSG for the title, Jardim has injury to contend with. Lemar will be sidelined for up to four weeks after hurting his shoulder against Besiktas, ruling him out of the crucial home game against Leipzig in two weeks.
The France international was just starting to find his form after a slow start to the season, after his move to England fell through. Arsenal’s bid of 100 million euros ($119 million) for the 21-year-old Lemar was rejected.
Fabinho also wanted to go.
This week, the 24-year-old Brazilian told Nice Matin newspaper that he considered forcing a move to PSG.
He said he was told by Monaco that it would not sell Mbappe to PSG, thus offering him incentive to stay. When Mbappe was sold in a deal reaching 180 million ($216 million), he wanted to follow suit. The club blocked him.
They are both crucial players.
Lemar brings creative passing, quick feet and an eye for goal. Fabinho’s superb reading of the game and anticipation protects a weak defense. He showed against Besitkas that he is getting back to his very best following a difficult start.
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Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twittercom/jeromepugmire