Last month, AS Monaco majority shareholder, Dmitry Rybolovlev, surprised the footballing world by revealing that he had previously considered buying Manchester United. So, who is the latest Russian oligarch to contemplate a foray into the English Premier League? RT Sports presenter, Kate Partridge, has more.
Dmitry Yevgenyevich Rybolovlev is a different kind of oligarch. He was born on November 22nd 1966 to two doctors in the city of Perm, over 700 miles north-east of Moscow, and graduated as a heart specialist. His first business venture was to provide medical supplies before building up the potash producing company Uralkali, which turned him from a mere millionnaire into a billionaire.
Despite having to endure 11 months in a Perm prison under false charges at the age of 29, he hung on to his business interests. Now aged 47, the separated father of two daughters is Russia’s 14th richest man, with a fortune estimated at $9.1 billion.
After eventually selling off all his shares in Uralkali – most of them going to Anzhi owner, Suleiman Kerimov – he bought a stake in the Bank of Cyprus. And, in December 2011, he reached an agreement with Prince Albert of Monaco to acquire a 66% stake in AS Monaco – which had already enjoyed almost a decade of Russian sponsorship by fertiliser magnate, Aleksey Fedorychev, and his Fedcominvest company.
The principality football club is one of the most successful in France: seven-time Ligue 1 winners, five-time French Cup winners, and runners-up in both the Champions League and Cup Winners’ Cup. Yet when Rybolovlev purchased it, Monaco was struggling in Ligue 2. With his financial backing, les Monagasques swiftly won the second-tier title in 2013 and returned to Ligue 1.
Last summer, the club were one of Europe’s top spenders, splashing out around $230 million on top players, including Radamel Falcao, Joao Mountinho, James Rodriguez and Jeremy Toulalan, as well as free transfers Ricardo Carvalho and Eric Abidal, as the club sought not just survival but the Champions League.
And, so far, they are on course to achieve it. With one game to go until the French winter break, Monaco are second in the league, two points adrift of defending champions, Paris St. Germain. However, the red and whites could find themselves top at Christmas, if they win at home to third-bottom Valenciennes and the leaders lose to third-placed Lille in Paris on Sunday.
In an interview with Paris Match last month, Rybolovlev revealed that, before he acquired his stake in Monaco, he considered buying Manchester United. But he said that Monaco was a club with a long and wonderful history. It was also a team that is of both local and national significance, which made it unique. The fact that it is based in a tax haven probably also had not escaped his notice.
And despite attempts by Francois Hollande’s socialist French government to make it otherwise, on December 14th, the National Assembly performed a U-turn on Monaco. The deputies exempted the principality from paying the new 75 per cent tax rate on earnings of over 1 million Euros ($1.37 million) that will be introduced in 2014.
The decision was apparently reversed because of the risk that the tax law could be considered unconstitutional if applied to a company not registered in France. In practical terms, this means that Monaco – had it not been already – is now de facto one of the richest clubs in the French top flight.
All the others will be subject to the new rate, which is payable by the employers, and not the players themselves, for earnings from 2013. It also means Monaco becomes even more of a magnet for the world’s highest earners.
It’s also a bumper Christmas present for coach Claudio Ranieri, who can look at the January transfer window with the glee of a lottery winner. Monaco have conceded only 11 goals in 18 games, but the experienced defensive duo of Abidal and Carvalho, with a combined age of 69, have sometimes been exposed for a lack of pace and mobility. Names mooted include Porto’s 22-year-old French youth star, Eliaquim Mangala.
While at 21, left-back Layvin Kurzawa is still relatively inexperienced, as is 20-year-old Fabinho on the right. Consequently, Monaco have been linked with Real Madrid’s unsettled Fabio Coentrao – as well as winger Angel Di Maria – and the possible return of Manchester United’s Patrice Evra on a free transfer, as well as Tottenham’s Kyle Walker.
Up front, Ranieri will no doubt want to hang on to record signing Falcao, despite the Colombian being suggested as Chelsea’s next big-name target. Seeing two Russian chairmen go head-to-head over such an issue might prove interesting.
Following Kerimov’s own budget U-turn over Anzhi and the club’s subsequent plummet towards relegation, any long-term football club ownership by a Russian is now naturally viewed with even more scepticism. Yet after purchasing his majority share of Monaco, Rybolovlev displayed more caution than the stratospheric aspirations expressed by Kerimov.
He said: “We came out of League 2, and we had great ambitions, but our priority is to get into the Champions League. After that – we shall see. It’s still too early to talk about when Monaco will win the title. I am here to stay. I want the club to return to the positions in the international arena that it deserves.”
And stay he just might. In the same year that he bought the club, the self-confessed lover of all things Monte Carlo paid a reported $300 million for the “La Belle Epoque” penthouse. Valued as the most expensive and one of the most sought after properties in the world, the lavish apartment overlooks the famous harbour.
So, after overcoming prison, a collapse in the price of potash, the economic crisis in Cyprus, and the financial plans of M. Hollande’s government, it looks like Mr. Rybolovlev just might be sticking with Monaco for a little while yet.