Niko Kovač, Paul Mitchell, Kevin Volland – they all did an outstanding job in the Bundesliga, they were all lured to Monte-Carlo in the summer to open “a new chapter”.
George Weah, Youri Djorkaeff, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Kylian Mbappé. If you compile a list of the most spectacular attacking players of the past 30 years, you cannot ignore these names – and thus also not the club where they have all matured into world class: AS Monaco.
The club from the principality of the same name on the Côte d’Azur is one of the most successful clubs in French Ligue 1. The Monegas have won the league eight times since 1961, and in 2004 they sensationally stormed the Champions League final against Schalke. But after the previous championship title in 2017 and the 180 million euro farewell to striker Mbappé at Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco fell into a sensory crisis:
The 2018 runner-up was followed by almost relegation in 2019, and in 2020 European business was clearly missed again.
Monaco boss Petrov: RB Leipzig role model for the future
“At the end of last season it was clear to us that we would have to write a new chapter in order to achieve our long-term goals of being among the top teams in Ligue 1 and doing well in the European Cup,” Monaco’s Vice President Oleg Petrov told t-online. According to Petrov, RB Leipzig is serving as a model for the new beginning. After all, the Saxons too are “not just about winning games, but building a project for the future.” It is therefore only logical that ASM gradually acquired concentrated Bundesliga expertise in the summer.
The goal: to bring AS Monaco back to championship titles in the medium term and to stir up the Champions League.
The Russian is the strong man in the team from the iconic Stade Louis II. (Source: Panoramic / imago images)
The Englishman was introduced as the new sports director in mid-June 2020. A new role for the 39-year-old, he was mainly employed as a talent scout valued around the world in recent years. Mitchell himself doesn’t care much about his new job title, however. “My role and tasks are almost identical to those that I have taken on in my previous jobs,” he says, when asked.
The French Ibrahima Konaté (18, FC Sochaux, two million euros transfer), Nordi Mukiele (20, HSC Montpellier, 16 million euros) and Christopher Nkunku (21, Paris Saint-Germain, 13 million euros) were all based on Mitchell’s extensive Committed to scouting and are now the pillars of the Leipzig team.
The fact that Mitchell is now taking on his first position as sports director in the French Ligue 1 of all places seems logical. He himself says about his decision for Monaco: “In the conversations with Oleg Petrov I felt that the club had a great desire to reposition itself and create something long-term. I was sure that my experience in Monaco would help me to rebuild It is really a tough task, but one that I enjoy very much. “
EX-RB-Scout Mitchell starts in Monaco with a layoff
In contrast to Leipzig, Mitchell’s first official act in Monaco was not to scout out top French talents, but rather: a resignation. Robert Moreno took it. Mitchell did not trust the Spanish head coach, who took over the ASM in the season that was canceled by the corona pandemic and led it to a mouse-gray ninth place, to be the face of the sporting upheaval. This role is to be taken over by Niko Kovač.
Niko Kovač (left) was brought in by Paul Mitchell (right) to lead Monaco into the future. (Source: Panoramic / imago images)
At Eintracht Frankfurt, the Croat impressively proved that he is a coach for short-term success and medium-term team development. With him, the SGE saved itself just before relegation in 2016 and escaped relegation there, stabilized and found itself in the following season, in order to win the DFB Cup in 2018 for the first time in 30 years and to move into the European Cup.
The y now also want to take this kind of horizon-oriented path on the Côte d’Azur – and that’s why they give Kovač the right to have a say, which he missed during his unfortunate time at Bayern. In Monaco, his wishes and words carry weight; the collaboration with Mitchell is much closer and more familiar than that with the officials on Säbener Strasse. “It’s my job to support him and to create an environment in which he can flourish in his role as a coach,” says Mitchell, explaining how he sees himself as a manager. “Niko is a very good trainer and an intelligent man,” the sports director praised the 49-year-old. “I enjoy our relationship and our daily discussions about how we can continuously improve.”
Volland’s achievements explode thanks to Kovač
Also because of the relationship of trust between Kovač and Mitchell, a national league-wide valued goalgetter landed in the Principality in late summer 2020: Kevin Volland.
The 28-year-old is considered Kovač’s absolute dream player, the Croatian already wanted to lure him to Bayern, but fell on deaf Munich ears with his proposal. So now the two meet on the Mediterranean coast – and mix up Ligue 1 after a short start-up time. Volland has already collected 20 goals in 23 league appearances so far (twelve hits, eight assists), making it the best German scorer in professional football at the moment. With AS Monaco, he is currently in fourth place in the table – only six points behind leaders OSC Lille.
One of the most scoring duos in Europe: Kevin Volland (right) celebrates with strike partner Wissam Ben Yedder (left). (Source: Panoramic / imago images)
“Kovač trusts me and I try to repay him with good performances. That sounds simple now, but it is very important as a player that you stick to the coach’s plans and guidelines,” Volland said in January in the t-online interview – and kept silent about the fact that Kovač’s plans and specifications are no longer as dogmatic as they were in the Bundesliga. While he was particularly stubborn during his time in Munich, who insisted on his game system and pressed players into a rigid concept outside of their position, Kovač in Monaco shows himself to be a coach who is capable and willing to learn.
Because Volland, as the left winger in the initially preferred 4-3-3, could not live out his qualities in the final and the game with his back to the opposing defensive, Kovač switched to a 4-4-2 basic formation for the tenth game day, in which Volland as a partner the ten centimeters smaller and much livelier captain Wissam Ben Yedder (13 hits, five assists) is the top of the attack. Since then, not only Volland, but the whole team has been rushing from one success to the next: Monaco has been unbeaten since matchday 16 and has meanwhile won seven games in a row. Kovač’s team inspires fans and experts with lively, offensive attack football. An ASM game this season always means a spectacle, with an average of 3.5 goals per game.
Volland and Mitchell dampen expectations
Despite the successful entry into the new chapter, AS Monaco is still a few paragraphs away from making Paris Saint-Germain permanently dispute its status as a league leader. Even a win in the direct duel on Sunday (9 p.m., live on DAZN) would not change that for the time being. Volland knows that too: “We are currently on the right track, but we shouldn’t go nuts straight away because of that.”
This classification of the veteran is so important because AS Monaco has the second youngest squad of all teams in the European top 5 leagues with an average of 24.5 years. Players like 19-year-old defender Benoît Badiashile (played 89% of all game minutes) and 20-year-old offensive whirlwind Sofiane Diop (five hits) are still in the middle of the development phase despite their outstanding performances in the season so far. This is one of the reasons why Volland is further dampening expectations: “Our minimum goal is and will remain sixth and thus our entry into the European Cup.”
Sports director Mitchell shouldn’t have any objection to this goal of his top scorer, after all, he always has the bigger picture in mind. “Hopefully what we are currently building with a long-term view in Monaco will also lead to positive results,” said the sporting director, “but the most important thing is and remains that we create a sustainable basis for success.”