Saturday, July 22, 2017

Under-appreciated Jardim should continue to build reputation at new Ligue 1 kings Monaco

SoccerNews in Ligue 1 17 May 2017

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No story this season has captured the imagination more than the rise of Monaco, who have broken Paris Saint-Germain’s Ligue 1 monopoly and can look back on a remarkable Champions League campaign that saw them stun Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund to reach the semi-finals.

Monaco’s first Ligue 1 title since 2000 was secured on Wednesday courtesy of a 2-0 victory over Saint-Etienne. 

What has made Monaco’s rise so appealing has been the architects and the manner in which it has been done, with a host of exciting young talents such as Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva leading the way for a team that has found the net 156 times in all competitions alongside more experienced campaigners in Joao Moutinho and Radamel Falcao, the latter enjoying a renaissance in which he has scored 30 in 43 games.

The rejuvenation of Falcao’s confidence was defined by his impudent chip in the Champions League last-16 first leg with Manchester City, but the man who has instilled the former Atletico Madrid talisman and his host of young team-mates with the belief to successfully challenge PSG and progress to the latter stages in Europe remains largely unheralded.

Indeed, while Mbappe and Co. have been given widespread praise and been connected with a number of the more traditional European heavyweights, coach Leonardo Jardim has received comparatively little attention.

There has been some talk of a possible move to Arsenal should Arsene Wenger step aside at the Emirates Stadium, and the motivation to move on to pastures new would be understandable given the probable player departures in the close-season.

While Monaco may not experience an exodus, Mbappe, Lemar, Silva and midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko have all been consistently linked with moves away from the Stade Louis II.

Maintaining Monaco’s superiority over PSG promises to be a herculean task even if those stars remain, attempting such a feat without them would seemingly put Jardim on a hiding to nothing.

However, a similarly difficult task – and substantially more pressure – would await him at Arsenal, where fans will demand a strong response after a disappointing campaign in a league featuring a Chelsea side restored to their former glory by Antonio Conte, improved Tottenham and Liverpool teams, as well as Pep Guardiola’s City and Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United.

Though Monaco’s ascent to the summit of French football and emergence as legitimate contenders has resulted in the rare sight of a full Stade Louis II, expectations are unlikely to be as high should Jardim remain in the principality.

Monaco have abandoned their previous policy of trying to match PSG’s exploits in the transfer market, but it would be fair for Jardim to expect some of the money from any potential player sales to be reinvested in the squad.

And, while Marseille and Lille teams under new ownership figure to have the resources to mount a Champions League push, Jardim will not meet anything close to the same competition for a place at European football’s top table as he would in the Premier League.

If Monaco do lose some of their key assets, then their hopes of keeping a club in PSG, whose failures both domestically and in the Champions League will likely fuel more activity in the close-season transfer window and, in all likelihood, result in them bringing in a new coach, will be extremely slim.

But it may be a challenge worth taking for Jardim. Having overcome PSG with one of the most exciting squads in Europe, exceeding expectations with a potentially depleted team would see more of the attention placed on Monaco’s unheralded Portuguese mastermind and put him firmly in the conversation should more of the continent’s top jobs become available this time next year.

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