Thanks to its unique blend of rugged experience infused with youthful exuberance, Monaco are flying high this season.
The French league leaders are battling Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League quarterfinals, hoping to replicate their lone final appearance back in 2004.
But how long will the club known for its wily deals keep its assets in place?
Though Colombian Radamel Falcao is stealing the headlines with his 22-goal season, his young teammate Bernardo Silva is enjoying a breakout season nearly as vital to the team’s success.
The 22-year-old Portuguese midfielder has recorded nine goals and eight assists in all competitions, but it’s his composure in big moments — capped by his extra-time equalizer against second-place PSG in January — which has some of Europe’s superpowers salivating.
Silva labels his 92nd minute long-distance strike as “the best goal, and the most special one,” of his short career, which began at Benfica before a move to Monaco in 2014.
Arriving in the glitzy principality known more for its super yachts and casinos was understandably a little bizarre for a teenager, though Silva adapted quickly.
“It was a huge shock to arrive in this city that is completely different from Lisbon,” Silva tells CNN. “And then to come from the Benfica youth team, and to play in the Champions League and the French league, it was a huge step.
“I was a little shocked in the beginning because I started to play with (Dimitar) Berbatov, with some amazing players, João Moutinho, Ricardo Carvalho, Anthony Martial … but it was great.”
All of those names have commanded big transfer fees during their careers, and the way things are going Silva could be next in line.
The creative ace has reportedly drawn interest from Real Madrid and Manchester United — two frequent dealmakers with Monaco — as well as Inter Milan for a price tag of roughly $87 million.
Considering Monaco spent only $20 million on Silva after a six-month loan from Benfica ended in January 2015 — and that he is represented by super agent Jorge Mendes, who brokered the blockbuster transfers of James Rodriguez to Real Madrid and Martial to Manchester United — a deal could be reportedly in the making as early as this summer.
“For now, I’m feeling very well here in Monaco,” says Silva on the suggestions of a potential move.
“It’s my third season in France, but of course all the players want to play in the best leagues. Spain and England are the best, and of course I dream one day to be there.”
Buying low and selling high has been key to the strategy of Monaco — majority owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev in 2011 — since the appointment of his chief executive officer Vadim Vasilyev four years ago.
Given the club plays in a stadium that holds just 18,523 — often struggling to fill half the seats with its ardent but tiny fan base — Vasilyev has been open about the need to sell top assets for financial gain.
The Martial deal reportedly netted the club over $41 million in 2015, while Rodriguez — who spent just one season in Monaco — was sold for a profit of $43 million a year earlier.
“We understand with the limited revenues we have we cannot dream of being a Real Madrid or Barcelona or Chelsea one day,” Vasilyev tells CNN.
“We don’t need to sell players, but imagine a big club comes and shows interest in one of our players, say a Barcelona. A player would like to go there, it’s normal, it’s ambition, they all want to grow and play at the highest level,” he explains.
“If the moment is right, and the player wants to leave and the offer is right, we will always find an arrangement.”
Even Silva gives the Monaco top brass plaudits for what some fans could consider a frustrating business model: Letting go of top talent just before they blossom into the biggest stars in football.
“First, I think the directors at Monaco … they work really well,” he says, giving credit to Vasilyev for putting the club in a position to compete for its first League 1 title since 2000.
“The players they bought they helped us a lot to improve the way we play.
“It’s a little bit mixed. Young players with some experienced ones. Like Falcao, like Danijel Subaši?,” adds Silva, referring to the club’s Croatian goalkeeper.
“It’s good to have their experience to teach us and to help us become better each day.”
“We can win everything, and we can lose everything”
Not only that, but the return of Falcao — who struggled during recent loan spells at Manchester United and Chelsea — has added a level of doggedness that Monaco lacked in the past, says Silva.
“This season the atmosphere in the dressing room is amazing,” elaborates Silva. “Because once you win, it’s easier to have this feeling around your teammates. We are all very young, and we feel like playing together.
“It’s really good, and we are enjoying it a lot.”
Still, Monaco’s dream campaign could come to a screeching halt in the next six weeks if the team loses focus as it chases success in Ligue 1, the Champions League and the Coupe de France.
“We know that in this month and a half we will be playing (for) everything: We can win everything, and we can lose everything as well,” says Silva.
“It won’t be easy, but I think we will do it,” he says of holding on to the club’s Ligue 1 lead.
“And then Champions League, everybody knows it’s a very difficult competition, but we’ll try to go as far as possible.”
If what’s left of this season transpires into Silva’s final days on the French Riviera, he says his time there will not be forgotten.
“It was my first big experience on a big level, so I’ll be forever grateful to Monaco.
“It was here that I learned most of the things that I know about football. To play with the big players with intensity, with strength.
“I learned that it’s not only the technique,” he adds. “You have to be very, very strong, and be concentrated for the full 90 minutes.”