Football and Monaco. For generations, this marriage has been a sinusoidal one marked by high highs and low lows. The triumphs and defeats, the magic and misery have all led us here, to where we are today. League champions in 2017, a second place finish in 2018, flirting rather seriously with relegation with just 14 matches to go before the end of the season.
What should have been an exciting new season, an occasion to re-establish the team after its thorough dismantling in following the 2017 league title-winning effort has proven to be nothing short of a second vacuum and a sporting disgrace. In the long shadow being cast by the ever-mounting tower of this year’s losses and disappointments, might it not be time to reassess the fundamental principle’s of the club?
Someone must be held accountable. History, of course, has its role as all top-flight clubs go through difficult seasons. We can all recognize the genuine difficulty the Rouges et Blancs faced earlier this season when up to 14 players, many of them starters, were sidelined with injuries. That number is painfully big, and the gaps they left impossible to fill all at once. For new manager Thierry Henry, that was too heavy a burden. In retrospect, however, it appears revelatory of a more profoundly flawed situation. An error of vision or a mentality that no longer prioritizes sporting success. That is the point after all right, to succeed, to win? At least that’s what it appears the loyal (paying) fans would like to see and feel like they are a part of. Probably the players too.
There has been a trend, however, in some of the sport’s richer clubs that has begun to show that the fans’ desires are perhaps not always the same as the clubs. Perhaps today, winning does no longer trumps financial gain or digital clout. Rather than those two facets of athletic pursuits being a result of success on the field, Monaco, to some extent appears to have the complete opposite view.
The arrival of former star player Thierry Henry as manager of the pro team in the early wrinkles of the season appears, in hindsight, to have been more of a publicity splash than it was about the football team’s realistic success. This is not a knock to Henry’s professionalism, prowess, nor ambition as a professional manager, rather to the Frenchman’s higher-ups at Monaco. As a trainer, Henry had relatively limited experience when he was given the reins to a visibly depleted Monaco. With spells coaching the U16 side at Arsenal and as assistant coach of the Belgian national team, the post as skipper of a hopeful Ligue 1 contender was rather brash, especially considering the weakened state of the team. The separation from Leonardo Jardim came off as exciting but all-too-hasty. Henry’s big name and novice status put the spotlight and scrutiny directly on the hurting team at a time when young players were being thrown into top-flight competition for the first time. Their learning curve added on to a new system hardly appeared to display a burning desire to win or remain competitive, at least to my amateur eyes. The buzz was bigger than the bite, and Jardim was back like he’d never left just a few months later.
The other glaring discrepancy with a desire to win is Monaco’s build and dump strategy concerning talent. Yes, this is the classic way for any club to clear the best possible financial results. That is always going to be a priority. However, a club of Monaco’s financial stature can also afford to hold on to some of its young virtuosos and build into a real cohesive unit. Slapping together expensive talent doesn’t work like it used to – the bar has risen too high to be bought.
Europe’s most competitive teams have a mix of financial backing and longevity, or perhaps the better word is loyalty. True belief in their recruits’ abilities to amount to something greater. While Monaco has made some decisive moves during this latest winter mercato, even the Principality’s biggest signing, Cesc Fabregas, was surprised by the departure of Henry shortly after his arrival. Sadly, this appears to be typical of the club right now. Football is business, but a little humanity could go a long way in building trust between players, staff, and fans.
Time will tell if the organization can settle its feet and pick football over the rest. Let’s avoid relegation and bring back quality play to the Principality along the way.