Wealthy Monaco have small-club woes
It was halfway through one of the best World Cups of recent times. You'd just savoured the talent of James Rodriguez and witnessed Colombia destroy Japan with a brace from the prodigious playmaker.
You looked at your Emirates Cup ticket on your desk and thought, "It'll be good to see such a talent live in action at the Emirates Cup." At the time, the little genius still belonged to Monaco, who will play Valencia and Arsenal this weekend at the Emirates. The Colombian had a good season in Ligue 1, but his value wasn't nearly what Cristiano Ronaldo's was when Real Madrid broke the bank to sign him from Manchester United in 2009 for 80 million pounds.
The World Cup, in which James won the Golden Boot, changed everything. James will not play this weekend, as he sealed a move to Real Madrid last week for 63 million pounds.
The former Porto star stayed only one season in the principality, and it's a shame to see him leave the French league so soon. However, in the years of financial fair play (FFP), Monaco could not say no to such an attractive offer. They bought him for 35 million pounds last summer, and they nearly doubled their money 12 months later.
There is one key element to keep in mind to understand this deal: Revenue-wise, Monaco is a small club. Yes, owner Dmitry Rybolovlev is a billionaire, one of the richest men in the world, but in terms of money coming in, the club is far from the world's best. They are not in the top 30 richest clubs, according to Deloitte, whereas the likes of Roma and Fenerbahce are. To gain a place in the top 30, a club has to generate at least 100 million pounds in revenue. That's not the case at Monaco.
It's no surprise, though. Through the years and their history, Monaco have always relied heavily on the money from the principality. Now, Rybolovlev is in control, but there is still much work to be done. They don't generate much in ticket sales (the average home attendance last season was 8,900, second-worst in Ligue 1), they don't draw down much from TV rights (23.5 million pounds last season) and quite little in terms of commercial revenue. Until now, their shirt deal with Macron was only worth around 2.5 million pounds a year -- nowhere near the best in France. They have signed with Nike this summer, which will bring around 8 million pounds a season until 2019.
Monaco don't even have a shirt sponsor for the coming season. They ceased their partnership with FedCom after last season but have struggled to find a replacement -- the club is looking for 10 million pounds annually from a suitor. Other partners are Afflelou (a French opticians), Orange (a French mobile phone company) and EA Sports, but they don't bring in enough cash to balance the books if the club wants to spend hundreds of millions like they did last summer (which wasn't an issue then, as they were not in Europe).
So to play within the rules of FFP, Monaco need more money to come in. For that, they have teamed up with AIM Sport, who will take charge of the development of the club's commercial deals in terms of sponsorship and marketing. AIM Sport have worked with Bayern Munich and Barcelona with great results.
To be able to spend this summer, they had to sell. And even after selling James, they still haven't replaced him. They are finding it difficult to sign big-name players. Antoine Griezmann was a target, but he preferred Atletico Madrid. According to reports in Spain, a number of Real Madrid players -- Angel Di Maria, Diego Lopez, Isco and Khedira -- have refused to be sold to Monaco. The names now linked with the club are Douglas Costa and Alex Teixeira, the two Brazilian forwards from Shakhtar Donetsk, and Antonio Rudiger, the promising 21-year-old German centre-half from Stuttgart.
And then, there is the case of Falcao. The Colombian was their marquee signing last summer. He joined for 48 million pounds from Atletico Madrid, but his first season has been disjointed. He started well (nine goals in his first 17 league games) despite a spat with then-manager Claudio Ranieri. He then got injured, and now his future is very uncertain.
James has told Spanish publication AS that he hopes Falcao will join him at the Bernabeu. When you consider that the two players share the same agent in Jorge Mendes, it becomes quite obvious that James' words were not innocent. Florentino Perez, the Madrid chairman, has always been a massive fan of El Tigre, but can Los Merengues really spend another 60-70 million pounds on a striker when even manager Carlo Ancelotti has said that Madrid don't need a centre-forward? It's doubtful.
A week before the start of the season, Monaco is not ready -- far from it. They will still be good value for money this weekend, but back in June, no one could have predicted that their summer would turn out this way.
Julian Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter @LaurensJulien.