Is Thierry Henry ready for Paris Saint-Germain?
A quick rewind to the 2016/17 season. There wasn't much to separate Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco. PSG had the bucks. Monaco had Kylian Mbappe. The teenager's energy, pace and finishing quality were enough to deliver a stunning title to the principality. The capital club's cash was enough to make sure it didn't happen again. Now, PSG are again champions, Mbappe on their side, while Monaco languishes in the relegation places with a new, untested manager with a famous name now at the controls. On Sunday, Thierry Henry welcomes the top dogs to town and the controls aren't responding. Unless the auto club mysteriously appears, expect the hosts to sink deeper after 90 minutes.
Aston Villa and Bordeaux must have been hot under the collar when Henry turned down their overtures. In an era where managers are increasing exponentially to the workspace, it is quite unusual to ignore such massive offers, especially when the candidate is a rookie whose only experience was a seat next to Roberto Martinez, picking up balls for Romelu Lukaku.
Perhaps the Frenchman had envisioned the potential opening at Monaco. There, he was assured of a bigger platform to launch his career. In addition to being a Champions League mainstay, the prospect of working with talented prospects was tantalising. Above all, as an old boy, he had added motivation.
I am very happy to back to AS Monaco and extremely determined to meet the challenges ahead. Having started my footballing career with this great club, it seems like fate that I will now begin my managerial career here too.
Henry was quite aware of the monstrous challenges ahead. He inherited a side already 18th, winless in Europe, without a single victory in 10 games across all competitions. There were questions over the squad's long-term viability. Owner Dmitry Ryblovlev's earned a reputation for auctioning his brightest prospects and talent is never a bottomless pool. Leonardo Jardim left behind a largely young and callow squad, unable to bridge the talent gap. That should not be surprising. Nacer Chadli barely flashed, Youri Tielemans shone, albeit in patches. Aleksandr Golovin, Stevan Jovetic and Willem Geubbels are among many injured absentees.
Monaco's declining fortunes haven't improved one bit under Henry. The Red and Whites' are winless in five, stuck in the sucking mud of a grim relegation battle. The closest acquaintance is Guingamp, with whom they are tied on seven points from 12 matches. Unbeaten PSG has racked up almost 30 more.
Henry's first game in charge was a 2-1 defeat at Strasbourg. He halted a five-match losing run with draws against Club Brugge and Dijon. But when it seemed as though he had arrested the rot, another defeat followed at Stade Reims. This was accompanied by an unwanted club record against Club Brugge on Tuesday night – Monaco’s heaviest home defeat in the European Cup.
"People tell me after every match that it can’t get worse, but it does.”
Henry was brutally honest after his team’s crushing 4-0 defeat. Brugge had not won a Champions League match for 13 years. Despite the huge margin, their manager, Ivan Leko wasn't sympathetic.
“That was not the best we’ve played in our four [Champions League] matches this season.”
Put in context, Monaco is now without a win in 15 games in all competitions, their worst streak since the period from September 1968 to January 1969. Those paltry seven points represent the club’s lowest tally at this stage in top-flight history in over six decades.
The last thing Henry needs on this sort of run is a visit from the free-scoring, high-flying champions. The Ligue 1 leaders are perfect so far, recording the best-ever start for a team in the top five European Leagues. The Parisians have scored 41 times in total. Up against Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, with 25 goals between them across all competitions, the forecast is for a torrential rain of goals at the Stade Louis II. Wish as he might, Thierry Henry doesn't have an umbrella big enough.