Interviews

FourFourTwo meets Monaco's main men: "My objective is to get to a club like Man United - but I don't know if it will happen"

The Ligue 1 side are Europe’s best attacking outfit, packed with young talent – no wonder their stars are being linked with the Red Devils and their boss is being linked with Arsenal. Now, they tell Tiago Marques why they’re ready for Manchester City in the Champions League… 

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The rain is hammering down on a chilly day in Monaco, as FourFourTwo sits down to speak to Leonardo Jardim. It’s not impossibly glamorous in the principality for all 365 days of the year, you know – just 364 of them.

Jardim is the manager of a Monaco side who have undoubtedly brought glamour and style to the Stade Louis II this season. Ahead of Tuesday's Champions League last 16 clash with Manchester City, they sit top of the Ligue 1 table, having netted a stunning 76 goals in just 26 league fixtures.

To put that into context, that’s 26 more than PSG, the team who put four past Barcelona last week. It’s also 13 more than the MSN-aided Barca (albeit from three fewer games), 30 more than Bayern Munich, 24 more than Chelsea and 25 more than the Manchester City side they’re preparing to face at the Etihad Stadium.

Monaco

Monaco take on Manchester City at the Etihad on Tuesday

“Games against the English clubs have gone well for me,” Jardim tells FFT. “When I was at Olympiacos we won against Arsenal, and we did it again two years ago with Monaco. Then in the group stage this season, it was Tottenham.”

In with the new

Falcao remains – back from loan spells with Manchester United and Chelsea – and Portugal’s Euro 2016 winner Joao Moutinho is still a key presence in midfield

Monaco beat Spurs home and away, having triumphed 3-1 at the Emirates in the last 16 in 2015 – a result that was ultimately enough to eliminate Arsene Wenger’s Gunners. “We’re under no illusions, though,” Jardim stresses. “The level in the Champions League is always very high. We want to make the quarter-finals, but we never forget what we’ve already achieved.”

Manchester City’s squad has undoubtedly been more expensively assembled. Monaco’s own spending has been reined back a little since the days when they paid €45m for James Rodriguez and €60m for Radamel Falcao during Claudio Ranieri’s reign back in 2013, shortly after the arrival of Russian billionaire owner Dmitry Rybolovlev. Rodriguez has since departed, while fellow experienced players Ricardo Carvalho, Jeremy Toulalan and Dimitar Berbatov have been and gone.

Falcao remains – back from loan spells with Manchester United and Chelsea – and Portugal’s Euro 2016 winner Joao Moutinho is still a key presence in midfield. But otherwise Monaco’s line-up is largely packed with young talent.

Joao Moutinho

Moutinho remains at the Stade Louis II, although he is no longer a regular starter

“Here we try to specialise and maximise the number of young players we have,” says Jardim, who joined Monaco from Sporting in his homeland of Portugal two years ago – although he was actually born in Venezuela.

“That’s what we have done and with very clear examples like Yannick Carrasco, Anthony Martial, Layvin Kurzawa or Geoffrey Kondogbia. They left and now we have other players emerging like Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva, Tiemeue Bakayoko, Fabinho, Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy. Jemerson, a little older, is also in that group. They’re all young people who, for the first time, are playing at a high competitive level. They’re growing.”

Eyes on a move

Carrasco is now at Atletico Madrid and Martial at Manchester United, who made serious moves to lure Fabinho to the club in the summer

With that, comes interest from Europe’s top clubs. Carrasco is now at Atletico Madrid and Martial at Manchester United, who made serious moves to lure Fabinho to the club in the summer.

“There was some contact,” the Brazilian right-back-cum-holding midfielder confirms to FFT. “Not with me, no-one got to speak with me, but with my agent. I also saw a lot going on in the press. I’m happy to be linked with big clubs but if nothing real and clear happens, it doesn’t mean a thing, does it? That’s why I keep on working.”

Fabinho’s agent is none other than Jorge Mendes, who also represents Jose Mourinho.

“Working with Jorge is good because he’s the best in the world,” the 23-year-old says. “I don’t talk with him all the time – he has a huge list of players – but he still has time for everyone. He always tries to check everything’s OK and ask whether I need anything.”

Fabinho signed a new contract recently, running until 2021, but he’s keen to play in the Premier League one day.

“My objective is to get to a club with the dimension of Manchester United – I have no clue if one day I’ll be a United player, but I’ll keep on working so it stops being a rumour and becomes reality,” he explains.

“I’ve spoken to David Luiz and Filipe Luis about their experience in the Premier League. Filipe told me that it’s a high intensity league, in every match. Maybe in other leagues you can rest in some weeks, but not in England. That’s a league where I want to play. Every match is sold out. Football in England is physical, but here in France it’s the same so I wouldn’t have problems adapting.”

David Luiz

David Luiz has told Fabinho about the intensity of the Premier League

Working with the best

When I first got there, a lot of senior players were away so I started training with the first team – with world class players like Kaka, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Luka Modric

- Fabinho

Fabinho has adapted rather well to life at Monaco - having previously had a spell at Real Madrid, moving on loan from Rio Ave, only weeks after joining the Portuguese side from Fluminense in Brazil.

“I’d only a played a friendly for Rio Ave before I went to Real Madrid, I didn’t even spend a month in Portugal,” he says. “Suddenly, from Brazil I was going to Real Madrid – it surprised me and my family, it was a lot more than what we were dreaming of.

“When I first got there, a lot of senior players were away so I started training with the first team – with world class players like Kaka, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Luka Modric. I spent the season with the Castilla squad and it was a good year – months later I got the chance to play for the first team, at the Bernabeu against Malaga. I got an assist for a Di Maria goal: it was the perfect debut. For a first season at a senior and professional level in Europe, it was a great start.”

Real Madrid

Fabinho got the chance to train with some top players during his stint at Madrid

It would only be a solitary season in Madrid, though, after Monaco came knocking.

“I had the opportunity to stay with the Castilla squad, but Jorge Mendes spoke to me about Monaco,” Fabinho says. “When I saw the project they were starting and the players they were signing, I wanted to come here.”