They are the neutral’s favourites for the Champions League, the most exciting team of young talents that European football has seen in years. AS Monaco’s progress to a European Cup semi-final, their dismantling of Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund along the way, their ascent to the summit of a French League most assumed had been purchased for the foreseeable future by Paris Saint-Germain’s Qatari petrodollars, is the story of this season’s Champions League.
It is a story that contradicts one of modern football’s received wisdoms – that monetary power determines on-field success. A story of how Monaco constructed a team that could be crowned the best in Europe next month while selling its most coveted footballers. Of how financial circumstance and Fair Play regulations led Monaco to become the first club in history to secure over €200m in transfer fees in a single season, while simultaneously creating a squad both more successful and more valuable than the one they sold off.
The principal figure behind a recruitment strategy that furnished Monaco with footballers of the calibre of Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar, Fabinho, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Benjamin Mendy is a Portuguese sports professor who coached in his domestic league before being hired by Jose Mourinho as his senior scout at Real Madrid. Four years ago, Luis Campos became Monaco’s technical director following Dmitry Rybolovlev’s purchase of a majority stake in the club.
After a final summer window advising Monaco, Campos joined Lille as an advisor to their new owner last October. The 52-year-old rarely talks about his work in public, but ahead of Monaco’s Champions League semi-final with Juventus, Campos granted an exclusive interview to Yahoo Sport to explain how the principality club travelled so far, so quickly, while flaunting football’s conventional wisdom.
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Luis Campos: I left Jose Mourinho’s technical team at Real Madrid and arrived in Monaco at [vice-president] Vadim Vasilyev’s invitation in 2013, the year the club returned to Ligue 1. The initial project was of high financial investment, leading to the signing of players like [Radamel] Falcao, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho.
My role required a rebuilding of a club that was not prepared for the highest level. The reorganisation of areas such as the medical department, training department, team management, the study of opponents and the implementation of a new player scouting methodology were the first steps in the architecture of this new Monaco. [Claudio] Ranieiri was the coach and I was able to count on the collaboration of an exceptional expert named Riccardo Pecini.
Following an extraordinary second-place League finish, Ranieri and Pecini left and another restructuring had to be made. The patronage investment was over. It was impossible for Mr Rybolovlev to continue to put many millions into the club. We would have to build success in another way, and in this respect I feel like the architect of a process that ended for me with the construction of this superteam of 16/17.
Yahoo Sport: The Monaco project changed radically to one in which you were asked to raise hundreds of millions in transfer fees and replace sold stars with young talents. How did you go about achieving that new goal?
Luis Campos: From one moment to the other the ability to invest in confirmed talents disappeared and I saw many people despair. If we wanted to continue at the highest level, we had to radically change policy and find young talents, put them in a good showcase, and then sell to make strong financial contributions to sustain the project.
I stopped living day-to-day at the club, and began living in airplanes, hotels and stadiums all around the world – which harmed me later. Fortunately, Vadim relied on me and my choices. Only twice did he hesitate because he listened to others and lost the business of two current superstars, but that served as an example for the immense trust he then deposited in me.
We first built a team minus Falcao and James Rodriguez that reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 2015, then quickly sold seven starters, raising the largest income from transfer fees in the history of football. Vadim contributed a lot with his tremendous negotiating skills and diplomacy, but our ability to recruit well at low prices was decisive.
Yahoo Sport: You are regarded as one of football’s leading talent spotters. What are the secrets of your methods? How do you achieve such success in finding players when so many clubs struggle to sign well?
Luis Campos: With a lot of work, but also with the support and help of the extraordinary team I was able to put together. Plus the implementation of a method I devised that does not require any more than six super scouts, a good organisation and, of course, a lot of competence and dedication.
Not everyone can be a good football player, nor a good doctor or engineer. So not everyone can have this ability to identify good players who are able to join and form a good team.
What they know about Monaco is a complex process that comes not just from the choice of good players, but also from our ability to predict who will interact well with who. It’s like forming a jigsaw puzzle. The right pieces, in the right places.
Yahoo Sport: Detailed performance statistics, computer-based analytical methods and algorithms have become increasingly popular in modern football with clubs like Liverpool granting them priority in their recruitment decisions. Do you employ any of these methods? And what do you think of them?
