AS Monaco are a Football Club who caught the World by surprise over the past year; the young, attacking style of Football saw the French side pip the monopolistic PSG to the Ligue 1 title while also reaching a domestic Cup final and the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. With some of Europe’s largest clubs showing great interest in the talent on display at Monaco it’s difficult to tell how the next few years will go for them, but with a recent change in transfer policy it’s safe to say they’ll be competing at the top for years to come.
Moving into Football Manager, myself and I’m sure many other people have been interested in replicating the success of ‘Les Rouges et Blanc’ and it is with that in mind that I present to you, the Monaco Mission!
17th June 2016: Arriving at Stade Louis II on a humid Friday afternoon I was swamped by the media; which was to be expected. After all, a 26 year old Englishman stepping into management for the first time at such a prestigious club? It’s a crazy World! I spent a couple of hours meeting and greeting various journalists and Monaco representatives but with a final wave goodbye it was time to step inside my office, there’s much work to be done ahead of the competitive campaign.
My first task was to make adjustments to the backroom staff. While the coaching and physiotherapy slots were all but fully booked in there was much to be done in regards to the scouting department. AS Monaco recently underwent a change in transfer policy, meaning the scouting is more extensive in a bid to find the “right” player in the market. With that in mind, I decided to bring in some specialist scouts from all over the World to try and improve our global knowledge. Fast forward a few days and this is how the scouting department looks now.
While I’m not opposed to signing more experienced players, the general consensus here is that we will be looking to buy players who are a maximum of around 25 years old. This is due to the philosophy that we wish to develop players, and this means bringing in players below 27-28 gives us room to do exactly that, but this is something I might touch on in future posts.
It’s not the best in the league, but it’s a start.
1st July 2016: With the players returning from the off-season holiday it was finally time for me to take a step back from the admin work and get my hands dirty on the training ground. After my opening training session with the players I took the time to sit down with my ‘boot-room’ in an attempt to figure out which players were pivotal to our future plans, and which players would not feature under my regime.
The debate went on for hours, but what we did establish was that Kylian Mbappe, Adrien Bongiovianni, Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar and Tiémoué Bakayoko were players that we should be looking to build a team around; these are our current/future stars of the first-team.
The Reserve and Under 19 managers informed me of some potential stars in their ranks that I should keep my eye on, so with the names noted down I’m keen to track their development throughout the year. One player was re-called from his loan at Rio Ave and that was Portuguese youngster Gil Dias, who I believe can play a part in the first-team in the 2016/17 campaign.
The coming week or so saw us move on a couple of players who were deemed ‘surplus to requirements’, with Guido Carrillo moving to Premier League side West Bromwich Albion for £5m while Nabil Dirar moved across the country to Lyon for a fee of £3m.
Almamy Toure is noted as being one of Monaco’s many promising young full-backs, but having just recovered from an injury, I decided it would be best to loan him out in an attempt to develop with more first-team football; and so he joins Metz on a season-long loan.
Having raised a further £8m through transfers we now had a transfer kitty of roughly £25m to spend, although £2.5m or so if this budget was ‘sacrificed’ to offer Bernardo Silva a new contract in an attempt to ward off interest from Manchester City and Real Madrid. While AS Monaco have a brilliant First XI, the club is very thin and lacking in depth in areas across the entirety of the pitch. With this in mind myself and my transfer committee decided that we would look to bring in multiple players who can plug the gaps, rather than one or two top-class talents.
The first signing of my regime was to bring in Spanish right-back Joseba Zaldua from Real Sociedad for a very cheap fee of £3.5m, rising to £3.8m upon performance bonuses. While Monaco are stacked in the full-back areas I’ve decided that I would prefer to deploy Fabinho as a central midfielder leaving only Djibril Sidibé to play in that position (With Toure being out on loan) meaning depth was needed.
Sébastien Haller was the next arrival at Stade Louis II with the French forward signing from Dutch side FC Utrecht for a fee of £6m, rising to £6.5m upon 50 league appearances. While Haller is a similar player to the outgoing Carrillo, his French nationality and EU status makes him more essential for us in the registration side of things, freeing up a non-EU slot for another player.
