Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Lillian Thuram, Emmanuel Petit and Kylian Mbappé: AS Monaco has a long history of developing players for the French national team. Aurélien Tchouaméni is the latest to have cemented a place in the national, whilst donning the iconic Diagonale of the Principality side. Now a fixture in Didier Deschamps’ side, two more Monégasques are set to burst onto the scene. Should Benoît Badiashile and Youssouf Fofana make their debuts against Austria tonight, they will become the 70th and 71st AS Monaco players to have represented the national side. Only Marseille have developed more.
Speaking exclusively to Luke Entwistle, AS Monaco sporting director Paul Mitchell spoke about the continuation of a “historic strategy” that allows young players to flourish at the Principality club and go on to represent their national sides. Asked about the first call-ups for Badiashile and Fofana, he said, “It definitely is a source of pride, not only for myself but for everyone who has been working tirelessly over the last couple of years to realign and re-engage a historic strategy. Monaco has always been an organisation that has developed players for the French national team.”
He continued, “I feel that with the hard work, the processes that have been put in place, and the conscious, daily focus to work with and develop young athletes, we’re seeing again the end product of all of that hard work. So I’m extremely proud for the individuals themselves, and we’re working tirelessly behind the scenes to produce many, many more.”
Monaco aren’t just well-represented in the French national team. Krépin Diatta, Ismail Jakobs, Takumi Minamino, Mohamed Camara, Breel Embolo and Guillermo Maripán have all received call-ups to their respective national teams for this final international break ahead of November’s World Cup. Meanwhile, Eliot Matazo, a Monaco academy product and Golden Boy nominee has become a fixture in the Belgian U21 side and has once again been selected to represent the ‘Red Devils’ at youth level.
The French youth levels are also littered with Monégasque talent. This summer, promising attacking midfielder Maghnes Akliouche won third-best player at the Maurice Revello tournament in Toulon. For this international break, Soungoutou Magassa, Yann Liénard and Jordan Semedo have all earned call-ups to the France U20 side.
For Mitchell, it is the club’s “conscious” and unwavering approach to youth development that allows AS Monaco to be the second-largest producer of French internationals. “I think it’s a constant objective and focus of ours, as an organisation. We openly discuss the importance of player development and young player development and a high percentage of that is French talent. Every day those discussions take place between myself and the shareholder, myself and the coach, the coach and technical team, the coach, myself and the director of performance [James Bunce],” he said.
“The key has been a real internal alignment between all the key stakeholders that have contact with the talent. I think it is that focus, that under stress, we do not derail or default on the commitment of developing players. I think that is the key fundamental of allowing players to flourish and develop in competitive and performance-driven environments,” he continued.
Magassa made his debut for Monaco in difficult circumstances against Rennes. Brought on following an early red-card for Fofana, he played the majority of the match, looking controlling and calm in the midfield as Monaco salvaged a well-earned but unlikely draw. Liénard is also a regular fixture in the first team, training alongside Alexander Nübel and Thomas Didillon.
What was particularly striking about Magassa’s performance was the seamless manner in which he fitted into the side. As ‘Elite Group’ manager Damien Perrinelle revealed during a tour of the club’s new, state-of-the-art ‘La Diagonale’ academy centre, the youth sides adopt the “ideas and principles” of the first team, thus facilitating their integration into the senior side.
Explaining the decision to create the ‘Elite Group,” Monaco CEO Jean-Emmanuel de Witt told Luke Entwistle, “This year, we took the decision to create the ‘Elite Group’ rather than playing in National 2. Why did we do that? Because we want to reduce the gap between the young players and the professionals.”
Mitchell believes that the benefits of that decision are already beginning to show: “I think we’ve already seen the shoots and seeds of some positivity around the change of the elite development group. Even today, because we’re not fixed into certain programmes, we can manipulate and mould our working week that has maximum contact and influence towards developing these guys for the first team. Today there were seven or eight training again with the first-team, in the first-team environment, with the first-team coach, developing those relationships. That’s what ultimately leads to the first-team coach bringing them into the team, giving them the trust and support because of that level of contact,” he said.
He continued, “We’re frequently looking at ways to heighten that, day-in, day-out. I think that’s been a massive element of the change. We can see rewards with players like Magassa coming from there, like the players training today that haven’t gone away with their national teams.”
For AS Monaco, the international call-ups help the club on numerous levels. On a sporting level, Philippe Clement has said that he believes that Tchouaméni returned with “more confidence and experience” after his first call-up with Les Bleus. Clement added, “[international call-ups] allow players to play at a high level, whilst accruing experience.”
For Mitchell, the club’s continued devotion to youth development also helps attract the best young, French talent. “People have seen our constant commitment to developing youth and players. Even under difficult circumstances of not always getting the most positive of results, they still see a resilience towards the objective of developing youth, and the development of young athletes within our centre. I think when we’re objectively measured as the second youngest team in France, the tenth youngest team in the big five leagues, with this recent history of progressing Aurélien to the first-team, Benoît [Badiashile], Youssouf, Axel Disasi, who has also been very close [to a call up], and they look around the squad with [Eliot] Matazo, [Maghnes] Akliouche winning the Toulon Tournament at U20 level, it’s clear that it’s not just a one-off. It’s not just by luck, it’s not a fluke,” he said.
He continued, “There is a clear procession of a conscious body of work that goes on here now that is player-centred and player-focused. I think that because of the objective measure of the level of talent, players and agents are saying – and I think the market reflects it – “that’s where I want to go,” from 16 [years old] to the first-team because they’re clear in the idea that these players will play for the first-team. This club, this organisation will do everything within its power to extract the potential of young players to the highest possible level.”
Helping Monaco “extract” that potential is not only the ‘La Diagonale’ academy complex, but also the recently-inaugurated performance centre in La Turbie. The avant-garde facility, a project of president Dmitry Rybolovlev since his arrival just over a decade ago, is yet another tool to maximise the potential of players, both youth and professional, as well as the coaching staff. As well as being lured by the youth-centric culture at the club, players, including most recent signing Mohamed Camara, perceive the new centre acts as a further point of attraction. The infrastructure and the culture at the club makes conditions for development optimal, meaning that if and when players do transfer, they often do so for a significantly higher fee than what they arrive for.
Case in point is the sale of Tchouaméni to Real Madrid for a reported €100m this summer, having arrived from Bordeaux in 2020 for just €20m. Whilst Mitchell believes that international exposure can “create value,” it is the multiple exposures, across multiple divisions that help the club attract the fees that they do.
“I think the fact that we are supplying this volume of players internationally helps, but I think it’s also our performances in Ligue 1 and our performances on the European stages as well. I think it’s an accumulation of those different exposures that lead teams to pay the amount of money that they have to pay for the quality of players from an ambitious club like AS Monaco,” he said.
Monaco’s “historic strategy” continues to reap rewards both on and off the pitch. One of the most successful clubs in French football history, their success is often also to the benefit of the national team. Given the young talents breaking into both the first team and the youth sides, Monaco’s reputation as a ‘feeder club’ for Les Bleus is an enduring one, and looks set to be perpetuated by the current, and future, generations of Monaco players.