Wednesday 24 May 2017 News Updated at 11:05 AM IST
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A team destined for greatness - Deccan Herald
A team destined for greatness
Rory Smith, New York Times News Service,
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New kid on the block Monaco's Kylian Mbappe (right) was the standout performer with six goals in his nine Champions League encounters this season. Reuters
Legs heavy, heads bowed, Monaco’s players trudged toward their fans, an island of somber red in a roiling sea of black and white. They applauded in supplication, waved in apology. Given all they have done, it was not immediately clear what they were apologising for.

At their backs, the Juventus players bounced and danced and embraced in jubilation. The crowd, their crowd, rose to salute them, flags fluttering and shimmering under the floodlights. A second Champions League final in three years is theirs. The day belonged to them. Tomorrow, though, may well belong to Monaco.

Whoever goes on to win this competition this season - whether it is Juventus, hard-boiled and battle-scarred, or Real Madrid, all unrivaled glamour - will not have a monopoly on its memory. Monaco, too, has left its mark.

Coach Leonardo Jardim’s young, vibrant team may have fallen just short of the final, outwitted by a team probably no more talented but certainly smarter, tougher, more versatile. But this has been his players’ season to some extent, too: not the year they conquered Europe, but most definitely the year they captivated it.

In Kylian Mbappe - the scorer of Monaco’s consolation goal in Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat in Turin, which completed a 4-1 loss on aggregate - the French champion-in-waiting possesses arguably the most exciting prospect in the world, an 18-year-old player seemingly destined to grace the latter stages of the Champions League for years to come.

Around him is the rest of a new generation, a swath of names that have intruded into football’s consciousness over the past few months and are likely to stay there for some time: Tiemoue Bakayoko and Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy. This will always be the season they announced themselves to the world.

"I am very happy with what we have done and very proud of this team,” Jardim said, deadpan. "For many of the players, it has been a first semifinal, a first experience of this level, a good experience for life.”

That will be of scant solace in the immediate aftermath of defeat, of course, to fans and players alike. The pain, for now, will be too sharp, too raw.

Theoretically, though, in the days and weeks to come, it should start to offer a little comfort. This should be the start of something special at Monaco. There is still a likely French championship, a first of the century, to celebrate. Beyond that, there is the prospect of all this team might achieve next year, what it might become, to savor.

In reality, of course, it will not work like that. The vultures have been hovering over Monaco for some time. Real Madrid’s long, complex seduction dance has already begun, with Mbappe its target; the cash-rich, trophy-poor denizens of the upper echelons of the Premier League are casting their greedy eyes at him and most of his team-mates, too. Something is stirring in Monaco; Europe’s aristocrats will be sure to devour it long before it can come to a boil.

It has, after all, happened before. As Jardim’s team progressed deeper and deeper into the Champions League this season, the echoes of another team stuffed full of prodigies grew louder and louder. The parallel is not perfect, but there is something of the Ajax generation of the mid-1990s about Monaco.
Monaco is, admittedly, better placed to resist the advances of the heavyweights.

It is backed by Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian billionaire. Its president, Vadim Vasilyev, insisted this year that it would sell the rights to players only on its own terms, in its own time. Ajax did not have that choice: Its Champions League triumph coincided with the Bosman ruling that transformed the European transfer market. It was all but powerless to stop its stars from leaving for clubs that could offer more money, more prestige, more ambition.

But that does not mean Monaco is immune. The Bosman rule may not be a worry, but the climate it created should be. Never before has talent in European football been more concentrated, more magnetically drawn to the same handful of clubs.

Never before have those clubs possessed such colossal financial firepower, riches enough to turn an oligarch’s head. Rare are those occasions when they cannot get their man.

That is the way the world is, of course, and to many it is cause for celebration. Fans want to see the best players on the best teams, surrounded by their peers, galaxies of stars, clustered together, shining bright. And yet there is a sadness to it all, too, a sense that we may never find out how good this Monaco team might have been, never see what its players could achieve together, never discover if tomorrow does belong to them.
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