With the 32 year old Andrea Raggi, Jemerson and Kamil Glik being our only central defenders it was clear that we needed to bring in a fourth centre-back to help us cope with the hefty fixture congestion when competing on all fronts. Step forwards German Pezzella, the Argentinian signs from Spanish minnows Real Betis for a fee of £5m, once again rising to £6m with add-ons. The 25 year old has wonderful stats for the role albeit a lack of pace, but for a fee of £5m we can hardly complain. His Italian ‘second nationality’ means that the Non-EU slot is still free for later use.
Finally, I turned my attention to past-FM wonderkid Lucas Romero who signs from Brazilian side Cruzeiro for a fee of £7.5m, once again an Argentinian with Italian nationality joining the club. Romero gives us everything we need, he’s versatile and can play as almost any role in the central areas making him the perfect addition for depth and quality.
These transfers leave our squad looking fuller and more promising ahead of the season.
22nd July 2016: Fast forward a couple more weeks and with the transfers being concluded we’ve been able to crack on and advance through our pre-season. The main focus of these matches were to develop tactically while ensuring high fitness levels ahead of the new campaign.
Besides a sub-par performance against CSKA Moscow we generally put in a good shift, although the defensive side of things weren’t the most promising. This has since caused me to make changes to my original tactical outlay in a way to decrease the goals conceded on the counter. Let me talk a bit about my approach now…
I’ve decided that the coming campaign will see us line up with a 4-2-3-1 Wide, somewhat the ‘vanilla’ of FM formations. But briefly put, it’s a formation that allows us to fit all of our talent onto the pitch. Monaco are a team who are dominant in the wide areas, with skillful inside forwards and marauding full-backs it’s difficult to see teams shutting us out. Besides Jemerson we’re lacking a good ball-playing defender and as such I’ve decided to stick with the default roles while moving one back to ‘cover’ to try and stop the long-balls on the counter. The GK is also operating as a sweeper in an attempt to cut down on conceding as although we’re not playing a high line, the lack of pace in the central areas is often exploited. Finally, I’m looking for Moutinho/Romero to link the defence and midfield with Lemar linking the midfield and attack in what will hopefully see us effectively move the ball about and break down opposition defences.
As for defensive instructions, I’ve opted for a ‘fairly narrow’ structure as I look for a more compact shape when defending, while allowing our wide players to be given space to counter. Individual instructions have been set on the front 4 to press high-up against the defences with the rest of the team only pressing where necessary. ‘Tight marking’ and ‘stay on feet’ is how I want my team to approach the game defensively, not allowing the opposition space while not diving in recklessly, after all 11 players on the pitch gives you the best chance of winning.
Moving into the attacking phases of play, I’m looking for us to ‘build from the back’ while employing a short-passing style of play to allow us to move the ball quickly and safely with the more creative players being told to play more direct/risky passes to leave us with some form of creative freedom in the final third. ‘Stick to positions’ has been emphasised to help us keep our structure although more dribbling, more roaming and such have once again been added to the more creative, attacking players to help them take matters into their own hands. If there’s more you’d like to know about individual player instructions then feel free to ask for my approach on the matter.
In terms of mentality and shape I’ve opted for a standard/flexible. This leaves it up to our players to follow the instructions as set, although I do make necessary changes when needed. Generally I’ll change to fluid in games where we should/need to score, and structured in games where I want to see a more conservative approach.
14th August 2016: With the first game of the season against Guingamp approaching (Excluding qualifiers), I thought I’d just outlay my objectives and goals for the first season with AS Monaco. To put it simply, the first season isn’t about silverware for me. While the club and fans will want to see me gunning for trophies, I want to set season one as a learning period, one in which I can familiarise myself with the league, country and players to help my career in future years. Although a trophy or two wouldn’t go amiss!
This post has been extremely lengthy and for that I can only hold my hands up to you. I had a lot of information and opinion to throw in and I decided to do it all in one post as opposed to several, if you’d like more detail or depth about anything mentioned in this introductory post then feel free to leave a comment or message me over on Twitter, I’m generally quite active! I look forward to relaying Season One back to you!