PARIS — Not so long ago, Monaco was splashing cash to lure football's biggest stars. In a complete change of commercial strategy, it is now getting rid of Anthony Martial, one of the brightest young players in French football.
Hailed as Thierry Henry's successor, the 19-year-old Martial was granted permission to leave France's national squad to sign a contract with Manchester United on the final day of France's winter transfer window, which closes on Monday.
Gifted with huge physical qualities and technical skills, the highly-praised Martial was at the heart of Monaco's rebuilding project, the lethal weapon in front of the defensive fortress erected by coach Leonardo Jardim. He is set to become the latest high-profile profile player to leave a club that made headlines two years ago when it recruited Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho for a combined fee of 130 million euros ($145.8 million).
At the time, the Principality side looked determined to fight toe to toe with big spenders Paris Saint-Germain for the domestic supremacy.
But facing a UEFA probe for overspending on player transfers and wages as part of the Financial Fair Play, Monaco allowed Falcao and Rodriguez to leave a year later. Their departure marked the beginning of a new era, as owner Dmitry Rybolovlev —the Russian billionaire who invested millions of euros to bring Monaco back to the topflight in 2013 — made clear the club would focus on the development of young talents instead.
With its highly-praised team of scouts, Jardim brilliantly coped with the club's change of development strategy, rebuilding a balanced squad mixing seasoned veterans and talented youngsters like Martial. That is why the teenager's expected sale to United does not make any sense, at least from a sporting point of view.
It comes just after the departures of four other key players (Yannick Ferreira Carrasco to Atletico Madrid, Geoffrey Kondogbia to Inter Milan, Layvin Kurzawa to PSG, Aymen Abdennour to Valencia) which have not been compensated. The club signed Italy forward Stephan El Shaarawy from AC Milan among the dozen of players recruited this summer, including Portuguese winger Ivan Cavaleiro, Malian winger Adama Traore and Croatian midfielder Mario Pasalic, but the new-look Monaco team has been struggling so far.
The club failed to reach the group stage of the Champions League after losing to Valencia in a play-off and is already lagging seven points behind PSG in the French league standings after a 3-0 home loss to the defending champions on Sunday.
But does it really matter to Rybolovlev? During the summer transfer window, Monaco reportedly spent 67 million euros ($75.2 million), recouping 124 million ($139 million) in sales. And Martial, who joined from Lyon at a cut-price of 5 million euros ($5.61 million), is expected to bring an extra 36 million pounds ($55.5 million) in the club's vaults. A lucrative business.