SPIRO: Monaco lay down the blueprint
By M. Spiro
The role of the director of football has been central to Monaco’s title success. The other Ligue 1 clubs have taken note and are now looking to follow suit, writes Matthew Spiro.
"I don't know what director of football means," a perplexed Arsène Wenger told the UK media earlier this month. "Is it somebody who stands in the road and directs players right and left? I don't understand and I never did understand what it means."
The Arsenal manager would be well advised to contact his former club. They could fill him in. For Monaco, the position of director of football is quite simply the most important at the club. Yes, Leonardo Jardim has been brilliant this term, Bernardo Silva magical, Radamel Falcao inspiring and Kylian Mbappé breath-taking, but the club's incredible triumph would have been inconceivable without the extraordinary work of Luis Campos behind the scenes.
The former Real Madrid scout worked for Monaco between 2013 and 2016 and was largely responsible for piecing this brilliant young team together. Indeed, by all accounts Campos was the driving force behind the scouting and recruitment of Silva, Thomas Lemar, Benjamin Mendy, Djibril Sidibé, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Fabinho and Mbappé. Not every single transfer is clear cut. Other individuals will have participated in the deals, and super-agent Jorge Mendes surely exerted influence too. Yet the bottom line is that the 2016/17 record-breaking Monaco is Luis Campos' team.
Lille ones to watch
Last summer, the Portuguese - whose official title was 'chief advisor' to vice-president Vadim Vasilyev - left Monaco and has since signed up with Lille where he will operate alongside former Barcelona vice-president Marc Ingla and Marcelo Bielsa. Les Dogues will be one of the teams to watch next season without a doubt. For their part, Monaco acted quickly to fill to void left by Campos, capturing the signature of Antonio Cordon. Who is he? Quite simply one of the most respected people in the business.
Cordon established his brilliant reputation at Villarreal where he notably helped Manuel Pellegrini assemble one of Europe's most exciting teams on a small budget. Barcelona have tried to sign him in the past, and both Real Madrid and Chelsea were sniffing around when Monaco succeeded in securing the Spaniard's services last July. Cordon is discreet and most fans have not even heard of him, yet he is hugely respected within the game and Monaco's Russian owners know that Cordon's work will determine the success or failure of the French champions in the coming years. He has quite an act to follow and will initially be judged on his work in the transfer market this summer.
Above all, though, Monaco's stunning emergence has highlighted the importance of a club getting its house in order off the pitch as well as on it; in the modern game, where the search for elite talent is unfathomably competitive and cut-throat, the club's scouting department and recruitment processes have to be spot on.
Ligue 1 rivals are now taking note and acting accordingly.
Leonardo not replaced
PSG have arguably still not recovered from the departure of Leonardo, the first sporting director of the Qatari era, in 2013. Unlike Monaco, who made replacing Campos a priority, the capital outfit categorically failed to find a true successor for the Brazilian. After last summer's fiasco, when more than €50m was spent on misfits like Jesé, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Hatem Ben Arfa, PSG have decided to part terms with current sporting director Olivier Letang. The appointment of Patrick Kluivert as director of football in 2016 has been widely criticised. Kluivert was a phenomenal player and is widely respected, but he had no previous experience in this role and clearly lacks the network and talents of a Campos. According to reports, PSG are now close to appointing the Atletico Madrid supremo Andrea Berta, having previously sounded out the former Porto sporting chief Antero Henrique. Their failure to act sooner cost them a fifth consecutive league title but at least they now appear to be rectifying the matter.
Marseille have also gone Spanish. Indeed, while most of us have talked excitedly about the signing of Dimitri Payet or the shrewd appointment of Rudi Garcia as coach, the key move so far in the 'Champions Project' has been the capture of Andoni Zubizarreta. The ex-Spain goalkeeper has been performing the director of football role since 2001, enjoying massive success at Athletic Bilbao and then Barcelona. He is now pulling the strings at OM and that is bigger news and more exciting than anything else that has happened at the Vélodrome this season.
Lyon lagging behind
Lyon are another big French club lagging behind. During their period of domination, the Rhône club out-foxed everybody in the transfer market. They were the Monaco of the noughties, signing and developing young talent like Michael Essien, Eric Abidal, Mahamadou Diarra and Florent Malouda before selling them on for huge sums. They have not moved with the times, though. Florian Maurice has been left largely to his own devices in recruitment, whilst long-serving sporting guru Bernard Lacombe saw his influence diminished by the appointment of Gérard Houllier as advisor last summer.
Like PSG, Lyon have made the appointment of a sporting director a priority this summer. Club legend Juninho Pernambucano has been groomed for the position, but it remains to be seen as to whether he is considered 'ready' or whether OL will opt for a more experienced hand. This, after all, is not an appointment to be taken lightly. It is the decision that will shape the club's fortunes for the years to come. Monaco are living proof of what can be achieved when the right foundations are laid. And at last the penny is dropping at other football clubs around Ligue 1, if not yet in North London.