Why AS Monaco’s Leonardo Jardim Should Be Arséne Wenger’s Successor

Why AS Monaco’s Leonardo Jardim Should Be Arséne Wenger’s Successor
Feb 17, 2017

Arsenal Featured

A Monaco manager linked with Arsenal? We’ve been here before, haven’t we?

Whilst the man in question will in all likelihood not take a detour to Japan, or anywhere near the Far East for a brief, but enlightening stint – as Arséne Wenger did – to broaden his managerial horizons; the similarities between Wenger in his heyday and Leonardo Jardim are there, making him one of the most prominent candidates to replace the Frenchman at the Emirates Stadium, should he decide to call it a day at the end of this season.

Other potential suitors have been well published, from up-and-coming names such as Julian Nagelsmann, England’s own Eddie Howe or RB Leipzig’s Ralph Hasenhuttl, to the slick and uber-successful Carlo Ancelotti and Max Allegri; even Newcastle’s most recent adopted son Rafa Benitez has had his name thrown into the hat.

But none may be the fit that Jardim could be. Well-travelled, and adept at changing his tactical approach with devastating effects, the Portuguese is rightly regarded as one of European football’s most in-vogue managers.

Jardim is no stranger to Wenger. The pair have even had spats in years gone by, particularly after Wenger’s immediate actions (or lack thereof) in the wake of Monaco’s shock 1-3 victory at the Emirates in the late winter of 2015.

The Frenchman was reported to have failed to shake his opposing number’s hand at full-time, but insisted that this was false, noting he was “surprised” at the claim.

All was seemingly resolved come the return leg a fortnight later in the principality, that saw Arsenal claim a 0-2 win on the night, but bow out in familiar style, on away goals. 

Jardim had already made an impact on the Arsenal crowd, though, seeing their side gunned down by an efficient, counter-attacking display from the Monegasques. It was one of Arsenal’s most humbling European nights.

This should have come as no surprise, whilst Jardim is known for a more defensive tactical stance in the past, keen to build a strong base, with attacking flair almost an afterthought. French fans dismissed the style as boring, with his main sceptic, Canal+ pundit Pierre Mendes giving a scathing review in January 2015, citing his approach as a “chloroform tactic” and that fans were “dying of boredom.”

But the Venezuelan-born 42-year-old has proved that change is not impossible – a huge criticism of Wenger in recent years, with cases of tactical naivety and predictability costing Arsenal at huge points in the season.

The challenge that Monaco have posed to Paris Saint-Germain this campaign has been nigh on remarkable, the iconic Stade Louis II playing host to some scintillating attacking football, with the resurgent Radamel Falcao et al having clocked up a phenomenal 106 goals in just 39 games in all competitions this season.

As a result (at the time of writing), Monaco are still in with a shout of claiming both domestic cups, sit three points clear of the capital club at the summit of Ligue 1 and have a pulsating Last 16 tie in the Champions League with Manchester City to look forward to.

The two-legged affair with City will provide another English test for Jardim, who took two wins off of Arsenal’s bitter North London rivals Tottenham in the group stages. The solid record against English sides may also persuade Arsenal to focus their attentions on Jardim, as the Gunners remain in search of their first Premier League crown in 13 painstaking years.

Furthermore, after 21 years with the same face, the Arsenal board would understandably be looking for stability, keen to avoid the slippery, transitional slide Manchester United have been on after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. 

Contrary to recent results, Monaco have been on a downward spiral themselves since 2014. Their return to top-flight football in 2013 saw new Russian owner Dimitriy Rybolovlev’s investment help bring huge, exciting names to the club.

Porto’s creative wizard James Rodriguez and Sporting’s central midfield metronome Joao Moutinho both joined from Portugal, whilst across the Guadiana International Bridge, Falcao waved goodbye to Atletico Madrid after 70 goals over the course of two seasons, in which he cemented his status as the world’s hottest natural striker.

After taking over from the Greece-bound Claudio Ranieri, Jardim must have been eager to see what he could do with a seemingly endless budget and a lucrative location for well-paid footballers, sans tax. However, due to a costly divorce settlement, tax payments to the LFP and UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rulings looming over them, Rybolovlev, Monaco, and Jardim had to quickly rethink their future.

After a whirlwind debut campaign in France and a sensational 2014 World Cup, Rodriguez followed the Italian out the door – to become the newest recruit in Florentino Perez’s ‘Galacticos’ project with Real Madrid, for a little over double the sum Monaco paid for him. Smart business, but not what is needed when trying to topple the runaway Parisians.

After returning from a serious knee injury that curtailed his first year, Falcao joined Manchester United for an ineffective, but unforgettable loan spell. He spent the next year at Chelsea, with similar results.

At the end of the 2014/15 season, emerging winger Yannick Ferreira Carrasco left for Atletico Madrid, where he has continued to impress, bright talent Anthony Martial became the world’s most expensive teenager after putting pen to paper on a long-term contract at United and the highly rated Geoffrey Kondogbia made the switch to Inter – a move that hasn’t totally worked.

Not to mention that young full-back Layvin Kurzawa joined PSG and leading centre-back Aymen Abdennour hopped aboard Valencia’s sinking ship. All for healthy sums and profit.

Despite all these setbacks, Jardim and Monaco continued to challenge domestically, with a modest budget and a youthful squad that includes the likes of the Jardim’s electric compatriot Bernardo Silva, promising young Frenchman Thomas Lemar and 18-year-old Kylian Mbappe, who reached 12 goals for Monaco quicker than famous alumni Thierry Henry could. With comparisons like that, it’s no surprise that Mbappe is also being tipped to a move to the Emirates.

With Arsenal and Wenger having undergone similar budget problems, albeit for different reasons, in recent years – Jardim may well be the man who could steady the ship quickly if either one of Mesut Özil or Alexis Sanchez depart – with speculation rife over their futures.

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