In the excitement of the new season, supporters are often guilty of creating over-the-top expectations and landing up disappointed when the clubs fail to meet their objectives. Often all we need is a bit of perspective from experts to maintain rational thought; our Q&A mini-series going into the 2014/15 season serves this purpose.
Igor Mladenović answered our questions on AS Monaco. Igor is a French-Serbian football writer whose work can be found on the likes of French Football Weekly.
The experienced head that was Ranieri has made way for the upstart Jardim. Might it have been a safer, and wiser option for Monaco to pay a few extra quid to retain a man who’s already seen some success with them?
Without any shadow of a doubt. In financial terms, Ranieri’s dismissal actually cost the club € 4.5 million, this for a seasoned coach who had the dressing room well under command after rebuilding it from scratch in Ligue 2. He blended academy youthfulness with high-profile names to produce entertaining football. Monaco finished second for their comeback season in Ligue 1 despite star striker Falcao not living up to expectations before sustaining a season-ending injury.
ASM finished the season with a record-breaking 80 points and had absolutely no reason to let Ranieri go. The influential Luis Campos appears to be pulling the strings behind the scenes, and thought it best to hand a vastly inexperienced Jardim a suit that may prove too large for him.
The Stade Louis II is expected to see European football other than the Super Cup this season. Is a defence led by a rather aged Ricardo Carvalho appropriate to keep them competitive in Europe’s elite tournament?
Certainly not. Of all issues Monaco have to address coming into 2014-15, central defence is the most pressing one. Experienced duo Carvalho – Abidal initially looked promising but gradually faded away, with the Frenchman even being dropped in the latter stages of the season before leaving to Olympiakos.
The capture of Toulouse’s Aymen Abdennour in the winter transfer window has hardly solved defensive problems, as 36-year-old Carvalho does not seem equipped to deal with the physicality of Ligue 1, let alone European competitions, as of this season.
Monaco has strangely appeared to focus on the goalkeeper position, with Victor Valdes and Diego Lopez approached, despite current first-teamer Danijel Subasic doing a decent job last season.
It goes without saying that the strengths of this Monaco side lie in midfield and attack. But despite the presence of the likes of Moutinho and Kondogbia, do you think Monaco will need to make additions to this section of the team to keep PSG (in particular) on their toes?
Top teams constantly need to progress and the lack of depth in ASM’s midfield looks worrying. Having pushed Moutinho forward throughout the course of the season to a playmaking role, the only defensive-minded midfielders left in the side were Toulalan, Kondogbia and Obbadi. Quality-wise, this is far from what PSG or any top European side has to offer. The Marocco international has been released to Hellas Verona and promising Tiemoué Bakayoko has been brought in from Rennes. Benfica youngster Bernardo Silva has just been brought on loan, and will certainly be relied upon too.
At the time of writing, the midfield area remains the one where the gulf between ASM and PSG is widest.
The likes of Falcao and Berbatov are surely a top strike force, but James has gone now. Will he take the crucial link between attack and midfield with him, making it hard for Monaco to score?
There is no denying James Rodriguez played an absolutely vital part in ASM’s push for the title last season. He had the most assists in Ligue 1 (12) and, contrary to many of his team-mates, seemed to play better and better as the season drew to a close.
He clearly outgrew the Monaco shirt however, as displayed in his stellar World Cup performance rewarded with the Golden Boot. Him gone, AS Monaco will provide its own youth with increased chances. The likes of Lucas Ocampos, Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco and Anthony Martial are all able to thrive in the role played by James in 2013-14. However Jardim will certainly be tempted to add more established names.
It is unclear how AS Monaco will accommodate Falcao and Berbatov, who initially joined the side as a makeshift stop-gap in the wake of the Colombian’s knee injury. Jardim may be tempted to depart from Ranieri’s 4-4-2 diamond and play a more conservative system with three defensive midfielders to counter PSG and see as much of the ball as possible against top European rivals.
There are also a persisting rumours that Falcao will leave. After all the efforts from the board in reassuring their fans, his departure would cast a shadow over the long-term resilience of the club ownership. It would also mean the side would need to be new stars up front.
PSG have been dominant in France, and realistically, are a lot more focused on performing in Europe. Could the ‘European Distraction (or obsession)’ of the Parisians serve Monaco? Or will the Red and Whites themselves be too worried about continental competition to take any sort of advantage?
