“We need to build a stronger team for next season.”
Nice one, Leonardo Jardim. Isn’t it lovely to see that even after a disastrous Champions League campaign in which last season’s losing semi-finalists have been utterly humiliated and ejected from Europe without a single victory, the Monaco manager still has a sense of humour. Build a stronger team? As Jardim knows, the real punchline comes when Fabinho and Thomas Lemar follow Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Tiemoue Bakayoko out of the door this summer. D:Ream were sadly mistaken; things really can get worse.
It’s not that Monaco did not spend this summer but even £90m (only nine clubs across Europe spent more) is a pittance if you are ripping the heart out of your incredible team. Keita Balde, Youri Tielemans and Terence Kongolo all arrived for £10m-plus fees, but only one of that young triptych had ever played in the Champions League group stages. Kongolo – a full Dutch international who cost £13.5m – has still never played in the Champions League group stages; he was on the bench as Monaco were beaten 4-1 by an RB Leipzig team who have finally lost that rabbit-in-headlights air. These were signings made with the promise of jam tomorrow, but that surely cannot feel like enough for Jardim today. There is a danger that their season is over by the end of November.
In France, the gap to PSG is only six points, but that already seems insurmountable. All Monaco’s summer dealings – on the back of a title win and that astonishing run to the Champions League semi-finals – have bought is a side that can only really hope to keep ahead of Lyon in second. If this all feels a little after the mayor’s show to us, imagine how it feels to be Jardim, Fabinho or Lemar, who all stayed this summer despite better offers, but will surely not resist again. Not after a Champions League campaign which has only been matched in its embarrassment by the catastrophe at Dortmund.
“I have never stayed long in my previous roles because I have always pushed myself to go higher. This idea has not changed – I would only leave here for a club of greater dimensions,” said Jardim this week. That view seriously limited his options in the wake of a national title and an astonishing Champions League, but right now, there are a whole plethora of clubs with greater dimensions. He turned down Inter Milan in the summer, but would he make that decision again? Who wants to manage with diminishing resources and the promise of nothing else?
‘They simply need time to become a cohesive unit after so many summer departures,’ wrote tactical expert Michael Cox this week, and within that sentence lies some small nub of optimism. The only positive to be gleaned from the disaster of this season’s Champions League campaign is that there will be no vultures circling over Balde, Rony Lopes or Tielemans this summer; Fabinho and Lemar may be the only key exits. But will that be enough to keep a manager who pushes himself to go higher regardless of whether his club is willing to match his ambitions?