Appointing Thierry Henry as manager was always going to be a gamble for Monaco, but there was little to suggest his time in charge would end in such spectacular failure. Henry’s return to his boyhood club was an unmitigated disaster. Henry did oversee the odd decent result – including recent draws with Marseille and Nice in the league and progress to the semi-finals of the Coupe de la Ligue – but ultimately he paid the price for performances on the pitch and his own seeming contradictions.
The sheer number of injuries at the club did not work in his favour. More than a dozen first-team players were unavailable at various times, most notably Rony Lopes, who scored an incredible 14 goals in the second half of last season. However, even with the board’s backing – Monaco signed Naldo, Cesc Fàbregas and Fodé Ballo-Touré this month – the playing staff was not the main issue. Rather, Henry was held back by his own inconsistencies and immature attitude.
Henry is 41 and just four years into his retirement – he played alongside Fàbregas for several years at Arsenal – and it appears his lack of maturity has been his undoing. It is hard to square Henry’s seemingly imperious attitude (witness his admonishment of Benoît Badiashile after the young defender failed to push in his chair at a press conference) and reports that the manager conducted himself more like a senior member of the squad than their manager.
Last Sunday, during Monaco’s 5-1 defeat to Strasbourg, Henry was even caught on camera telling the opposition right-back that his “grandmother’s a whore,” which seems quite at odds with the culture of respect he seemed to be demanding while chastising his own player.
Monaco followed up their loss in Strasbourg with another disappointing result on Tuesday night, a 3-1 home defeat to second-tier Metz in the Coupe de France. In response to being knocked out of the cup, Henry wanted to demote several players to the reserves, not an easy decision to make given his side’s injury woes, but one he was set on taking nonetheless, citing the need for “hungry” players.
A group of senior players reacted by requesting a summit meeting with the board. The club took the players’ dissatisfaction seriously and were quick to dismiss Henry, even though his hefty severance package of between €10 and €15m is a departure from their previously parsimonious ways.
It is not only Henry’s haughty attitude towards the players on a personal level that has damned him. Reports from the club’s training centre also highlighted a seeming lack of professionalism on his part while taking training, something that seemed to spill over into matchdays as well, as Monaco frequently chopped and changed their tactics and the roles of various players.
Some of Henry’s more surprising decisions – for instance, playing Almamy Touré as a centre-back for the first time in years and Aleksandr Golovin as a striker – can be put down to the lack of depth in his squad, but the team desperately lacked identity under his management. Henry had a vivacious style as a player – and Monaco had played with a similar devil-may-care attitude during their best spell under Jardim – but Henry undermined that approach by playing negative formations with too many central midfielders.
If taking a more cautious route was truly his aim, his tactics often served to weaken his players; Kamil Glik’s lack of pace was often easily exposed in a back three and Nacer Chadli’s form did little to capture the imagination. It was as if Henry did not know his players’ attributes very well. Even with the former Marseille boss Franck Passi coming in as Henry’s assistant, Monaco too often looked at sea on the pitch. The same players also struggled under Jardim, but the sheer inconsistency of Henry’s approach to management, both on a personal and professional level, did much to discredit his ambitions.
In the end, Henry was his own worst enemy. Hopefully he will leave Monaco having learned a lesson about attitude and preparedness. Before he returns to the game, he should go away and reflect on what has gone wrong and how he can move on from this disappointment.
Ligue 1 talking points
• The Vélodrome may have found its saviour. Mario Balotelli scored a consolation goal for Marseille in their 2-1 defeat to Lille on Friday in a game that was held up for half an hour after a fan threw a firework on to the pitch in the second half. Despite previous missteps, Balotelli has been a success in France. His total of 33 goals in 51 Ligue 1 games in his first two seasons remains impressive and Marseille are desperate for a physical, skilful frontman. His individual quality suits a team that is reliant on its stars to win games and his brash self-confidence suits the Vélodrome and its raucous public. Nevertheless, there are caveats. This season has not been a fruitful one for the Italian, with no goals in 10 games for Nice. Whether anyone but Lucien Favre can cajole performances from the forward remains uncertain. However, now that Balotelli has been given a move that he wanted, the Vélodrome will hope to see the Nice incarnation of Super Mario. It may be Rudi Garcia’s last hope.
• Nice were the definition of well run club under president Jean-Pierre Rivère and general manager Julien Fournier. A balanced squad, a meticulous scouting team and Rivère’s precise reinvestment of income brought the club a title challenge and European football. However, the visionary duo announced their exit earlier this month. Back in 2016 the club received investment from a group of American-Chinese businessmen led by Barnsley owner Chien Lee. Their aim was to replicate Monaco’s model of nurturing young talents before selling them on at a profit. However, this ambition has conflicted with how Rivère and Fournier wanted to run things. Targets have slipped away because of slow decision-making and Founier’s authority over signings has been diluted. Deals for players who would add maturity to the squad – such as Younès Belhanda, Ryad Boudebouz and Valère Germain – have reportedly been vetoed by Lee and his investors. Patrick Vieira, who was appointed by Rivère and Fournier, has kept a weakened squad afloat but his future is also in question. The manager has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave at the same time as the president. With Rivère going at the end of the month, this could be a disastrous time for the club.
Ligue 1 table