Champions League: Monaco fans delight in season of a lifetime

    Story highlights

    • Monaco alive for a double trophy season
    • Club has not won Ligue 1 since 2000

    Monaco (CNN)It's the hope that kills you is a common refrain among football fans. But for 26-year-old AS Monaco fan Benjamin Tullou, the patience he's displayed over the past decade is being rewarded this season -- and then some.

    In this late stage of the endless European football season, Monaco is fighting on two fronts thanks to a side playing a free flowing brand of football and scoring plenty of goals.
    The club sits in first place of Ligue 1, and is battling Juventus in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal Tuesday in Turin, though the Italian side is favorite to reach the final after winning the first leg 2-0.
    Its recent 5-0 tumble against archrival Paris Saint-Germain in the Coupe de France semifinal notwithstanding, the 92-year-old club from the second-smallest country in the world has been firing on all cylinders.
    "This season is just crazy," says Tullou, a Monaco native and third-generation supporter. "For the last year or two, the players are changing and we don't really know if the team is going to be really good or not.
    "Then the season starts really well," he recalls, of an early stretch that included a home league win over PSG and an away Champions League victory over Tottenham Hotspur.
    By the time Monaco pummeled FC Metz 7-0 in October, the team was blossoming into contention for its first Ligue 1 title since 2000.
    "I hope for the rest of the season they will (manage) to win something," Tullou says.

    Sweeping changes

    It's hard to believe that as recently as 2011 Monaco was dwelling on the bottom of the French second division.
    But by December of that year, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev bought a majority stake in the team, with the principality's ruling House of Grimaldi -- led by superfan Prince Albert -- maintaining a one-third interest.
    Rybolovlev followed the lead of his compatriot Roman Abramovich at Chelsea and brought on sweeping changes. Just one season later, manager Claudio Ranieri lifted the club back into Ligue 1.
    Although the subsequent millions which have lured the likes of James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao and João Moutinho have attracted a new global fan base, Tullou insists that Monacans are loyal to the club regardless of its fortunes.
    During that first leg against Juventus, one British TV commentator rather uncharitably referred to Monaco's fans as the "most bourgeois in Europe," but Tullou paints a different picture -- of a club that is supported by a tightly knit fan base.
    "Maybe it's because every other club in France says that Monaco is not a (true) French club, (that) we should play in the Italian championship or something," he explains. "Lyon, Paris, Marseilles -- they are big cities so everybody talks about them.
    "Monaco is not like that; we are a country, we are a small city," adds Tullou, noting that even the tiny capacity of 18,500 in Stade Louis II is odd for a club with big aspirations.
    "So it's something different from the French clubs, but every European club too."
    The distinction impacts fan loyalty too, says Tullou, a full-time tennis coach.
    "There is nobody here in Monaco who (roots) for another club. You go maybe to Nice or Marseille and you have a fan of Paris, a fan of Lille, a fan of Saint-Étienne," he notes.
    "In Monaco everybody knows everybody, so if you are born in Monaco you are for Monaco. It's like that.
    "You cannot support another team for your whole life. "

    Bus Tour

    Tullou's most jubilant moment as a Monaco fan took place when the team advanced past Chelsea in the second leg of the 2004 Champions League semifinal.
    Though the club went on to lose 3-0 to Jose Mourinho's Porto squad in the final, no other Ligue 1 side has reached the Champions League Final since.
    "My dream is to win the Champions League," says Tullou.
    But with success comes the reality that Monaco could have a new look next season.
    Because the club's business model is predicated on cashing in on the rising values of its stars, fans have been conditioned not to get too attached to certain players.
    Over the past few seasons, promising youngsters like Rodriguez, Anthony Martial, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Layvin Kurzawa were all shipped out before their 24th birthdays.
    This emergence this season of 22-year-old midfield wizard Bernardo Silva has reportedly drawn interest from Manchester United and Real Madrid, and top goal scorer Falcao will likely attract bidders despite his unimpressive recent loan spells at Manchester United and Chelsea.
    Tullou is clearly used to the idea, but envisages a bus tour with players passing a trophy around Monaco nonetheless.
    "I would like to see Bernardo Silva -- if he's still here -- make the round of the city on the bus, like we see in Barcelona and Madrid.
    "I think we can," he says. "If the big players stay here, I think we can."