Former star takes over at struggling Monaco
Monaco and Thierry Henry appear to be a good fit, with the 41-year-old taking his first major coaching job at the club where he burst onto the Ligue 1 scene as a teenage winger under Arsene Wenger’s guidance.
Aston Villa had wanted Henry to replace Steve Bruce, while Bordeaux were also interested, but a chance to learn the managerial ropes in front of modest crowds at the Stade Louis ll proved compelling.
“When the offer came it was quite logical; my heart talked,” says Henry. “You know the connection I have with one club in London, but this is where I started.
“This club will always have a big place in my heart. So to be able to come here and start here again is a dream come true. There’s a lot of work to do, as you can imagine, but I’m more than happy to be here.”
Henry replaced Leonardo Jardim, who was dismissed after a 2-1 home defeat by Rennes that left Monaco 18th in the table. The Portuguese guided Monaco to the Ligue 1 title and Champions League semi-finals last year but was eventually undermined by the club’s policy of constantly selling its best players.
Kylian Mbappe, Benjamin Mendy, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Bernardo Silva left last season, while replacements Youre Tielemans, Keita Balde and Terence Kongolo all struggled. However, Jardim’s remodelled side still managed to finish second in the league, albeit 13 points behind Paris Saint-Germain.
This summer there were further player departures, with Thomas Lemar moving to Atletico Madrid and Fabinho joining Liverpool. Jardim wasn’t helped by a mounting injury list and it would be harsh
lay the blame at the door of a man who will not be short of suitors given his previous successes.
An amateur player who began coaching in his twenties and worked his way through the Portuguese lower divisions, Jardim is totally different to Henry, who returns to Monaco as a World Cup and Champions League winner who is cherished at Arsenal as the club’s alltime record goalscorer.
Having taken his first tentative steps as Roberto Martinez’s assistant with Belgium, Henry’s task now is to re-build and reenergise Monaco. Significantly, he has hinted that he will be leaning heavily on the ideas of Pep Guardiola, his coach for three years at Barcelona.
“Pep is the reference for me, I’m not saying for everyone,” says Henry. “We learnt how to play the game when I went to Barcelona under him.
“With Pep you can talk about the game. He will not even go to sleep and will still talk about the game, you will fall asleep and he’s still talking. The invention he had, he’s well ahead of the game
“I saw it closely. You learn from people; they inspire you. But you also need to put your own little mix in it.”
Inevitably, he also name-checked Wenger, who left Monaco a few weeks after Henry’s debut as a 17-year-old but then rescued him from a frustrating spell at Juventus and took him to Arsenal.
Henry continues: “Arsene unlocked a lot of stuff in my mind, made me understand what it was to be a professional, what it was to perform.
“I will never forget that. You know the relationship I had with him so I will always carry some of the stuff that he was doing.”
The new boss faced a tricky start as he set out to end Monaco’s miserable run and in his first game they lost 2-1 to a strong Strasbourg side. An error from stand-in keeper Seydou Sy led to Strasbourg’s opening goal and Monaco’s fifth straight defeat was compounded by an injury to Radamel Falcao and the sending-off of sub Samuel Grandsir, who lasted just one minute and 51 seconds on the pitch. “It wasn’t the dream scenario,” lamented Henry afterwards.
Tough fixtures come thick and fast in November and December. There are dates with Club Brugge, Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, while in Ligue 1 there is a visit from Paris Saint-Germain and a reunion with former Arsenal and France team-mate Patrick Vieira, who is now in charge of local rivals Nice.
And things could get worse before they get better for Henry. The injury list is long, with Falcao joining Rony Lopes, Stevan Jovetic and this summer’s record signing Aleksandr Golovin, as well as keepers Diego Benaglio and Danijel Subasic on the sidelines. Defensive solidity has been hard to achieve thanks to an injury to Kevin N’Doram and suspensions clocked up by centre-backs Jemerson and Andrea Raggi.
The absentees are likely to force him to promote players such as forward Moussa Sylla, who replaced Falcao against Strasbourg. He is just one of the promising youngsters on the books of a club famed for its youth and scouting policy, with Moroccan midfielder Youssef Ait Bennasser, French defender Julien Serrano, and Spanish teenagers Jordi Mboula and Robert Navarro also highly thought of.
Henry is old enough to have played with N’Doram’s father, Japhet – the Chad striker who set up his first Champions League goal in 1997 – yet still young enough for memories of his playing days not to have been sullied by managerial disappointment.
With plenty of goodwill in the bank, Henry’s coaching honeymoon is expected to run for at least a few more months, though he will do well to match the record of his predecessor Jardim.
“This is where I started. This club will always have a big place in my heart”
Dejected...Leonardo Jardim after defeat by Angers
Beaten...Monaco’s Benjamin Henrichs (right) with Adrien Thomasson of Strasbourg