Luis Campos: All the data and methods you mention are very important, but if you do not know how to read and interpret them, they are definitely useless. The sensitivity and ability to read this data is critical. But I believe much more in what our eyes and our brain are capable of transmitting to us than in any computer in the world. The computer and statistical data offer us an essential, but not decisive aid.
For me, live observation is fundamental. For example, a small detail such as observing how a player warms up before a game or coming on as a substitute reveals much of his character. And character is an essential marker in detecting a top talent. There are many who can see and analyse players, but there are very few who can project what they see into the future.
The Portuguese Nobel laureate Jose Saramago said, ‘If you can look, see. If you can see, notice’. You can look, you can see, but not everyone can notice!
Yahoo Sport: Monaco have already gone further in this Champions League than most expected them to. What chance do you give them of winning it at Cardiff?
Luis Campos: If the management is done well, the chances are real and serious. After Real Madrid this is the team with the highest number of talented players.
Yahoo Sport: Monaco’s success has brought huge interest from richer clubs. How many of the squad do you expect to move on this summer and how much money do you think the club will raise in transfer fees?
Luis Campos: I think a lot of players will leave the club, and I think a new record will be established. The great clubs are not sleeping and know the quality that exists there.
If Monaco doesn’t continue to follow the elaborate project of financial support created three years ago it will quickly collapse if it has a bad year of sporting results because its other revenues – ticketing, merchandising, TV rights etc – are insufficient. And that is a risk that the club can not afford.
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Yahoo Sport: Which younger players at Monaco should we look to take the places of those who are sold?
Luis Campos: It all depends on how many players the club buys this summer, but there are still many pearls of my time that not only come from the formation like [Tristan] Muyumba or [Irvin] Cardona, or are loaned to other clubs like Adama Traore, [Gabriel] Boschilia, [Alan] Saint-Maximin and Rony Lopes.
Yahoo Sport: Jose Mourinho hired you as his tactical and talent scout at Madrid. How was he to work with?
Luis Campos: Working with Jose was the best thing that could happen in my professional life. With him I realised the value of rigour and requirement. I definitely grew up in the area of scouting opponents and players. The time spent with him and the top talents of Real Madrid allowed me to perceive and begin to identify what the great players have different from the normal players.
Yahoo Sport: You’ve had offers of work from Premier League clubs yet not taken any yet. Do you see yourself working for an English club in the future?
Luis Campos: It may happen, but I think most English clubs do not know how to recruit for an issue that I almost think is cultural as almost everyone makes the same mistake. English clubs really, really like top attacking players, yet to a large extent make them play alongside medium-quality defences. And that, in my opinion, explains their relative lack of success in European competitions despite them spending exorbitant sums in recent years.
Successfully building a good team project always involves the ability of players to relate and ‘match’ to each other. In the Premier League there is a big difference between great talents, and the medium quality of support for the same offensive talent. Most teams lack great defenders, and defensive midfielders.
So I do not know if they would understand me culturally. The great forwards who are already in the Premier League would be even better if they had the support of great full backs, for example. And how many great full backs are there in England? Right now, maybe just Tottenham’s.
Yahoo Sport: Which of all the signings in your career are you most proud of? And why?
Luis Campos: Honestly, I cannot tell you. Forgive my immodesty, but there are so many and it’s hard to say that one is the best. Some of the players who are most in demand from this Monaco side underwent extremely complicated processes, not only in their previous clubs but also within Monaco itself. So again, the insight and confidence that Vadim held in me were decisive.
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From when we had to find new solutions after the sale of the first batch of signings in 2014/15 and that first sales record, the football department worked by itself. I had to return to the road, and I started to realise that although only the names I suggested such as Mendy, Sidibe, Glik and Jemerson were of interest that my role within the club would never be the same again. The constant travelling was hard on me and my family so I decided to ask Vadim to let me go. And I do not regret it.
My cycle was over, the club was prepared with a superb second batch of great players, the organisation was excellent even in the academy where we won the Coupe Gambardella [for French under-19 sides], so I am proud to see and observe the current results. I hope and wish that they will be able to rebuild a good future after they achieve a world sales record again this summer.
I don’t want to appear arrogant but I assure you I will create other ‘masterpieces’ like this in my career.
Many parents have suddenly appeared for our project and player recruitment, many of whom claim paternity even though they ‘never had sex with the mother or even slept in the same bed’! But the world of football doesn’t sleep and knows very well who made a team which today anyone who likes football admires and respects. Because nothing happened by chance.