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Tax-free Monaco embraced after club’s $68 million payment keeps it in French soccer

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After conflict between Monaco and the rest of French soccer left the top tier’s seven-time champions on the brink of explosion from their league, the club and the Ligue de Football Professionel reached an agreement on Friday that will allow Ligue 1’s second place team to stay in the French league. Whereas AS Monaco were on the brink of being excluded from next season’s competition because of a new rule targeting their tax-exempt status, the club will now pay an expensive, one-time fee to maintain their place in le Championnat.

“Out of concern for the equality and balance of the competition, AS Monaco are committed to paying a voluntary, fixed and definitive sum of €50 million to the LFP,” the league said in a Friday statement, “and will withdraw their plea to the Council of State.”

Monaco, having spent lavishly since Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the club in Dec. 2011, pays $68.4 million to stay in the league, a status the club has enjoyed since 1933. With tax rates against high incomes climbing in France, the remainder of the French league had grown tired of Monaco’s competitive advantage, the club based in a tax-free principality that operates independent of French law. That advantage has helped lure like likes of Radamel Falcao, João Moutinho, and James Rodríguez to the club, with Rybolovlev’s team alleviated of paying the personal income tax that is customarily covered by French clubs.

source: AP
Dmitry Rybolovlev purchased AS Monaco in 2011 as the club embarked on their two-year stint in the second division. His spending has vaulted them back into Ligue 1 and into a UEFA Champions League spot. (Photo: AP.)

In response to Rybolovlev’s spending, the LFP had adopted a rule that, effective next season, would exclude all clubs whose offices were not located in France. Monaco was pursuing a resolution through the French courts before Friday’s resolution, one that Rybolovlev touted on the club’s website:

“From the beginning we wanted to find an intelligent solution which would work for both sides, within a favourable climate for negotiations.

The AS Monaco FC project can help raise the level of French football and it is good that this has been understood.”

The idea that teams like Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain can help raise Ligue 1’s level underscored the early acquiescence to PSG’s rise. Part of the theory was revenues PSG would raise (or, merely inject) money into the rest of the first division either through player purchases or by raising the league’s commercial profile.

Based in the French capital, PSG is subject to the same taxation as 18 other clubs in Ligue 1. Monaco, however, doesn’t have to endure the same tax on Falcao as PSG’s paying for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Where it’s customary to have agents negotiate such that clubs are responsible for players’ income taxes, Monaco faces a significant edge when accounting for their high-end talents.

Thanks to Friday’s $68.4 million settlement, that edge gets preserved in perpetuity. From the club’s statement announcing the agreement:

By paying a single, lump-sum, voluntary contribution of EUR 50 million, payable in installments, AS Monaco FC is demonstrating its commitment to French football and will be able to continue to pursue its project for the benefit of all stakeholders.

The shared history between French football and one of its most faithful representatives has made it possible to find an agreement that will put an end to their legal dispute, with an undertaking from both sides that this agreement cannot be challenged later.

If the point of pursuing Monaco was restoring competitive advantage, it’s unclear this agreement makes sense. The $68.4 million fee Monaco’s paying represents only a few years’ taxes on their players. In the big picture, this isn’t something that’s going to inhibit Monaco from taking advantage of their slanted playing field.

In accepting this solution, the LFP’s agreeing with Rybolovlev, even if their statement touted the need for “equality and balance.” Having settled for such a small payment, the deal does little to achieve those ends. Though it may have symbolic value in getting Monaco to acknowledge their advantage, it won’t inhibit players from moving to the club. It won’t deter Rybolovlev from growing his team. It won’t stop Monaco from exploiting their advantage on the rest of their league.

But Ultimately, it does them no good to kick out Monaco. Perhaps France would have a more equitable competition, but they’d have it at the expense of their commercial growth, something that can’t be taken lightly for a circuit that continues to attract some of the world’s best talent. With clubs like PSG and Monaco in the league, Ligue 1‘s profile could eventually challenge that of the Serie A and Bundesliga. When that challenge translates into revenues, the rest of le Championnat‘s clubs may be better off.

At least, that the end game the LFP are hoping to see. Whether that transpires, only time will tell. After Friday’s agreement, however, the experiment is set to run its course. The LFP has signed off on Monaco’s competitive advantage, accepting a large if token payment in the process. Now Monaco has to make good on their promise.

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.