With Monaco re-emerging as a European power thanks to the generosity of Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, we’re looking back to last time the club from the principality made a major impression on the European stage.
The Champions League threw up numerous surprises in 2004, but none were quite as unlikely as Monaco’s appearance in the final. The first indication that there could be something special happening on the Mediterranean coast came in the form of a record-breaking victory over Spanish side Deportivo La Coruña. The French club dismantled their fancied opponents in a thrilling 8-3 victory. Dado Pršo was the star of the show, scoring four times, a then record haul (The hulking Croatian’s exploits have been bettered by a certain diminutive Argentinian since). That game epitomised Monaco that season, no respect for reputation, attacking with abandon and unmatched aerial prowess.
Didier Deschamps’ side came through their group and faced Lokomotiv Moscow in the last 16. This was the first season where the format returned to knockout, with the elimination of the second group stage. The French side squeezed through on away goals, Pršo again the saviour, scoring the only goal of the second leg.
They progressed to face Real Madrid where most thought their adventure would come to an end. The first leg saw the Galacticos comfortably come out on top and a late Fernando Morientes consolation was applauded by the home crowd, as a mark of respect for the striker they loaned out. Little did they know that that goal would be their undoing. The return leg saw Monaco put on a brilliant display shocking the Spanish aristocrats, coming from a goal down to win 3-1, with two fabulous goals from captain Ludovic Giuly.
The semi-final saw them clash with the nouveau riche of English football, Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea. Deschamps’ men once again thrived in adversity. Down to ten men at 1-1 in the first leg they summoned the wherewithall to score two late goals to travel to London with a lead. In the return leg, Chelsea stormed out of the blocks and put themselves in front in the tie, before a controversial goal from Hugo Ibarra swung it back in Monaco’s favour. Morientes sealed the tie with his ninth of a prolific campaign to incredibly send the French club into the final, once again on away goals.
In the showpiece itself, the French side froze and were comprehensively dealt with by Jose Mourinho’s Porto, the other surprise package of the tournament, but the club from the principality had won many friends along the way and scored bundles of goals.
Domestically, Monaco fell short of emerging powerhouse Lyon, just as they had the previous season, too many draws costing them in the end.
Sadly for Monaco, their European fling was just a one-night stand, as they would never hit those heights again. Their financial problems which made their success all the more remarkable (they were banned from signing players in the summer of 2003) caught up with them and they were unable to hold on to their players. That summer talismanic captain Giuly left for Barcelona, Morientes returned to Madrid, Pršo went to Rangers and Jérôme Rothen headed for Paris, as the core of the team was ripped apart. French internationals Patrice Evra, Sebastian Squillaci and Gael Givet soon followed them. Following Deschamps’ departure Monaco went through six managers in four seasons as the club slumped further down the Ligue 1 table, before they were finally relegated in 2011.
The Monaco renaissance is well under way thanks to Rybolovlev’s roubles, ironically under the stewardship of Ranieri, and the goal is to return to those heady days of 2004. Perhaps, Falcao and Rodriguez, can emulate Pršo and Morientes and power Monaco back to the top of the European game.