As the 2016/17 Ligue 1 campaign draws to a close, it’s the red and white of Monaco that has taken the country by storm. The champions lift the trophy high, winning their first title since 1999/2000 and their first since the ‘Ligue 1’ came into effect. Perhaps even more importantly, the victory represented a challenge to the regime, with Leonardo Jardim putting an end to four years of domination by the riches of Paris Saint-Germain.
Just under two years later and the same club are third from bottom in the current French league table, having sacked league-winning manager Jardim last October to replace him with Thierry Henry, only to dismiss the former France striker earlier this month to reinstate their previous boss. With Jardim now back in the hot seat, it’s been a truly chaotic few months, but nobody could have ever imagined just how bad things would get.
Many problems may have surfaced on and off the pitch that has led to such a dramatic demise, but it’s almost impossible to see past the loss of several key players in such a short space of time. The incredible list of talented players the club let go in a drastic two year period ranges from Benjamin Mendy at the back to Thomas Lemar going forward, with the ridiculous issue of Joao Moutinho, Fabinho, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Bernardo Silva in between. It’s also often easy to forget that the small matter of Kylian Mbappe was once a Monaco man, the teenager undoubtedly the biggest loss Jardim’s side encountered during that time, to main rivals PSG no less.
And if it’s crucial to point to the players lost, it’s then equally important to think of those brought in to fill the void, and thus the club’s overall transfer policy. First and foremost, it’s more often than not a simple task in replacing a player like for like in modern day football, but perhaps this Monaco team were slightly more special than most. They, of course, received millions upon millions for their prized assets, but if you fail to recruit properly, the consequences are almost endless. Those challenged with rejuvenating the club included Aleksandr Golovin, Stevan Jovetic, Keita Balde and Youri Tielemans. The first two have failed to hit the heights expected of them, while the latter two have already moved further afield on loan deals, with Balde at Inter Milan and Tielemans off to the Premier League with Leicester.
Monaco now sit third from bottom in Ligue 1 and hold all the unwanted records in the French top-flight. Before Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Toulouse, they had the joint fewest wins, the longest winless streak (12) and the longest current winless streak (6). They’ve conceded 39 goals in their 23 games to date, compared to the 31 they conceded in 38 games in the title-winning 2016/17 season, and are also the division’s joint third lowest scorers. They haven’t a single player in the league’s top 50 assists table, while Radamel Falcao is their only current representative in the goals tally with eight, with Tielemans’ five no longer relevant after his switch to Leicester. It’s no surprise they also hold the record for the lowest attendance this season, with just 5502 people watching the 1-0 home loss to Angers.
Last season’s second place finish is completely unrecognisable to this and is now utterly forgotten about. It’s clear the loss of key players was a major factor contributing to the current situation, but the 7-1 humiliation at PSG towards the end of the campaign certainly can’t have helped matters, with Les Parisiens lifting the trophy that day with five games to spare.
Jardim’s return has perhaps boosted players and fans alike, yet despite going 2-0 up against Guingamp in his first game back, the only side below them in the league produced a stunning comeback before going on to win the Coupe de la League semi-final on penalties. An early red card for Monaco couldn’t have helped, but it’s not as if they haven’t been used to that this season. The side are ranked worst in the entire league for discipline, having picked up an incredible 40 yellows and six reds in 22 games. Three of those red cards have come in each of their last three league games before Toulouse at home, with two inside the first 15 minutes, the problem epitomised by new signing Naldo – brought in to sharpen up a shaky defence – with a red in two of his first three games so far for his new club.
Moreover, in an admittedly difficult group in Europe’s primary club competition, the French outfit failed to win a single game against opponents Club Brugge, Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, picking up just one point and conceding 14 goals in a hugely disappointing venture. On a more positive note then, having been knocked out of the French Cup at home to Ligue 2 side Metz, along with this equally miserable Champions League exit, there is now one focus and one focus only; the league.
Fortunately, Jardim may have now begun to steady the ship, with Leicester’s Adrien Silva and Tottenham’s Georges Kevin-Nkoudou both at the club on loan, while Cesc Fabregas and Golovin have shown their undisputable ability with goals in the victory over Toulouse. With the experience of Fabregas now involved, coupled with the huge talent of Rony Lopes and the captaincy of Falcao, it’s time the side got their act together, and fast, or one of the greatest shocks in the history of football could soon be on its way.
Henry Image via The Guardian
Feature Image via Sportsnet
More articles written by Peter Lynch