Speaking in an exclusive interview with L’Équipe, AS Monaco Vice President Vadim Vasilyev discussed a record-breaking summer window for the Principality side. In full.
It’s Friday at the end of the afternoon, only a few minutes after the four latest recruits were paraded in front of the press: Keita Baldé, Adama Diakhaby, Rachid Ghezzal and Stevan Jovetic. Vadim Vasilyev, Vice President of AS Monaco, met L’Equipe in a private room in the swish Monte-Carlo Bay, a grand and well-known hotel in the Principality. He reflects on the crazy transfer window during which his club sold €327m worth of players and brought in around €100m worth but, in his words, “all the while maintaining a very good team.”
At the end of last season, you probably envisaged one or two key players leaving Monaco but in the end four first-team regulars left. Did you underestimate the market?
It’s impossible to plan for things, it just happens too quickly. With the league title and the semi-final in the Champions League under our belt, there was so much interest for our players. We underestimated the interest in the market and the pressure that goes with that. Before making up our minds, we had to look at the options that we had in order to replace the players that were leaving. When we realised that we could actually sell more players than we had thought and yet keep a competitive team, we said, ‘OK let’s do it, let’s sell.’ It’s true, we do sell well, and I truly believe in this. But we buy well too.
At the outset, who were the two players earmarked for departure?
Bernardo Silva and Bakayoko without doubt. And a third possible person being Mendy. For a while, we held off. And then, we thought – in spite of the offers that we had had for him and him indicating that he wanted to leave – could he have another season like the last one? At first, I said, ‘No, you’re staying’. He replied: ‘But Vadim, I really want to go to City and link up with Guardiola.’ On numerous occasions he said to me: “If it was Chelsea, I’d stay; but if it’s a chance to work with Guardiola, I want to go.” He’d spoken so frankly with me. So, when City met the asking price and when he became the most expensive defender in the world, there were no more arguments to have with him. We weighed up the for and against and said to him: “O.K, you can go.”
Did you worry that his commitment wouldn’t have been the same if he’d stayed?
Yes, it was a thought that crossed my mind. He’s a good kid but you can never be sure about a player’s psychology. It wasn’t just a good offer; it was the championship of his dreams, the manager of his dreams…
At his position of left back, the succession seems less reassuring than in other areas on the pitch. Have you thought about buying a quality left back?
No. Benjamin is one of the best in his position in Europe and there is not an obvious replacement. But Jorge is highly thought of. He just needs time. We are selling club; it’s in our DNA. We make our choices and we have to live with them. Jorge is going to get some games under his belt and he is going to get up to speed. And then, it’s going to be down to the manager to find the right balance and make the right decisions.
Concerning Kylian Mbappé, has the President Dimitri Rybolovlev always looked to sell him in the preseason so to not miss out on such a deal?
There were several possibilities discussed between Kylian’s family and us. They had seen clubs from their side, we also had approaches made directly. The situation developed during the transfer window and ended with an agreement which suited all parties. His family have been decent and proper in their negotiations with PSG, I applaud them.
Mbappé said that his first intention was to stay at Monaco?
Initially, one possibility was that Kylian stayed at Monaco, I’ve never said the contrary. Afterwards, there were a few things that went on, discussions, meetings and then somewhere along the line he assured to me that he wanted to join PSG. I listened to the family’s points of view. I’ve got to say that I didn’t want him to go to Paris but I understood. I respect Kylian, as a man and a player and I have a lot of respect for his family, with whom I have close, transparent and respectful relationship with, especially with his father, Wilfrid. When the decision was made, we had to strike an agreement with Paris but it had to be consistent with offers made by other clubs.
I do wish him the best. He has everything in order to become one of the world’s best players. He has helped us write a quite simply beautiful page in the club’s history book, along with his teammates, and is living proof that our training academy is still one of the best in the world.
There is no shame in selling a player for €180m…
No, there is no shame in saying that certain offers just cannot be turned down. Everyone knows our philosophy: we are a selling club.
Mbappé’s family is convinced that you still wanted to sell Kylian. And this was ever since the end of last season…
I don’t want to get into that. So many things have happened. The most important thing is that it is done.
When the player said that it was as a result of a significant event that made him decide to leave Monaco – where he initially wanted to stay – do you know at all what this could be about?
I think that there were a few, not one, not two. But I don’t know exactly which event he is talking about.
Benjamin Mendy being sold perhaps?
No, certainly not. Please stop, I don’t want to go into the details. One day, I’ll write a book.
