What's happened to Monaco? Why struggling Thierry Henry is still searching for his first win
Is it possible to go from compellingly thrilling title winners and Champions League semi-finalists, to European no-hopers and genuine relegation contenders in the space of 18 months?
Yes, it is – just ask any Monaco fan.
In the spring of 2017, Monaco raced into the last four of Europe’s premier club competition. At the same time they did the unthinkable by outperforming PSG to claim the Ligue 1 title with one of the most spectacular and exciting French top-flight line-ups in living memory.
Just 18 months later they are enduring one of the most miserable periods in their history. They have already been dumped out of the Champions League (with one point from four games) are haven’t won any of their last 12 outings (W0-D3-L9) in the competition. Earlier this month they suffered their worst loss in 191 European matches, capitulating 4-0 at home to an ordinary Club Brugge side.
Domestically, things are even worse. Monaco are second-bottom of the Ligue 1 table, having picked up just seven points from their opening 13 matches of the season. This is their worst start in more than 40 years. Manager Leonardo Jardim has gone and rookie replacement Thierry Henry has so far been powerless to turn things around.
Where has it all gone wrong? How did a club lauded not only for the quality of the football they played, but also their methods and policies off the pitch turn into a laughing stock?
1. Crippling player sales
It sounds obvious, but is worth stating: you simply cannot sell the calibre of players that Monaco have sold – and in the numbers they have shifted them – and hope to remain as competitive as you once were on the pitch.
Six members of the equipe-type (the French term for an ideal starting XI) that won the 2016/17 Ligue 1 title have moved on – and the talent deficit is apparent every time Monaco take to the field.
The departures of Benjamin Mendy, Fabinho, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar and Kylian Mbappe have swelled the club’s coffers to the tune of €430 million, but without those dazzling half-dozen stars, the burden on the players left behind (goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, defenders Djibril Sidibe, Kamil Glik and Jemerson, plus leading scorer Radamel Falcao) has become simply too much to bear.
2. Losing their Midas transfer touch
HEADLINE SUMMER 'INS'
- Aleksandr Golovin (€30m)
- Benjamin Henrichs (€20m)
- Willem Geubbels (€20m)
- Jean-Eudes Aholou (€15m)
- Nacer Chadli (€12m)
Having sold so many of their star names, Monaco have compounded their problems by dramatically losing their way in the transfer market. The majority of the players they opted signed in 2017 – many of whom were seen as suitable medium-term replacements for the departees listed above – have flopped spectacularly, to the extent that most have already been written off and shipped out.
The now disastrous-looking ‘ins’ roster includes Terence Kongolo, Adama Diakhaby, Soualiho Meite, Keita Balde and Rachid Ghezzal, all of whom barely put a foot right in Monaco colours before being sold to foreign suitors (at a profit admittedly, in most cases, although that doesn’t help Monaco on the pitch right now).
The 2017 signings who have stayed at Monaco – left-back Jorge, midfielder Youri Tielemans and striker Stevan Jovetic – have made little impact, leaving new manager Henry short of high-calibre players in most areas of the pitch.
3. Sacking of Leonardo Jardim
The impact of Jardim’s sacking on October 11 shouldn’t be underestimated. The Portuguese did a stunning job in four years at Monaco: he bought into the club’s model of relying on young players with the potential to provide a profit in the transfer market, tweaked his team’s tactics expertly from one season to the next, combined courtesy with forthrightness in his dealings with the media, and adroitly navigated the politically choppy waters of life at the club.
Monaco was never as calm and united a place as Jardim’s public persona made it appear, but his unflappability, quiet energy and capacity for instilling a sense of discipline and ambition in his squad played a central role in making the Monaco project an unexpected success.
This year was not necessarily the wrong time for Jardim to go – it might have made more sense had he left over the summer – but life after him will be no less difficult for that. His successor Henry – six games, no wins, two draws, four defeats, 16 goals conceded – is finding out what a difficult act Jardim is to follow.
4. Injuries… everywhere
While poor decisions have been a factor in Monaco’s downfall, rotten luck has also played its part – they have had to contend with more injuries than any other Ligue 1 side this season.
No fewer than 13 players were unavailable for their 4-0 home drubbing at the hands of PSG earlier this month, leaving the beleaguered Henry with a skeleton squad to pick from. Such problems pre-date Henry’s arrival at the club: star summer signing Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moscow for €30m) has missed most of the season through injury; Subasic has barely featured since helping Croatia reach the World Cup final; Rony Lopes has been sidelined since early September; Jovetic has spent more time on the treatment table than the pitch; and Sidibe has been a shadow of his former self since suffering a knee injury last April.
After their cluster of player sales and poor purchases, the last thing Monaco needed was to have so many of their biggest names ruled out of action.
5. Impact of Football Leaks
The raft of stories about Monaco that have come out in the latest tranche of Football Leaks documents have poisoned the atmosphere at Monaco’s Stade Louis II headquarters.
Allegations about phantom friendlies and lobbying to win favour in French football’s corridors of power have chipped away at morale, and at the worst possible time too.
The recent arrest of owner Dmitry Rybolovlev in relation to a long-standing investigation into corruption and influence peddling is arguably the greatest concern of all. The matter looks likely to drag on for some months, leading to rumours that the Russian billionaire may be forced to sell the club, or make the decision himself that a fresh start is best for all concerned.
Stability off the pitch is normally essential for a team to transform their fortunes on it – and right now, that's one thing in desperately short supply on this gilded stretch of Riviera coastline.