What's behind Islam Slimani's revival at AS Monaco?
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After two years roaming Europe, Islam Slimani finally found an abode in France. The Algerian owns a castle in the heart of Monaco. With four strikes and four assists in five matches, he is leading the new era at the Principality. What could be behind this sudden upturn in fortune?
Algeria's golden generation finally gleamed at last summer's Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Egypt. Captained by Riyad Mahrez, Les Fennecs put aside an underwhelming decade to reach continental prominence. Djamel Belmadi, though, achieved this feat at the detriment of some his established stars.
Slimani and Yacine Brahimi were most affected – reduced to mere spectators. An underwhelming season in Europe didn’t help. While Slimani endured another futile loan spell away from Leicester, the winger's contract at FC Porto elapsed. The AFCON was merely a distraction.
The pair cut short the party to sort out their future. For Slimani, a return to the King Power wasn’t an option. He had already established contact with Monaco before jetting to Africa. In the end, Brahimi opted for the gulf league while Slimani hoped he would be third time lucky in Ligue 1.
There, he was reunited with Leonardo Jardim – the same manager that offered him his first taste of European football at Sporting Lisbon in 2013. Slimani built a reputation in four years in Portugal as a fearless, bullish striker hitting 57 goals in just over a century appearances. He shared just a season with Jardim who moved to Monaco in 2014.
A bit of scepticism accompanied the Algerian to Stade Loius II, especially after three unproductive years. He shunted to the sidelines at City after failing to fit into Leicester plans. On loan at Newcastle, he flopped again before being handed a retrospective suspension for kicking out an opponent. At Fenerbahce, he was simply a fringe player until February; when a fall out with management closed that chapter.
Slimani is enjoying his football again in France. Although Monaco is off the pace in Ligue 1 race, Slimani has been in excellent form involved in eight goals. The 31-year-old's recent outing against Brest yielded a goal and three assists.
The forward has already surpassed his tally for the last three campaigns. After eight Ligue 1 matches, only the Algerian averaged a score of seven or higher by L’Equipe. The Fox ranks third on the scorer's chart behind Victor Osimhen and Moussa Dembele, albeit boasting a superior minute to goal ratio.
Slimani is reaping from working alongside Jardim again. No manager knows the Algerian better. The Portuguese recognise his qualities, strength and weakness – utilising them for the good of his team. Confidence was obviously missing in Slimani's game and Jardim has found a way to instil it.
Monaco's Algerian hitman enjoys being the focal point in attack. After four years leading the line at Sporting, he was expected to be a supporting actor for Jamie Vardy at Leicester. This was difficult for someone who is traditional centre-forward, powerful in the air and thrives with his back to goal. He isn’t the type to make those early runs or deliver pinpoint passes.
At City, the style of play was never geared towards Slimani. In Monaco, he is the main cast forming a fearsome partnership with Wissam Ben Yedder. While the ex-Sevilla man roams, the Algerian is allowed to push on to the last defender more often, rather than come deep.
Playing in a country that speaks his first language, is another advantage. In England, he communicated using an interpreter and never understood a word in Turkey. There's also less pressure at Monaco. He must keep up the momentum or return to the streets.