Selling him to PSG, was it a problem at the outset?
Yes, I can indeed say it was. We didn’t really want to strengthen Paris. But when the player explained to us his reasons, we had to respect his wishes. When I gathered that he wanted to go to Paris, I was upset for a few days. But that’s life and it is up to him. I fully understood.
Would you have preferred to sell him to Real Madrid?
Yes but he wouldn’t have. We said to all clubs interested that it is down to Kylian, it’s his choice. An agreement between two clubs is not enough without the player’s consent. He subscribed more to where PSG is going…
AS Monaco has been confronted before with a Financial Fair Play (FFP) investigation, a subject that you know a lot about. Do you think PSG are taking risks by signing Neymar and Mbappé?
I would need to know all the facts in order to be fully cognisant with the situation. I think that they have considered it more on a revenue and sponsorship angle, notably with Nike. UEFA will make a decision in due course.
Have relations been at times strained with PSG during the transfer window?
Yes, there have been tensions. It’s normal when there is not a shared interest. We had some friction but it stayed civilised. It’s a good thing that Paris has a strong team. If that helps France move into the fourth spot in the UEFA coefficient rankings, currently occupied by Italy, all the better for French football.
You’ve sold your players for around €327m (excluding bonuses) this summer. How do you feel about that?
I haven’t calculated it yet but it is still surprising. When you beat a record, you’re happy for ten minutes, or like, a day. But we are not working in the transfer window and thinking about records. Also, I must reiterate, we’ve worked well in terms of players in too. We’ve bought €100m worth of players…
…with a little work could bring you in two or three times as much in the near future…
Yes but we take risks and big ones at that… no-one is stopping other clubs from following suit.
Do you have the impression of being the European benchmark to aspire to, for you are the kings of football business?
People talk a lot about our philosophy (of being a selling club) and some congratulate us. It’s an acknowledgement and a motivation. With our constraints, we have to continue to work smart. And all the time, we’re earning money but also spending it. We are going to start works on a new academy, at the start of 2018, one of the most modern in Europe. It will cost €50m which shows our ambition. It’s not about money; it’s the club’s philosophy that dictates. But in our system, it’s about making profits.
You could have sold Lemar and Fabinho and got €150m extra.
And so what? We are not looking for records. Sales, they are the consequence of having a great season, the league title, a great manager and an excellent recruitment cell and scouting network. We don’t want records. We want to maintain a competitive team while respecting our economic model. And today, we’ve managed it. My dream has always been to develop the model, in both an economic and sporting sense, as far as possible. I’d said that a few years ago with Forbes magazine; I see that it is a possibility.
Why say no to Thomas Lemar leaving for €100m, on the last day of the transfer window, after having accepted to transfer Anthony Martial to Manchester Utd for €80m (incl. bonuses) in 2015?
In 2015 we had to sell in order to meet FFP conditions, so it was more of an obligation. We are, currently, financially safe and sound. You sell when you think it’s the right time. You’ve got to accept the risk (to then sell someone at a lower price the next time round) and it’s by taking risks that we have got here.
In 2015, you sold very well but didn’t exactly buy well. Do you think you have done better this time?
It’s true that it wasn’t exactly great in 2015. But I am convinced that it has been better than two years ago. There’s a great deal of satisfaction when you do a lot of selling and put together a team despite people leaving. It’s a team with quality but we need to give them time.
Leonardo Jardim is very much a key person in your clubs philosophy. Do you dread the moment when you cannot keep hold of him?
He loves what we have got going on here and I hope he will stay for many years with us. If, one day, a big club comes in for him, we’ll sit down and find a solution. But if that day arrives, with our network and contacts, I’m convinced that we will find a successor. Will he be as good? That’s another question. I’m not scared about this at the moment. We’ve gone through quite a few changes and we’ve always found good solutions. But that is it in a nutshell, the institution is always bigger. In the business of football, nothing is a given. Changes can happen at any time.
What is AS Monaco going to do with this money?
We can balance the books in regards to the first few years here. If we hadn’t invested so much money at the outset in 2012, Monaco would be between 5th and 10th in Ligue 1. And then we bought players, we built the academy, we bought a club in Belgium (Cercle Bruges), we got more staff in…
What are the objectives for this season? Is going toe-to-toe with Paris possible?
A top three finish is the key objective but Paris is a beast like no other. I would like to play in the Champions League as far as possible but we know that it is difficult. Every club has bad patches, even the big ones.