Monaco seeking to train next generation of Chinese talent

French club AS Monaco and wannabe football powerhouse China have more in common that you might first think.

Monaco, situated among superyachts in a playground for the rich, no longer spends upwards of $50 million on a single player, concentrating resources on youth.

And China is also looking inwards, with the days of Chinese Super League clubs assembling all-star squads at inflated prices curtailed by government rulings that mean all 16 teams can only field three foreign players.

Sensing opportunity, Monaco vice-president and CEO Vadim Vasilyev is seeking to train the next generation of Chinese talent.

“Right now we’re speaking to a few clubs in China about possible cooperation in developing their young players,” Vasilyev tells CNN Sport.

“Obviously what China lacks is the knowledge and the know-how. We can share expertise with the Chinese. I don’t think we’re worried; we see it as an opportunity.”

La Turbie

It does not take a financial expert to see Monaco’s brilliance when it comes to developing young players.

Anthony Martial — bought from Lyon for under $3.5 million and sold to Manchester United as the most expensive teenager in history — is just one of many lucrative departures in recent seasons.

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, the likes of 18-year-old Kylian Mbappé ably support more experienced teammates, propelling Monaco to the top of Ligue 1 with the division’s third-youngest squad.

“We have a historically renowned academy,” says Vasilyev, recalling Monaco’s major part in France’s 1998 World Cup win.

“What makes it special here, besides the historical achievement, is that young players see they really can make it.”


But why China?

China’s leader, President Xi, has said in no uncertain terms he wants to see China qualify for, host and, one day, win the World Cup.

Towering over the gates of the Evergrande Football School in Guangdong, a 40-foot replica World Cup trophy provides all the inspiration budding Chinese players might need.

And Vasilyev, a former Russian diplomat, believes a love affair with football in a country with a potential talent pool of over a billion is “already a game changer.”

He acknowledges wages in the Chinese Super League have been “out of proportion,” but contends it’s just “a temporary phase.”

After all, Vasilyev himself oversaw a period of significant spending 2013/14 as he sought to put Monaco “quickly back on the map of French and European football.”

The club “needed massive investment” in the beginning in order to convince top players to come, he explains, “otherwise it would have taken ages, years.”

What Vasilyev calls “step No. 2” followed, and the rest is history.

Step No. 3?

Monaco officials “found the right model for development” and have reaped the rewards. Now they want to help China do the same.

Vasilyev tells CNN one of his colleagues has been in China discussing the role of Monaco’s academy in the development of young players.

Where others see “danger” to the European leagues with football’s sleeping dragon looking set to awaken, Vasilyev sees only “opportunity.”

“We’ve already seen some important consequences, he says. “Long-term, the impact of China will be even more important.”

Monaco captain Radamel Falcao is not the first major name to perceive China’s “attractive” footballing future.

“I think they’re making some really strong investments with the objective of growing their game,” the Colombian tells CNN.

“They will probably have a really strong league in the future that will be very attractive due to the class of players they have.

“Me personally? I’ve had some offers that I’ve turned down because I think that I have some goals in Europe that I’d like to achieve. In the future, you never know.”

It’s a vision Vasilyev shares.

“Today, we have to be honest, players go for money,” he says. “But as China continues to develop, 10 years from now, they might also go for the sports.”

Don’t bet against a small principality 5,000 miles away playing its part.

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