Colombian goal machine Radamel Falcao has officially moved from Atletico Madrid to Monaco for a reported fee of €50 million that will make him the third best paid footballer in the world, earning €14 million a year for the next five years. The size of those numbers has led to the usual handwringing and complains about money ruining the game and players being soulless mercenaries who destroy the fabric of modern society. Meanwhile, Falcao gets to live in a beautiful place, play for a club attempting to improve on their significant past glories and he doesn't have to pay taxes on his massive, massive wages.
That's the good news for him. The good news for fans (and the media) is that Monaco's resurgence will almost definitely bring more interest to Ligue 1, building on the equally bemoaned spending efforts of PSG and staving off obscurity to again put France in the spotlight with Germany, England, Spain and Italy. Had Falcao gone to a big club in a bigger league firmly entrenched in success, it would've been just another great player going to an already great team in already great league. Like, say, Neymar to Barcelona. A tired refrain that draws still more complaints. And though "rich club spends big" is also well-worn territory, at least we can say it's a different rich club and something new to discuss.
Fresh off of winning Ligue 2 and being promoted back to the top flight, Monaco have already signed the Porto duo of Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez, plus out of contract Real Madrid defender Ricardo Carvalho (who, at 35, is truly the centerpiece of their new acquisitions). Including Falcao, that means they've spent well over €100 million before June 1. It's a dizzying investment that draws the ire of those who think clubs can only improve through slow, measured growth over the course of decades because we'd all like to be dead by the time anything changes in a given league table.
Remember, Monaco aren't some fly by night amateur club from an underserved village on a kamikaze mission to betray their fanbase and reinvent themselves as a world power. They've won seven Ligue 1 titles in five different decades and reached the Champions League final as recently as 2004 — making them the last French club to do so. They've had players like David Trezeguet, George Weah and Thierry Henry. But financial trouble and a series of hasty changes at the top of the club led to mismanagement, which in turn led to relegation in 2011.
Now they're back in Ligue 1 with a Russian billionaire as majority owner of the club representing a principality with the world's highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capita. At least, they should be. Their newfound ability to flex their long-held tax haven muscle has struck fear in the heart-like space of other Ligue 1 owners (except PSG's, naturally). In March it was decided that admission to Ligue 1 would be restricted to clubs headquartered (and taxed) in France with effect as soon as Monaco would be eligible to return. Threats of large financial penalties and even requirements on the number of French players they must play have also been made, but Monaco are certain that they have free competition laws on their side.
Yet some people do see the potential widespread benefits of Monaco's ambition to a league that, until recently, did more big selling than buying. From the Guardian:
"It's true that Monaco have an advantage in the transfer market, but that can only be beneficial for French football," the Bordeaux midfielder Ludovic Obraniak told French radio station RMC. "To have two big teams, PSG and Monaco, going head to head at home and representing you in Europe will attract interest and investors. Otherwise, with the recession and the new taxes, French football will die. And if Falcao or someone signs for Monaco tomorrow, and we already have Ibrahimovic at PSG, what a joy it would be to play against such players. Not everyone gets to face such stars in their career, so I view that prospect positively rather than with jealousy."
Of course fast and loose spending can prove disastrous to clubs without the sugar daddy means to do so. But the rise of assorted clubs and the chance for more great teams in a larger number of different leagues should mean a more enjoyable past time for football enthusiasts. And the opportunity to make even more money during the brief window that is the career of a professional athlete (it's entertainment to us, but very much a career to those who live it) is one most people in any walk of life would welcome if they were in that position.
The short-sighted will say Falcao goes from a club that qualified for the Champions League next season to one that hasn't. Falcao, however, will probably see it as going from a club that will never have more than a slim chance to win the competition to one that could potentially force their way into being a serious challenger within a few years.
It's something of a competitive gamble insured by a yacht load of money, which seems appropriate when you're playing your home matches so close to Monte Carlo.