Recruitment department at Monaco made for a season built on sand

Like Gary Neville, his one-time colleague on Sky Sports, Thierry Henry has found out that some jobs aren’t actually too good to turn down.

Sacked by Monaco after just over three months in charge, the Frenchman has suffered a dispiriting experience as a first time, senior-level coach.

Despite managing to win just one Ligue 1 game from their first nine outings, there were eyebrows raised last October when Leonardo Jardim, who’d been so successful in his time at the club, was replaced by managerial novice Henry.

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However, French football expert Jeremy Smith of French Football Weekly (www.frenchfootballweekly.com), wasn’t particularly surprised when the Portuguese coach and the club parted ways.

“Although Monaco finished second last season, they ultimately limped past the post. The general feeling was that Jardim had reached the end of a cycle,” he says.

“Every summer, he had to contend with a huge squad overhaul, working miracles with very young talents. But this year the recruiters went too far, selling Jardim favourite Joao Moutinho and bringing in an even younger, more inexperienced set of players than usual.

“It was obvious early in the season that the squad didn’t quite have the quality of the previous years, a misstep compounded by a spate of injuries, and that Jardim had lost his motivation to keep making silk purses out of sows’ ears.”

Monaco drafted Henry in clearly hoping a fresh face and fresh ideas would bounce them out of trouble. Unfortunately, it seems his was too fresh a face, and the bounce they got wasn’t even of the dead cat variety.

“With hindsight,” says Smith, “it seems obvious that Henry might struggle. And there were concerns when he was appointed. But everyone knows that he’s an intelligent man, that he knows his football and that he loves Monaco; he was well respected in his assistant’s role with the Belgian national team and the hope was that a young group of players who grew up watching him play would be motivated by having him in charge.

“It was a risk for them to appoint him and a risk for him to take the job, but it was a reasonably calculated one for both parties, even if it now feels like it was always destined to fail.

“With the best will in the world, Henry was always going to be learning on the job and doing so while playing catch-up was always going to be very tough.”

Ultimately, it was Va Va Gloom all the way, with the former French international only managing to add another two league wins in his 16 weeks in charge and overseeing a shambolic Champions League exit.

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However, Smith feels that the lion share of the blame for Monaco’s dreadful season lays with the club’s recruiters.

“Yes, Jardim did things wrong, Henry did things wrong, and there was a lot of bad luck with injuries and loss of form,” he says. “But it was the recruitment department that really failed them.”

“Monaco have made a fortune in recent years, buying cheap players with potential and selling them as expensive polished talents. But so much of that was down to Jardim, and I think the recruitment team just pushed it too far this time.

“Selling the likes of Fabinho, Moutinho and Thomas Lemar and replacing them with a lot of kids with barely a handful of pro appearances between them was asking for a miracle too far from Jardim.”

Sympathy for Henry then?

“Yes,” responds Smith. “Some of his problems were self-inflicted, but he did take over a decimated squad that was low in confidence and had bad luck with injuries.

“So, it does feel harsh that having invested in bringing him in – and knowing he’d be learning on the job – Monaco aren’t giving him a chance to work with a fuller squad, with players returning to fitness and the good January signings made.”

So Jardim returns. Can he save Monaco from the drop? Smith believes he will, given the club’s January business, the return to action of some key players and his own recharged batteries.

“He has Subasic, Rony Lopes and Falcao just back from injury, all three of whom are extremely important. And Monaco have invested in a new spine, with Naldo coming into defence, William Vainqueur and Cesc Fabregas in midfield and with a quality striker (perhaps Michy Batshuayi) likely to follow.”

Nevertheless, as Saturday’s defeat at fellow strugglers Dijon clearly shows, the Portuguese is going to have to rediscover his old magic quickly if he’s to conjure up a great escape.

Author Details

Paul Little

Freelance football columnist. European Football with the Irish Daily Star. Hold the Back Page podcast regular. Family and Renaissance Man. Dublin born, Wicklow resident.

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