Hexagoal Ligue 1 Trophy

Monaco hope to learn lessons from turbulent season

Publish on 25/05/2019 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS


AS Monaco began the season with hopes of challenging towards the top of the table yet again, but ended up only avoiding relegation on the final day after a turbulent campaign. A summer rebuilding job awaits, writes Andy Scott.

When Monaco started this season with a 3-1 win away to FC Nantes, the outlook appeared rosy. There were several new faces in Leonardo Jardim's starting line-up, while Rony Lopes and Radamel Falcao - stars of the previous campaign when the principality club finished second - were on the scoresheet.

They had finished in the top three in each of the previous five seasons since returning to Ligue 1 in 2013. The high point had come in 2017 when they won the title and reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. Despite subsequently losing a host of star players including Kylian Mbappé and Bernardo Silva, they had remained competitive. Another challenge towards the top of the table seemed on the cards as they left the Stade de la Beaujoire back in August.

What followed was a remarkable season in which Monaco were a shambles on the field, changed coach twice, sacked one manager and then reappointed him a few months later, used 42 different players and made major changes at boardroom level.

Henry gamble backfires badly

Jardim, the architect of that 2017 title win, was sacked in October having failed to win in eight league matches since the opening day and lost their opening two Champions League group games. It was a brave move, and Monaco followed that up by handing Thierry Henry, their former player, his big break as a coach in his own right.

"He can count on our confidence and all our support to bring a new dynamic to the team," said club vice-president Vadim Vasilyev on announcing Henry's appointment.

But the France legend struggled to turn things around. He did not win any of his first six matches before a 1-0 victory at SM Caen in late November. That ended a run of 12 league matches without a win, but Monaco ended 2018 in the relegation zone and collected just one point from six Champions League group games. They appeared utterly inept in defeats at the hands of Club Brugge (0-4), Paris Saint-Germain (0-4) and Olympique Lyonnais (3-0).

Henry was badly handicapped by injuries, but the January transfer window gave him a chance to put his stamp on the squad. In came Cesc Fabregas, a player Henry knew so well from his time in England. Fodé Ballo-Touré and Naldo were also signed to strengthen the defence, and Lopes finally returned from injury.

However, the board quickly ran out of patience. A 5-1 home mauling by RC Strasbourg Alsace and a Coupe de France defeat at home to second-tier FC Metz led to Henry being sacked just three and a half months into the job. He won just four of 20 matches in charge, just two of 12 league games.

Incredibly, Jardim was reappointed on a two-and-a-half-year deal, so soon after being given a pay-off to leave the Stade Louis II. A mad trolley dash saw a host of new players brought in before the January window closed, and the Portuguese oversaw four wins and three draws from his first seven league games back at the helm.

That run included victories against Lyon and LOSC. Survival looked to be secure, with Gelson Martins appearing an inspired loan signing. Yet they then managed just one win from their final nine outings, and ultimately relegation was only avoided by two points and on the final day of the campaign.

Falcao on way out?

It is very rare for a team to stay up with just 36 points - indeed Monaco were relegated with 44 points in 2011. And they would not have beaten the drop without Falcao, who scored 15 of their 38 league goals.

The Colombian may now be on his way out of the club with big changes in store in the principality, where there will be no European football next season. Jardim will still be around, however.

"It has been a very difficult season but we have stayed in Ligue 1. In the coming days we will assess things, prepare for next season and do everything to restore the club's image," said Oleg Petrov, the vice-president director general who was appointed in February to succeed Vasilyev.

Learn from mistakes

"Making mistakes can help us build a different future," reflected a relieved Jardim after Friday's 2-0 derby loss at OGC Nice.

That future will involve weeding out those members of the squad who are not up to scratch and persuading owner Dmitry Rybolovlev to put his hand in his pocket and invest heavily in the playing squad again.

Jardim added: "We need to reflect on this and make sure we don't make the same mistakes again. We can't compete for a top-three place without having a squad built for it. We have more than 70 players under contract and we are going to have to work on ensuring we have quality in the squad."