Monaco face a struggle to earn recognition at home and abroad.

By Steve Menary
The national team of Monaco is very strange,” reflects Monaco coach Thierry Petit as he takes a break from training at the Stade des Moneghetti just outside the northern tip of the Mediterranean principality. “It is possible to have all or nothing. We have nothing.”

Petit is not in charge of the club side that reached the 2004 Champions League Final; he coaches the national team of the world’s second-smallest country. But while his side meet all the necessary UEFA and FIFA membership criteria, they are barely acknowledged by their own government, who are desperate not to jeopardise AS Monaco’s place in the French league by creating any rival distractions.

The influence of the French is all pervasive. Most of the streets surrounding Moneghetti are actually in France and Monegasque players who are unable to make the grade at ASM play for clubs in neighbouring French towns, such as Cap D’Ail.

Outside of income-tax exiles, only around 8,000 people are truly Monegasque and training sessions, which are held on Tuesday and Friday lunchtimes, usually feature a third of the 63 players available for selection.

Defender Yohan Garino, who is Monaco’s most-capped player with 16 appearances, says: “It’s difficult for the players as most of us work at the weekends in the casino. It’s hard to get the best players there for matches.”

A handful of Monegasques have played professionally – including captain Guy Platto (Beauvais, Louhans-Cuiseaux and ASM), Renaud Connen (ASM, Ajaccio and Grenoble) and Gregory Campi (ASM, Rouen, Bari, Impact Montreal, Lille and La Louviere) – but arranging fixtures remains difficult. Last season a 2-2 draw with Occitania was followed by a 3-2 loss to Provence and a 3-1 defeat against ASM’s amateur side.

Charity matches
Apart from the artificial turf at Moneghetti, the principality’s only other pitch is ASM’s Stade Louis II Stadium and Petit’s side are allowed to play there just once a year, when two matches are staged in aid of the royal family’s worldwide children’s charity, AMADE, prior to the annual Formula One grand prix.

In May this year, Petit’s side went down 3-2 to a side drawn from the local business community, before a team of Formula One drivers, including Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, took on an all-star XI selected and led by Prince Albert.

Monaco’s ruler, who played in the second match, personally congratulated his national team for their contribution, but the principality’s government banned Petit’s team from playing in the 2009 VIVA World Cup (VWC) – which was staged just a three-hour drive away, up the coast in northern Italy.

“Every time we play we must ask the government for permission and the [VWC] organisers are part of the [Italian separatist political party] Lega Nord so they say no,” says Petit. “We hope we can go to the VWC in Gozo [a Maltese island] next year.”

Travelling to Italy would have cost £12,000 compared to £38,000 for Gozo, but Petit is not disheartened. “We know he is sympathetic,” says Petit of Prince Albert, who has been presented with a national team shirt emblazoned with his name.

With so few of his countrymen to choose from, even if Petit’s side make it to the next VWC, Monaco are sure to be rank outsiders.