Monaco lurching into crisis ahead of PSG game
PARIS (AP) — Djibril Sidibe stood totally still for several moments, staring blankly into the distance. Then his head dropped as he slipped deeper into self-reflection.
The forlorn image perfectly summed up Monaco's current predicament.
Monaco, playing at home, had just been routed 4-0 in the Champions League. Not by Real Madrid, Liverpool or Juventus, but by Belgian team Club Brugge. It was Monaco's 15th straight game without a victory.
"I'm told after every game that it can't get any worse," Monaco coach Thierry Henry said, "but it is."
Henry, a former France great who is coaching for the first time in his career, has been in charge of the team for the last five of those winless matches.
Henry arrived at Monaco, where he started his career as a teen, with limited experience as an assistant to Belgium coach Roberto Martinez, coaching strikers during the World Cup. After that, Henry left lucrative television deals to become Martinez's No. 2. Then the Monaco job came along after Leonardo Jardim was fired .
Henry is hugely respected in soccer because of a stellar playing career which saw him win the World Cup and European Championship with France. He is also France and Premier League club Arsenal's record scorer.
But he came with no relevant coaching experience and it remains a surprising and risky choice for a struggling club to hire someone on name alone.
Henry may have underestimated the difficulty of the task he faces. Because the level of confidence among his players is so low, he thinks they are not able to express themselves on the field.
"I think they're a little bit too aware of the situation," Henry said. "When you don't win your tackles, it's hard to win a match. The team is affected mentally."
Henry's plight has been compounded by injuries and problems with form.
First-choice goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, who had a strong World Cup with runner-up Croatia, and midfielder Rony Lopes are sidelined. Lopes scored 15 league goals last season when he was the club's best player. Experienced forward Stevan Jovetic has hardly played because of injuries.
Additionally, striker Radamel Falcao is playing well below his best, while new signings Nacer Chadli and Aleksandr Golovin have yet to make their mark in midfield. Golovin has impressed in patches, but Chadli — a member of the Belgium team which reached the World Cup semifinals — has so far been poor.
Henry has to somehow prepare his team to face Paris Saint-Germain, which will arrive at Stade Louis II on Sunday looking for a 13th straight league win.
That is not without some irony, considering PSG shares the record of 12 with Monaco.
When Monaco won the league title in 2017, it enjoyed that winning run, reached the Champions League semifinals and scored more than 150 goals in a memorable campaign.
Then the club sold the spine of its team, making huge profits but doing so at the expense of being competitive. That already showed at times last season, when Monaco finished 13 points behind PSG as runner-up.
But now things are immeasurably worse.
The club is 19th in the French league standings, eliminated from the Champions League and has only won one game in 17 matches so far.
One of the many defeats was a 4-0 loss to PSG in the French Super Cup, the season's curtain-raiser in early August.
"We're in a very negative spiral," said Sidibe, who won the World Cup with France in July. "We have to set ourselves short-term objectives, first of all winning games and then staying up."
Behind the scenes, too, things are increasingly agitated.
On Wednesday, a Monaco magistrate filed charges against Russian tycoon Dimitri Rybolovlev — the club's owner — and three other people following a probe into suspected corruption, money laundering and other crimes.
Two days earlier, Monaco issued a statement denying accusations it tried to bypass Financial Fair Play rules through a fake multi-million dollar contract with a marketing agency. According to Mediapart, Rybolovlev attempted to hide illegal funding behind a marketing contract involving an offshore structure of companies in the British Virgin Islands and Hong Kong.
A Monaco team in crisis and facing a relegation fight seemed unfathomable a few months ago, but that is now a bleak reality on the sunny French Riviera.