PSG’s European failures have a silver lining : expectations are lesser for Laurent Blanc than if the club had reached, say, the final of the competition last season. PSG are still in the thick of building a Champions League-winning side and few expect them to win the trophy as early as this season. I would even wager Laurent Blanc will feel safe in his coaching seat if his men reach the semi-final, improving on their two previous campaigns. Therefore the European distraction is not strong enough to veer PSG off their main task, which is to retain the domestic title.
Meanwhile, Monaco risk having some star players (Berbatov, Moutinho) turning it off during the league, in an empty home stadium, to focus on Champions League nights.
The Champions League will also pose a physical challenge to both sides. Their squad depth will be fully tested and in this department, PSG have a time advantage as they have been adjusting their squad to suit both the domestic and continental fronts in the last two years already. AS Monaco already look short for Ligue 1, let alone both the French league and the Champions League.
Carrying on from the previous question, what sort of expectations are Monaco approaching this season in their return to European competition?
Expectations are low as no one can realistically expect the side to challenge for the title exactly ten years after their last Champions League participation in 2004-05. However ASM have a better record than PSG in the tournament with one final in 2004 and two semi-finals in the 1990s.
This is a team that will be difficult to beat for any European side and I can see them reaching the knock-out phase, regardless of who they are drawn with in the group stage.
We track the progress of youngsters with our Talent Radar feature. Do you see the likes of Carrasco and Ocampos having an even more prominent role in the side? Can they handle the pressure?
Both players can handle pressure and have shown glimpses of their immense talent last season. They will play a prominent part in ASM’s campaigns both domestically and continentally and I expect them to fare well. Ferreira-Carrasco has just signed a contract extension until 2019, showing the club’s long-term faith in him.
Further to these two, Monaco’s underrated youth academy produces several players deserving of the Talent Radar’s attentions. Another attacking player with whom I have great hopes for is 18-year-old Anthony Martial, for me at his best as a left winger. Fresh addition Bakayoko is certainly a great prospect in defensive midfield. Layvin Kurzawa will be asked to reproduce some of the stunning performances from last season, as consistency was his biggest limit so far in his career.
One will have to wait and see whether Jardim puts the same faith in youth as Ranieri counter-intuitively did last season, for these players to blossom.
The goal going into 2013-14 was to make it to the Champions League. Will Monaco be happy with a repeat, or will the owner want a title challenge at the very least?
ASM vice-president Vadim Vasilyev has said the club want to improve on last season, but that does necessarily mean winning the title. A trophy in domestic cup competitions, where Ranieri most disappointed last season, would receive a positive reception.
Monaco will be targeting the title not least because of Ranieri’s great work in taking them so far last season. Players themselves have started believing in their chances against PSG, who did not manage to beat them last season and showed little of the authority displayed against other sides.
With a brand new coach and a reshuffled side, it is difficult to conceive that ASM will beat PSG to the title this season. Rather than building on last season’s achievements and following a clear long-term strategy set by the manager, the board decided to start everything from scratch.
Last year, Monaco were the side making waves in the transfer market with ‘marquee’ signings and huge transfer fees. It’s been a comparatively quiet summer this time. What is the thinking behind this?
Several factors explain this. After spending € 140 million last summer, the Monaco board viewed this season as one of consolidation rather than expansion. Recent events further appeared to underline trend when Dmitry Rybolovlev lost over € 3 billion in his divorce settlement, prompting concerns of his interest in the club.
ASM’s situation was also unclear with regards to the famous 75% tax rate imposed on high-earnings in France. This was cleared until the start of August when it was decided that the club would only pay half of the €50 million initially imposed by the French league authorities.
The arrival of a new coach has certainly delayed some transfer business, but new additions are expected on the back of the €80 million fee cashed in for James.
One must however stress that Monaco still do not have the global appeal of sides they look to compete against. They are hardly helped by their geographical location in the French league, perceived as a step back for most players in the Premier League, Liga or Bundesliga.
With a new coach and temporarily secure finances, ASM need to delve headlong into the market as financial fair-play has not yet addressed their case.
Questions answered by Igor Mladenović. Follow him on Twitter @Mladenovic_