Sustained success is the goal of every football club in the world. Fans and owners alike want to see their club find and exploit the magic formula that will see them continue to win and challenge for trophies whilst also turning over and improving their playing staff. For the last three years, it seemed as though AS Monaco of France had discovered that formula.
Under their talented Portuguese coach Leonardo Jardim we saw Monaco not only win Ligue 1 in the 2016/17 season but they also reached the Champions League semi-finals, only losing at that stage to Juventus. Having managed to compete not only with the biggest sides in Europe but also with their domestic rivals, the super-rich PSG, there was a general belief in football that Monaco had become something of a ‘model club’.
There was a regression in the 2017/18 season as key players moved on and the club looked to replace them but even then Monaco were able to finish the league campaign in second place, 13 points behind PSG.
This season, however, the spell appears to be broken. With seven league games played Monaco have won only once so far, they have also started their Champions League campaign slowly losing 2-1 to Atletico Madrid despite taking the lead. The issues at the club go deeper than just the results, the enterprising 4-4-2 structure that had impressed so many over the last few seasons seems to have been found out by the opposition with the fluid movement and compact shape in defence and attack no longer being evident.
In order to identify where the issues lay at the club, we have to look at how recruitment has changed over recent seasons with a change of focus and emphasis this season leaving Jardim without the quality that he needs to make an immediate impact.
The Ageing Curve
It is a widely held belief within football and more importantly within football recruitment that players ages have differing effects depending on their positions. Goalkeepers and central defenders, for example, are believed to be in their prime at a later age than midfielders with forwards and wingers entering their prime age earliest of all.
This information is key when you are building and creating a cohesive squad and succession plan in the recruitment department of your club. Especially for a club like Monaco who have built their success on signing players young and then giving them first team minutes to aid their development before selling them off for a significant profit.
If you look at the current squad at Monaco, however, the age balance is wrong in key areas. The central defensive partnership, for example, is unbalanced with Jemerson aged 26 partnered with Kamil Glik who is 30 and who has significant injury concerns with their only backup option being the Italian Andrea Raggi who is now 34. It feels as though Monaco have missed the link between Jemerson and Glik with the peak for central defenders coming in at around the 28-30 point. Even beyond that, there doesn’t seem to be a younger option at the club who could take minutes ahead of Raggi to develop into a first team player.
This lack of a younger replacement player is something that the club is obviously aware of and they had a deal in place to sign the 21-year-old defender Issa Diop from Toulouse in the summer. In the end, however, the club baulked at the price and the defender moved to West Ham in the English Premier Leauge. A move to Monaco to further his own development at the first-team level would have been a much better one for both Diop and for Monaco as well.
The second major concern from Monaco comes in attack where the Colombian international forward Radamel Falcao is still being expected to lead the line in his age 32 season. Forwards tend to enter their peak at around the 26-28 mark although different types of forward can still be effective later in their career. Falcao is more of a movement forward who excels with short sharp movements in tight areas in the penalty area and also aerially. He has ever possessed extreme pace and as such getting older has not quite diminished his effectiveness in and around the penalty area. When you look beyond Falcao, however, there are real concerns, the Italian forward Pietro Pellegri is one of the most exciting strikers in European football in terms of pure potential but he is still raw and needs to develop his game in order to perform as the immediate backup to Falcao. They do have the 28-year-old Montenegran forward Stevan Jovetic at the club but at this point, you need to start questioning whether he will ever perform to the level that was expected earlier in his career. There is a real concern that goals will be hard to come by this term.
The Experience Drain
When you are a selling club there is a certain expectation that every season you would lose a percentage of your first team squad as ‘buying’ clubs look to emulate your success by simply cherry picking your better players. This is a function of squad turnover that you can plan for within your recruitment and succession planning. This past summer saw Monaco lose some of their most significant players both in terms of quality and experience.
There was a sense of inevitability about the move of the Brazilian Fabinho to Liverpool for a reported 45M. The club will certainly miss his quality but they will also lose the intangibles that he took to the club having captained the team for a portion of his time at the club.
Couple this move with the more surprising news that the Portuguese international Joao Moutinho had moved to join Wolves for a reported 6M and you have taken two of the most experienced and talented players out fo the first team squad. Even with a robust succession plan, any team would struggle to cope with two departures of this nature.
You can probably cope without your two most influential players as long as you still have your main creative force though, right? Well, no, towards the end of the transfer window the on/off transfer deal that would see the French international wide player Thomas Lemar move to Atletico Madrid was pushed through with Monaco collecting a significant fee of 70M.
So in once transfer window Fabinho, Moutinho and Lemar all left the club. This must surely go a long way to explaining the poor start to the season for Monaco? Surely though they had replacements set to come into the club?
Lack of balance in recruitment
There must have been a plan at the club in terms of recruitment, especially given the significant fees that they were receiving for their players but there doesn’t seem to have been a cohesive strategy in terms of signings.
The two most significant outlays saw the club spend 30M on the Russian international attacking midfielder Alexsandr Golovin and 20M on the German fullback Benjamin Henrichs. Whilst the deal for Henrichs looks to have been good business with the right back still possessing enough unmet potential to offer a significant resale value in the next season. The signing of Golovin makes little sense to me. The Russian market is a difficult one to access successfully given the relatively high wages that the players there have and the cultural differences between Russia and Western Europe. There is also a sense that he was signed on the basis of a strong showing at the World Cup. I do not think that Golovin will make enough of an impact at first team level to help Monaco this season or provide a resale option.
Beyond that the signings in the summer fell into two camps, domestic players who need to step up and young players signed for the future.
We saw Jean-Eudes Ahaolu sign from Strasbourg and Samuel Grandsir sign from Troyes. To this point neither has impressed enough to suggest that they have the potential to play at first team level for a top club.
There was a significant investment in youth too with the 16-year-old attacker Willem Geubbels arriving from Lyon for 20M and the 17-year-old English central defender Jonathan Panzo arriving from Chelsea. Once again though these are not the kind of signings that will help a club struggling for form towards the bottom of the league table.
This will, without doubt, be a period of transition for Monaco and the owners of the club and fans will have to be patient if they want to see the club come out the other side and challenge at the top of the table again. There is a danger that the blame for the poor start to the season will fall on the shoulders of the coach but there is little that Jardim can do at the moment while the first team squad seeks to find a level of cohesion.
Next season will be the true test of whether or not Monaco are still the model to follow in developing your football club.