Ligue 1: Thierry Henry's coaching philosophy remains an enigma as he faces daunting task of resurrecting Monaco

Up the hill from the glitz and glamour of Monte Carlo, La Turbie is a neatly tucked away corner of the principality that offers calm and repose. It’s here that Arsene Wenger spent some of his formative years, it’s here that Thierry Henry trained as Monaco won the French league in the 1996/97 under Jean Tigana with a team that included David Trezeguet, Emmanuel Petit, John Collins, Enzo Scifo and Fabien Barthez.

There may be an element of nostalgia in Henry’s return to Monaco, but his task to resurrect Monaco is daunting. AFP

There may be an element of nostalgia in Henry’s return to Monaco, but his task to resurrect Monaco is daunting. AFP

It’s fitting then that Henry will begin his managerial career at Monaco. The team from the principality sit 18th in Ligue 1, having won just once in 12 games in all competitions after a poor start under Leonardo Jardim, who guided the club to the French title in 2017, their first since 2000. The Portuguese coach reestablished Monaco as a domestic and European force: in the title-winning season his team scored a record 107 goals and reached the last four of the Champions League before succumbing to Juventus.

Jardim’s team seemingly knew but one way: to attack and attack. On the continental stage they illustrated their gung-ho style by eliminating Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in a madcap two-legged round of sixteen encounter that finished 6-6 on aggregate. But this season, Monaco have been fighting relegation: they sold the bulk of their 2017 champions for €530 million, but the ramifications on the field of such a mass exodus have been severe. It is the flip side of Monaco’s business model; the talent production has to be relentless for the club to be successful. Under Jardim, Monaco even overachieved.

In football success and glory are however, by nature, transient, so what do you do when you sit in 18th position in the league table and your longstanding coach has run out of ideas? Jardim was sacked after successive league defeated against Angers , Saint-Etienne and Rennes, and was replaced by Henry, who, as assistant of Roberto Martinez, sat on the bench as Belgium edged Switzerland 2-1 in the Nations League courtesy of a Romelu Lukaku brace.

There may be an element of nostalgia in Henry’s return to Monaco, but his task to resurrect Monaco is daunting. Monaco has a small catchment area with the average gate at the Stade Louis-II is 8,800 this season so far. The limited gate receipts affect the financial operations of the club, which rely heavily on broadcast income and transfer profits to sustain itself. Broadcast rights have provided almost 70% of Monaco’s revenue over the three seasons and transfers have generated €167 million.

That financial reality requires Monaco to play in the Champions League and develop young talents. It’s a steep task for a novice coach, who had also been linked to Aston Villa and Bordeaux in recent months. Henry’s credentials as a player don’t require much explaining: his idiosyncratic grace and nous for goal had him thrill at Juventus, Arsenal and FC Barcelona. As a youngster, he won the World Cup with Les Bleus in 1998 on home soil.

That all-conquering squad has produced three Ligue 1 coaches so far with Didier Deschamps, Laurent Blanc and Patrick Vieira. For now, Henry’s coaching philosophy remains an enigma. He spent time with the youth teams of Arsenal and developed two years at the side of Martinez as second assistant, charged with honing and fine-tuning Belgium’s formidable attacking department. Henry’s contribution in Belgium was however ambiguous. He continued his duties as part-time TV pundit for Sky Sports, which awkwardly had him interviewing Lukaku and other Belgian stars for the British broadcaster. Martinez admitted that Henry was as much about his attacking knowledge as his feel-good factor.

At Monaco part of his background staff will include Joao Carlos Valado Tralhao, the under-23 coach of Benfica, and Patrick Kwame Ampadu, coach at the Arsenal Academy, but Henry will need more than his name and charisma to spark a renaissance in the principality. He will be firmly judged on his ability to maximize the potential of Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans, a €25 million recruit, who deputised for the injured Kevin De Bruyne against Switzerland, and he must also improve the likes of Sofiane Diop and Nacer Chadli.

Without a fixed identity as coach, Henry has the three-pronged spectrum of coaching attitudes to pick from when setting out to solve problems he will face: ideological, pragmatical and results-oriented. Deschamps and Laurent Blanc belong to the pragmatic class. They mould a team based on the resources they have, without superimposing an overarching philosophy. They don’t carry rigid dogmas around, but rather tend, within their pragmatism, to value the result.

This summer, Deschamps led France to a second World title as Les Bleus were above all solid over seven matches in Russia. Blanc’s pragmatism was less successful during spells with France from 2010-2012 and later Paris Saint-Germain, where his team forever seemed stuck in a lateral stasis without much direction. Vieira, the latest coach from the 1998 class, has phased his coaching career, with a role in Manchester City’s youth development before moving on to sister club New York City FC in the Major League Soccer, where he gained experience over two seasons. This year, Vieira was appointed manager at Nice, a stone’s throw from the principality. On December 8th, Nice and Monaco will meet in Ligue 1. That game may tell us something more about how Henry’s coaching career is shaping up.

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Updated Date: Oct 14, 2018 16:59:53 IST

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