In Kylian Mbappé — the scorer of Monaco’s consolation goal in Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat in Turin, which completed a 4-1 loss on aggregate — the French champion-in-waiting possesses arguably the most exciting prospect in the world, an 18-year-old player seemingly destined to grace the latter stages of the Champions League for years to come.
Around him is the rest of a new generation, a swath of names that have intruded into soccer’s consciousness over the last few months and are likely to stay there for some time: Tiemoue Bakayoko and Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy. This will always be the season they announced themselves to the world.
“I am very happy with what we have done, and very proud of this team,” Jardim said, deadpan, on Tuesday night. “For many of the players, it has been a first semifinal, a first experience of this level, a good experience for life.”
That will be of scant solace in the immediate aftermath of defeat, of course, to fans and players alike. The pain, for now, will be too sharp, too raw.
Theoretically, though, in the days and weeks to come, it should start to offer a little comfort. This should be the start of something special at Monaco. There is still a likely French championship, a first of the century, to celebrate. Beyond that, there is the prospect of all this team might achieve next year, what it might become, to savor.
In reality, of course, it will not work like that. The vultures have been hovering over Monaco for some time. Real Madrid’s long, complex seduction dance has already begun, with Mbappé its target; the cash-rich, trophy-poor denizens of the upper echelons of the Premier League are casting their greedy eyes at him and most of his teammates, too. Something is stirring in Monaco; Europe’s aristocrats will be sure to devour it long before it can come to a boil.
It has, after all, happened before. As Jardim’s team progressed deeper and deeper into the Champions League this season, the echoes of another team stuffed full of prodigies grew louder and louder. The parallel is not perfect, but there is something of the Ajax generation of the mid-1990s about Monaco.
Like Monaco, that Ajax team — the last truly great one the Amsterdam club has produced — was impossibly young, with many of the players still in their teens and just a couple of grizzled veterans for support. Like Monaco, Ajax had sourced much of its talent locally, and reared it away from the limelight. Like Monaco, Ajax played a swift, attractive, expansive soccer; Jorge Valdano, a World Cup winner with Argentina and later one of Real Madrid’s grandees, described it as “not just the team of the ’90s but a footballing utopia.”
Under the aegis of Louis van Gaal, Ajax did what Monaco could not: In 1995, with a goal from an 18-year-old Patrick…