INTERVIEW by GIANNI MERLO / AIPS* — AS Monaco have always occupied a unique status in French football. In part this derived from the tax haven status of the principality which offered the club financial advantages compared with its league rivals; in part it derived from the close relationship with the royal family . . . as Prince Albert II explained.

You were an Olympic bobsled competitor and are now a member of the International Olympic Committee. But when did you become a football fan?

In 1963 when I was five I started to follow football watching our team that played in the stadium just below the garden of the Palace. It gradually became a deep passion. I’ve always loved sports in general, but for football the feeling is special.

How do you feel now, seeing Monaco second in the French league?

Albert II and his principality: the casino, the harbour and the Stade Louis II

It is a perfect ranking, which I hope will lead us on into the Champions League. We have a noble past: seven French championships and French cups. The club were founded in 1952 . . . our history is interesting

What is your role?

I do not have a special position. The state finances the training centre for young people. This is the relationship that binds us to the company. The connection with young people is important because they are the future. We have also to invest in the new generations of players such as Layvin Kurzawa and others are coming up. Developing young players from the nursery ensures that you create a true spirit of the club. This is very important. We should not only buy players but develop talented players of our own.

But the club are now financially stable?

Yes, it’s true. For 2013-2014 there was an investment of €180m.

How did the deal with Russian tycoon Dmitry Rybolovlev come about?

I’ve known him for 10 years. A year and a half ago the club were in trouble and I remembered he had told me: ‘If you need any help, I am ready.’ He’s a very shy man but he is great football lover. He has invested so much money because he believes in rebirth and the ability to create a great team.

What role has Claiudio Ranieri, the coach, played in the revival?

He is very smart, intelligent. He knows how to do it.  He also knows how to be a team psychologist when needed. He is not afraid to try young people, for example James Rodriguez. He created team spirit. He dedicated himself body and soul to the cause. It was not easy to come as far and as fast as we have. Last year we were in the second division and now we are hoping to reach the Champions League.

What clubs have impressed you the most?

In recent years Barcelona and Manchester United. But it is now clear that Bayern and Real Madrid are experiencing their turn at the top.

Would you buy Mario Balotelli if you could?

He’s a character and a very special player. He has an impressive talent, he can do surprising things. He’s unpredictable on and off the pitch. It would be a risk though I am open to everything.

Ideally, which player would you most like to see playing for Monao if it were possible?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Unfortunately he would cost too much and anyway Paris Saint-Germain would not sell him! What is most important for us now is to recover Falcao after his injury and, hopefully fro him, he can play at the World Cup in Brazil.

What are your predictions for the finals?

I agree with many others that it’s hard to beat Brazil at home, especially now that Spain do not seem to be the same team as in  past years. I see Germany and Argentina among those who can reach the final. Italy seem to me to be going through a delicate moment but are unpredictable … France has the potential, the question is whether they can fulfil it.

** Gianni Merlo is president of AIPS, the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide. More information: