How AS Monaco toppled big spenders PSG to win Ligue 1
Updated 10:20 AM ET, Fri January 5, 2018
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- AS Monaco 2-0 Saint-Étienne
- Leonardo Jardim leads AS Monaco to Ligue 1 title
(CNN)Paris Saint-Germain's era of dominance is over and the Ligue 1 trophy is once again in the hands of AS Monaco.
A 2-0 win against Saint-Étienne, courtesy of a cool finish from Kylian Mbappé and a last-minute goal for Valère Germain, means Leonardo Jardim's men cannot be caught, and emerge victorious in the French top-tier for the first time since the turn of the millennium.
From a singular financial model to a cutting-edge kitchen, CNN Sport looks at the reasons behind the club's success.
A new model
When AS Monaco spent upwards of $160 million on players in a single transfer window four years ago, it appeared French and European football had a new powerhouse in town.
The small principality had only just been promoted to Ligue 1, but utilized a prince's influence and apparently boundless riches provided by billionaire Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev to secure the signatures of world class talent, from James Rodriguez to Radamel Falcao.
A second place finish followed, as fans reveled in a long-awaited challenger to the Qatari wealth of PSG.
But perceiving the unsustainability of such a transfer policy, Monaco abandoned its lavish spending as abruptly as it had begun, and one by one the new breed of "Galaticos" departed.
PSG, meanwhile, continued to lure some of the world's best players to the capital, utterly dominating French football and wrapping up last season's Ligue 1 title by early March.
Over 30 points clear of the nearest challengers in 2015/16, PSG's star-studded squad might have expected to look down on little Monaco once again this season.
How wrong they were.
In an era of super agents and $100 million players, vice president and CEO Vadim Vasilyev has bucked football's trend of spending big.
And in a game where a leading British pundit once said "you can't win anything with kids," Monaco sits atop the French league with one of European football's youngest starting lineups.
"In the beginning we needed massive investment to convince top players to come, otherwise it would have taken years," Vasilyev told CNN Sport in April.
However with a population of just under 40,000 and a stadium capacity of 18,523, the former Russian diplomat quickly realized that model was untenable long-term.
"We understand our advantages and we understand our handicaps," he shrugged, explaining limited revenues meant Monaco had to change tack and adopt a new policy.
Vasilyev calls it step two: "developing young players and letting them go when the time is right."
A new generation
Since eschewing the big-spending of 2013/14, Monaco's methods have actually yielded $87 million in net transfer profit.
PSG's accounts show a $192 million net loss on transfers in the same period, but it is arguably Jardim that boasts the more exciting squad at his disposal.
The club's academy, La Turbie, has blossomed under the stewardship of director Betrand Reuzeau, and the conveyor belt keeps running.
Those supporters old enough to remember the rapid development of Monaco youth team alumni Lilian Thuram, Emmanuel Petit and Thierry Henry -- World Cup winners in 1998 -- could be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu.
Today, a new generation ably supports more experienced teammates, stepping out from the shadows to thrill football fans across Europe.
Chief among them is the mercurial Mbappé -- an 18-year-old with 26 goals and 14 assists to his name in just 2,570 minutes this season.
He's shown so much promise that Monaco officials have reportedly slapped a $168 million price tag to ward off potential suitors.
In all competitions the teenager is directly contributing to a Monaco goal every 63 minutes. They're numbers to rival not just a teenage Lionel Messi, but the Messi of today.
A fearless dribbler with rare composure, Mbappé is the youngest player to reach 15 league goals in Europe's top five leagues since former Ballon d'Or winner Michael Owen achieved the feat in 1998, and the only player to score in his opening four Champions League knockout games.
His goal against Juventus in the Champions League semifinal may have proven little more than a consolation, but Mbappe had beaten a goalkeeper 7,621 days his senior that could conceivably have been his father.
Bernardo Silva, 22, is another talent attracting envious glances from Europe's top clubs.
The Portuguese international says he was intimidated when he first took to the training field alongside the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Ricardo Carvalho and João Moutinho, admitting he was "a little shocked" to play with such "amazing players."
But Silva has quickly cemented his place in the Monaco starting eleven, benefiting from Monaco's unique blend of youth and experience.
"It was here that I learned most of the things that I know about football," he told CNN Sport. "To play with the big players with intensity, with strength.
"I learned that it's not only the technique; you have to be very, very strong, and be concentrated for the full 90 minutes."
The diminutive attacking midfielder has come to the fore at key moments this season -- capped by a "special" extra-time equalizer against PSG in January.
Only Marseille's Morgan Sanson has made more league assists, and it was no surprise to see Silva named in the Ligue 1 team of the season -- alongside teammates Danijel Subašić, Djibril Sidibé, Kamil Glik, Benjamin Mendy and Mbappé.
"It was my first big experience on a big level," says Silva. "I'll be forever grateful to Monaco."
Falcao may now be approaching the latter chapters of his career, but in many ways the club captain embodies both the old Monaco and the new.
The striker has scored a goal every 89 minutes in Ligue 1 this campaign, compared to once every 228 minutes with Chelsea and every 322 minutes at Manchester United.
It's a rate bettered by only Barcelona's Messi, PSG's Edison Cavani and Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski in Europe's top five leagues this season.
"Everything in life is a lesson and one can take advantage of this if they can find something in every situation," he told CNN Sport on the Monaco training field.
"These type of adverse experiences teach you and I tried to learn; to assimilate as much as possible; and to put into practice as much as possible.
"For me, it was like this: I didn't let that moment pass without gaining something for my life."
After that torrid spell in the Premier League, during which the Colombian was hampered by injury and even jeered by supporters, there's little doubt El Tigre is roaring once again.
"It was only a question of getting confidence back and feeling like an important part of the team," he asserted, finally approaching the form that saw him score 142 goals in 178 appearances during his stints at FC Porto and Atlético Madrid.
"This club have always been behind me, supporting me. They know the qualities I have not just as a footballer, but as a person."
If it's all about small margins at the top, Monaco's players have been making gains with a 21st Century approach to diet.
When CNN Sport visited Monaco's kitchen ahead of the Champions League quarterfinals, the team's chef was preparing a lunch of tuna and kale with chia seeds under the watchful eye of club nutritionist Juan Morillas.
The integrated approach to nutrition and the science of sport is overseen by team doctor Philippe Kuentz, with players following a newly-created club cookbook called "Recipe for Champions" and proudly comparing pictures of their culinary creations.
"At home, I use it a lot," Silva told CNN. "It's a good way to keep us healthy and in good shape and to do good things for us.
"When you take care of your body you improve your game so it's very, very important."
"Eating well can aid "recovery and help players recover more quickly from injury," Tara Ostrowe, an AS Monaco consultant and nutritional expert, explained.
"With playing cup games and Champions League along with your regular league games you want to be sure you are recovering right away."
Shrewd management, talented youngsters, and a dedicated approach both on and off the field: A recipe for champions indeed.