SPIRO: Leave Monaco stars alone!

Ligue 1 Conforama > Spiro Blog

Monaco's stunning emergence has been the story of the season, but please can everybody stop trying to dismantle a team that has only just announced its arrival, asks Matthew Spiro?

Watching Leonardo Jardim's brilliant, insouciant young side has been a fantastic pleasure and they've truly breathed new life into Ligue 1. Few could have seen it coming after the 6-1 hammering they received in Lyon in May last year which condemned them to third place and a long, hazardous route to the Champions League group stage. Indeed, when they lost at Fenerbahce in the third qualifying round, it seemed the experience would be fleeting. Yet 15 games and 28 goals later, les Rouges et Blancs have certainly left their mark on club football's elite competition.

On the cusp

This weekend Radamel Falcao and friends could clinch the eighth league title of AS Monaco's history. Not only would it be richly deserved, it would be an astonishing achievement given the competition they are up against. Paris Saint-Germain have one of the strongest squads, if not the strongest, in the history of the French game, and let's not forget they finished 31 points above both Olympique Lyonnais and Monaco last term. Monaco's emergence has truly come at the right time for the French game.

Watch: Highlights of Monaco's 3-1 win over PSG from Week 3

But how has such a big gap been closed and overturned?

Firstly, while the Parisians bought badly last summer, Monaco made three inspired signings in defence, with Kamil Glik, Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibé all adding power and dynamism. Those recruits are in keeping with the consistently brilliant work Luis Campos did as sporting director before leaving for LOSC last summer. His replacement Antonio Cordon has quite an act to follow and will be judged on Monaco's transfer forthcoming activity.

Golden generation

Yet it's in the midfield and the attack – where no new signings were made – that the most progress was made, and Jardim deserves huge credit for that. He has handled the considerable talents of Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva and Tiemoué Bakayoko with care, skill and intelligence, easing them in to the French game and giving them the time required to find their feet. Jardim's reluctance to blood Kylian Mbappé in the first half of this season is another fine example of clever man management and the refusal to expose a gifted young player. The Portuguese knew exactly how good Mbappé was, yet made sure the teenager had the time to acclimatise to the first-team squad and top-level football before finally and inevitably unleashing him away Manchester City.

Watch: Rising star: Kylian Mbappé

Another of Jardim's clear strengths is his ability to shape a team in relation to the players he has at his disposal. If the ex-Sporting Lisbon boss has now forged a reputation in Europe as a manager who encourages free-flowing, attacking football, his early Monaco sides were quite the opposite. Indeed, 1-0 to Monaco was the norm between 2014 and 2016, and it was rarely pretty to watch. His ability to observe and adapt also shines through in his treatment of Fabinho. A right-back by trade, Fabinho had just broken in to the Brazil squad when Jardim decided he would be more effective as a central midfielder. The player wasn't so sure and has since lost his place in the Brazil squad. Yet Fabinho's superb displays in the middle this term are proof that Jardim's judgement was spot on again.

Keeping it simple

The transformation in tactics and approach show Jardim is intelligent and flexible. The current 4-4-2 formation has a perfect balance of speed, power, technique, doggedness and flair, and this has been the key to Monaco's success this term. There's nothing too complicated about the way they play, but don't they do the basics well? The players know one another inside out and they defend and attack as a unit. The passing is simple, fast and effective. Monaco use the full width of the pitch, Lemar and Silva invariably coming inside off their flanks to make space on the outside for the TGVs that are Mendy and Sidibé, and their crosses arrow unerringly towards the runs of Falcao, Mbappé or Valère Germain.

If there is one thing that grates about Monaco this season it is the way in which the players are constantly being talked about as commodities, by newspapers and fans alike. No sooner had they been knocked out by Juventus on Tuesday night than Mbappé was on his way to Real Madrid, Manchester United were plotting a double swoop for Silva and Fabinho, Bakayoko was packing his bags for Chelsea and Lemar was torn between Arsenal and Juventus. It is of course flattering for Monaco that all of Europe wants to buy their players, but can we not just enjoy this team while it is still together? Mbappé is a Monaco striker, not a Real Madrid target. Monaco are a football club, not a luxury store where you can drop in to buy elite footballers.

More to come?

These guys all play for Monaco, are contracted to the club for the foreseeable future, and are in the process of writing history for this club. Who knows, maybe they will all choose to stay this summer. Whatever happens, Monaco will be the party that decides and that's the way it should be. They are responsible for discovering and nurturing these players, and they will reap the financial benefits if and when they choose to sell anybody. Given the incredibly shrewd business the club has pulled off in recent years, there is every chance that the team will be even stronger next season regardless. But I for one am not going to think about next season yet. I've absolutely loved watching this team emerge, develop and blossom together, and I plan simply to enjoy the last three league matches this exhilarating group of players will play this season.

>> COACH PROFILE: Leonardo Jardim


>> More by Matthew Spiro

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