Saturday 23 February 2019

Henry's Monaco turmoil a warning for big-name players heading to dugout

Thierry Henry. Photo: Getty
Thierry Henry. Photo: Getty

Jason Burt

The enduring image of Thierry Henry's time as coach of Monaco has been of him holding his face with both hands in what can only be likened to a recreation of Edvard Munch's 'The Scream'.

It has become a familiar sight on the touchline. Far from being the epitome of cool, Henry has looked like a man struggling with his circumstances, out of his depth, unable to hide his emotions or modify his body language.

And, following the crushing 5-1 home defeat by Strasbourg at the weekend, having to apologise, also, after being caught on camera with his "your whore of a grandmother" comment to opposition defender Kenny Lala, whom he believed was time-wasting. "It's an expression of the street," Henry said.

"I regret my comments from the bench. It was a human reaction; I'm still human. I regret it. Sometimes, I do it in English. Maybe in English it wouldn't have been noticeable. No, I'm joking. I should not do it."

It may not be the only thing Henry is regretting. His record at Monaco, where he took over in October, is appalling. His first game, also against Strasbourg, ended in defeat and in 18 matches in all competitions, Monaco have won four times - and two of those games were in the French League Cup, with one tie won on penalties. The only two league victories have come away from the Stade Louis II - beating Amiens and Caen, who are also in the bottom five.

Otherwise, Henry has lost 11 times - including eight of the 12 league matches Monaco have played as they sit in 19th place in Ligue 1, with no league wins at home all season, and with only Guingamp (the smallest place to provide a club in the top division of any major European league) below them.

Relegation, unthinkable for a club who won the league in 2017, when they also reached the Champions League semi-finals with a squad that included Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Fabinho and Benjamin Mendy, is a real possibility.

With Paul Scholes poised to become the latest "big name" to go into management, albeit at the less glamorous surroundings of League Two side Oldham Athletic, then Henry's experience is a salutary lesson in picking your club carefully.

Henry has an emotional attachment to Monaco. He started his playing career there and was welcomed with the hashtag "HesComingHome" when his appointment was announced.

It is encouraging that a flurry of players are stepping away from the cosy world of media punditry, or from simply enjoying their retirement and counting their wealth, to put themselves through the ordeal of being a manager.

They should be applauded for that, even if it can be a bruising experience. Steven Gerrard is at Rangers, Frank Lampard at Derby, recently Sol Campbell finally made it into management at another League Two club, Macclesfield, while, down the French Riviera from Monaco is Henry's former Arsenal team-mate, and friend Patrick Vieira, who is facing some upheaval at Nice, with the president and general manager both announcing they will leave at the end of the season.

"The ante is upped because of the name," Lampard said in an interview last weekend and he was spot on, while also knowing that the name helped get the job in the first place.

But the ante was also upped "because of the name" when he, Henry and the others were players. The difference is that then they could focus on themselves.

Now they are dependent on trying to get others to perform and Henry has struggled with that. His frustrations have been obvious and have been transmitted on to the pitch. He has cut a desperate figure - the recurring Munch impression - and he has been labelled sulky. In turn, he has lashed out at the players he inherited from Leonardo Jardim.

Admittedly, Monaco cannot evaluate quite how competent Henry is because of the factors that have conspired against them, not least a crippling injury list, which has remained in double figures, and recruits who have failed to perform.

They are attempting to remedy that with more signings, although there was a sense of things being cursed when one of those, Naldo, was sent off on his debut after just six minutes against Strasbourg. That game was Cesc Fabregas's first home match since joining Monaco but he could not reverse their fortunes either.

The consensus remains that they will, still, get themselves out of trouble, even if another damaging factor is the uncertainty over the club's ownership and what the future holds for the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev.

But Monaco are not cut adrift and the club admit that the only target is simply to avoid the unthinkable of being relegated. If they did go down, Henry would surely be replaced, while there must already be a question mark over his long-term future.

On Saturday, Monaco are away to Dijon. It is their biggest game of the season. Dijon are one spot above them. If Henry can win and Amiens lose at home to Lyon, then Monaco could move out of the relegation places. But, so far, the dream homecoming has been nothing short of a recurring nightmare.

Telegraph.co.uk

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