The institution that has supplied Manchester City with 2 of their starting players and the world with Kylian Mbappe – Monaco’s reputation had peaked by the end of 2017. The club had broken a 4-year stranglehold on Ligue 1, beating PSG to the title. They also reached the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League semi-finals.
What has happened in the past three years though is astonishing. While the French league is relatively undercovered, most pundits and fans saw Thierry Henry join & leave AS Monaco in the disastrous 18/19 season. Some may have seen the recent news that Monaco have sacked Roberto Moreno, a manager who only took charge for 13 games. Niko Kovac, formerly of Bayern, is the 4th managerial appointment in 2 years in Southern France.
The issue is that Monaco have failed to realise the root of their issues. Their downfall from title challengers is not a story of managerial mismanagement, but the inability to replace a talented squad. The past three years are all the evidence needed to show it.
When Monaco won the league with 95 points in 2017, the vultures began to circle. Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Kylian Mbappe all left the club before the 17/18 season started. This was barely a surprise, and it was something that the club recognised they had to prepare for.
What was crucial then for Manager Leonardo Jardim, was that the club spent their money well. To sustain a period of success, these world-class players needed replacements that could keep the club high at the top of the table.
At first, the club looked to have done well in the Summer of 2017. Monaco bought 20-year-old highly rated Youri Tielemans and managed to hold on to Fabinho and Thomas Lemar. Monaco looked to have sustained success, finishing 2nd in the 17/18 League season.
However, in attack, there had been a major drop off. Monaco went from scoring 107 goals to 85. Still an extremely high amount, but nearly 40% of these goals came from Radamel Falcao and Ronny Lopes. Despite the hype of 20-year-old Tielemans, the CM failed to contribute to a single goal. There were issues in defence too. After the departure of Benjamin Mendy and Bakayoko, Monaco conceded 14 more goals.
Monaco failed to fix these issues in the 2018/19 transfer windows. The table below shows the eventual fate of 22 signings made between June 1st, 2017 and January 31st, 2019.
On average in this period, Monaco spent £10 million to get around 23 appearances from a player. Just 8 of the signings have gone on to make thirty club appearances. Six have left the club. Four have been loaned out. Even worse, Allan Saint-Maximin and Abdou Diallo were both allowed to leave for less than £15 million combined in the Summer of 2017. They are now both worth a combined £42 million according to Transfermarkt.
Even looking at it on a personal level shows how far apart in quality, the incomings were compared to the exits. Monaco spent £37 million on forwards Stevan Jovetic and Keita Balde. In 3 years, the pair contributed to a total of 49 club goals and assists. In 2016/17 alone, a 17-year-old Mbappe and Bernardo Silva contributed 63 goals and assists. Besides Jovetic and Balde, no attackers were signed in this 1-year period besides Nacer Chadli.
Leonardo Jardim was in big trouble. With all the stars gone, the squad looked considerably weak. Below, you can see the Monaco team that started their opening game of 18/19 vs Nantes in August 2018. Instead of Bernardo Silva or Mbappe on the right, Jordi Mboula started. The now-21-year-old Mboula was loaned out in the 2019/20 season, after zero league goals and assists. At left-back, Antonio Barreca started. After making six league appearances last year, the 25-year-old was also loaned out in 19/20.
Jardim could not keep the squad winning and was sacked after 10 league games as Monaco sat 3rd bottom. In his place, on December 28th 2018, Thierry Henry was hired by Monaco in his first head coaching job.
With hindsight, we can now appreciate how risky and reckless this was. Henry was tasked with turning around a sinking ship. This cannot be compared to something like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, inspiring a quality Manchester United team containing Paul Pogba Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. The closest thing to world-class quality in Monaco was either 33-year-old Falcao or 22-year-old Youri Tielemans, with the latter leaving midway through the season.
After 12 games Henry was sacked. He had managed just two wins. Embarrassingly for the Monaco hierarchy, they turned to Jardim again. He eventually rescued the club, as Monaco finished 2 points clear of 18th spot. What was clear, though, is that there was no freak underperformance. Under three separate managerial stints, players like Adrien Silva and Golovin failed to propel Monaco forward.
Coming into the summer transfer window of 2019, Monaco now had to elevate this squad. The club brought spending up by £180 million, meaning since their league triumph, they had paid over £420 million on transfers.
While Ben Yedder and the loans of Slimani and Bakayoko were positive, moves for Gelson Martins and Onyekuru puzzled fans. Martins, a RW, had flopped at Atletico in 18/19, and Onyekuru proved a weak signing as he was loaned to Turkey in January 2020.
Yet Jardim and Monaco were performing brightly. By late December, they were bouncing between 4th-7th spots. Ben Yedder was one of Ligue 1s top scorers. But, again, Jardim was sacked after 18 League games, winning eight drawing four and losing six. With six new first-team signings, Jardim was clearly expected to be in a better position than 7th at the time of sacking.
In his place, Roberto Moreno was hired. He was in his first club job like Henry, but Monaco stated they “Strongly believed he would lead the club to success”. Seven months later, and we must question how strong that belief is.
Moreno managed the club for 13 games, and even though they dropped down to 9th by the time Ligue 1 was cancelled, Moreno had won five, drawn three and lost five matches. Once again though, Monaco sacked their manager. Under four separate managerial stints, this Monaco team has failed to retransform into title contenders, cementing the adequacy of the modern squad.
There is a silver lining. Monaco may be heading in a new stable direction, as in June it was announced the former sporting director of RB Leipzig and Tottenham had joined the club. His name is Paul Mitchell, and he has been responsible for signing Dele Alli, Kieran Trippier, Toby Alderweirald and Nordi Mukiele in previous jobs.
While there is an air of worry, as Mitchell is Monaco’s 3rd Sporting director in three years, if the hiring of Niko Kovac is the first step in his plan to transform Monaco once more, hopes can begin to rise. However, Monaco must give the team time, as they have taken too many steps back. It will be a while before they can once again challenge Marseille, Rennes and Lyon for UCL Football.
Written by Alex Barker | Feature Image by Alex Pantling/Getty Images
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