It's not goodbye, just au revoir: how Monaco and Villarreal turned to the men they sacked to revive fortunes
Leonardo Jardim replaced Thierry Henry in the Monaco hot-seat just over 100 days after being sacked by the Principality club, while Javier Calleja was reappointed at Villarreal in less than half that time
The football clubs of Monaco and Villarreal share a claim to fame. No teams from smaller places, in terms of population, have reached a Uefa Champions League semi-final than these two.
Not that European semis are on the horizon for either right now. Both are battling against the threat of relegation.
What also links them is an unusual strategic decision. Ligue 1’s Monaco and Spain’s Villarreal have just changed their manager for the second time this season and both clubs have chosen men, who, if you were to be sceptical, you might think suggests there aren’t enough candidates around in their small-town environments. The new managers of Villarreal and Monaco, you see, are also their old managers, the same coaches who started the season in charge, were then sacked, then replaced, and have now been appointed again.
Monaco, who reached the last four of the Champions League and won the French title in 2017, said goodbye to the coach who had overseen that success, Leonardo Jardim, in October. It seemed a little brutal given the previous achievements of the understated Portuguese and given that his management of the club was always built around a transfer strategy that meant the better Monaco played, the more players they sold: During Jardim’s four years in charge, Kylian Mbappe, Anthony Martial, Thomas Lemar, Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, Fabinho, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Yannick Carrasco, Layvin Kurzawa and Geoffrey Kondogbia had all thrived and moved on.
The large fees from most of these sales helped a cycle of sell-high-buy wisely to a degree, but, after the summer of 2018, the system malfunctioned. “We sold too many vital players,” acknowledged Vadim Vasilyev, the Monaco vice-president as he looked back on an opening two months of the campaign that yielded one win from the first 11 games in league and Champions League. After four losses on the trot, Jardim was thanked for his efforts, paid a reported €8 million (Dh33m) in severance, and Monaco prepared to welcome a name as glamorous as any in French football into his place.
That man was Thierry Henry, who will look back on his first try at senior club management as educative and as very chastening. Henry lasted 20 matches and won just four (excluding a win via penalty shoot-out in the French Cup). A long list of injuries hampered him, but he also lost the faith of some senior players, who made known their concerns about his management to Monaco executives not long before he was sacked at the end of last month.
At that point Vasilyev contacted Jardim, to ask if their previous farewell might be turned into an "au revoir". The Portuguese agreed to come back. Senior players gave their approval. They know and understand Jardim, a career coach with no significant playing history at all. They felt he had more prospect of getting Monaco up from 19th in Ligue 1 than Henry, the former Juventus, Arsenal and Barcelona superstar, the greatest goalscorer in the history of France’s national team.
So, just over 100 days after he had been sacked, Jardim began his second spell as Monaco manager, overseeing the 2-1 win over Toulouse that moved the club just above the Ligue 1 drop zone.
At Villarreal, meanwhile, similar backtracking, only faster. Javier Calleja was sacked on December 10, after a run of form just like Jardim’s last autumn at Monaco: one league win in nine. Calleja’s replacement was Luis Garcia, the former Baniyas manager. He won his first game, a Europa League fixture, but could win none of his next eight domestic contests.
At which point Villarreal president, Fernando Roig, terminated Garcia’s brief stay and asked Calleja, who had been out of the job a mere 50 days, to come back. He agreed, he said “because I have trust in these players.” His first game back? A 2-2 draw. The club are still five points from safety.
Neither Monaco nor Villarreal will look back on this season as an exemplar of boardroom clarity, but, if they survive, their prevarication will be forgiven.
And they are still a long way from matching the impetuosity of Italian club Palermo, who, under the notorious presidency of Maurizio Zamparini, used to fire and then rehire the same manager as if it were no less a part of the routine than ordering a morning espresso. Zamparini sacked, replaced and reappointed the same manager in no fewer than five of his 15 seasons in charge of Palermo.
Amazingly, several of them came back after a second sacking, and even after a third.
Updated: February 7, 2019 10:03 AM