Monaco go from title winners to relegation fighters as transfer policy falls flat
Things can change quickly in football, maybe more than in any other sport. Reaching the top is certainly very hard, but staying at the summit once you are up there is probably even harder. On Friday at Saint-Etienne, Monaco lost their sixth game of the season in all competitions -- the fourth already in eight Ligue 1 matches. Little more than a year after winning the league for the first time in 17 years, they are now 18th in the table, only two points ahead of bottom side Guingamp.
From title challengers to relegation fighters in the space of 14 months. This is the reality of this Monaco team.
From the 18-man squad on Friday, only four players -- Djibril Sidibe, Andrea Raggi, Kamil Glik and Radamel Falcao -- were there in May 2017 when Monaco were crowned champions. Danijel Subasic, Almamy Toure and Jemerson all were rested or dropped at the weekend, and all the others have gone.
Between May 2017 and August 2018, the club sold 11 first-team players for the incredible amount of €530 million. It was rewardingly brutal.
The starting XI put out by Leonardo Jardim on Friday was one of the weakest since the Portuguese manager took over in the summer 2014. This is when the limits of the Monaco's business plan come to light. When you keep selling your best players transfer window after transfer window, while only replacing them with promising youngsters, there comes a time when your team is not competitive enough anymore.
The talent cycles can't regenerate themselves so easily. Monaco had four golden years under Jardim when they finished third, third, first and second in Ligue 1 and reached the semifinals of the Champions League. They over-performed and overachieved in each of those seasons. They put together an incredible squad, filled with talent, youth, experience and togetherness. It was always going to be hard to follow the '17 generation. It is proving almost impossible right now.
Jardim thought before the start of this season that it would be a tough campaign. He admits now that it really is. "Yes, it is difficult. We lack confidence and nothing is going our way at the moment," he said after the defeat at Saint-Etienne.
The former Sporting coach is a courageous man. Monaco have made him rich and famous, but put in his position, a lot of coaches would have quit. Yet he is still there, trying to rebuild something that almost cannot be rebuilt.
Even Jardim struggles. He has already used 27 different players in Monaco's eight league matches so far this season. It is by far the most in any of the big five European leagues. He has no idea what his best team is. He also keeps changing tactics, tweaking things. He has to do that because the resources at his disposable are not good enough or the players are not ready yet. Pietro Pellegri (17), Sofiane Diop (18), Moussa Sylla (18), Robert Navarro (16) and Jonathan Panzo (17) are all very talented and among the best in their age groups in Europe. But, right now, they only have the potential to become stars for Monaco -- they aren't yet.
Vadim Vasilyev, the vice-president who runs the club on a daily basis, was actually quite honest in an interview with L'Equipe when he recognised that Monaco's current philosophy is not viable. They were lucky to put together the 2017 title-wining squad, but if they only rely on youth to build the new cycle, it might never work or will take too long.
"We are thinking with the president: in the future we would like to bring more stability and do less changes from one season to another," he said.
The idea would still be to buy young and talented players, to give them the opportunity to develop, to shine and then sell them. But the plan would be executed differently.
Monaco are where they deserve to be. Their last victory was on the opening day of the season, courtesy a bit of luck and not much in the way of performance. Since then, they have not managed to beat anyone -- not even Angers, Toulouse or Nimes. It is hard to see how they could win at Borussia Dortmund this week in the Champions League. The players and the spirit of '17 have gone.
What's left? A lot of pride and motivation. At this level, that's probably not enough.