Remembering Monaco under Wenger in the late 80′s and early 90′s
The beauty of the French Riviera truly must be visited and appreciated by all. Yachts float lazily under the descending sun, their pearly white exterior contrasting the crystal blue ocean sublimely. A life of luxury for the world’s wealthiest is enjoyed from the art-town of Saint-Tropez, past fellow Saint’s Maxime and Raphael; past the olive branched restaurants of Cannes, from Nice La Bella (the beautiful), the winter hangout of the British upper classes, to, finally, Monaco and Menton on the hip of Italy.
Marseille, the vital port of Napoleon’s French Empire, the doorway for North African migration following WWII, the cultural hotbed of centralised thinkers, is regarded as the forefront city of Southern-French football. Olympique de Marseille have won ten Lique 1’s and remain the only French club to achieve success in the European Cup, winning the trophy in 1993. Nowadays the club are winning admiration for fighting against the money-driven Parisian’s – Saint Germain – and find themselves in the midst of an eight game winning run. Bielsa has ignited the passions of the rebellious town and, for the most part, has the south of France behind him.
Apart from the sovereign microstate of Monaco who, of course, will pretend that they don’t care. They aren’t even part of France and they have their own concerns (which include F1, frolicking and shopping – football, even in 2004 when they reached the CL final, does not engage the sun kissed populace. When I speak of Monaco fans, I refer to the 8,500 who turn up). Besides, the tussles of the early-nineties between the two Southern clubs has left a petty sourness. Their club, AS Monaco are now back where they feel they belong, competing at the summit of the domestic league and in the Champion’s League, too. Rybolovlev – a mega rich Russian who rode the concrete wave of communism’s collapse – has invested a lot of finance into the tax-haven club, which can only be seen as a positive for the overall standard of French football. Nevertheless, following the sale of James and loan of Falcao, the club (and Rybolovlev) have chosen to reinvent their image and have once more invested in a youth-set up that has brought such success for AS down the years.
The first man to capitalise on the exuberance of youth here was a relatively ‘developing’ coach. Arsene Wenger was 38 when he was given the job. After Nancy in were relegated in 1987 he was free to join Monaco who admired his intelligence and academic background. He had done a fine job at Nancy under severe financial constraints (having zero investment) but instilled pioneering fitness work and an innovative tactical style there. Glenn Hoddle played for Wenger’s Monaco and testified to his methods “He introduced so many new things to me, his training methods, the warm ups and the warm downs. In all my years at Tottenham, we had never done a warm down! We had vitamin injections, all legal of course, all the thinking was way ahead” (4-4-2 magazine).
At this stage of his career Arsene was extremely conscientious and somewhat emotional. What he instilled in his first season was a neat sense of preparation. There was a dietician to monitor what the players ate – a wholly new concept. These foundations proved to be successful for Monaco and Wenger, winning the league in his first season in the job. Battison and Amoros offered a strong base, with Mark Hately bringing Glenn Hoddle in to play. What Wenger appreciated, though, was that after the hard-work dedicated towards success, more hard-work is needed to maintain it. He was scouting half of the leagues in the world years before others caught on, and in his next season unearthed a rough diamond in George Weah, a striker playing in Cameroon who had attracted the attention of a Monaco scout. The wheels of Wenger’s soon-to-be famed youth policy also began turning as Emannuel Petit was promoted to the first team. A couple of years later came Giles Grimandi and Lillian Thuram. The fascinating thing that Wenger appreciated was the fluidity of positions. He acknowledged that footballers tend to concentrate and analyse themselves more playing in an unnatural position. Because of this he shifted Thuram into the defence from midfield and changed Petit into a midfielder from a centre back. Both players went on to win the World Cup in said positions.
Youri Djorkaeff, another World Cup winner, was promoted to partner Weah in attack when Hately left. Then, when Weah departed to become a Ballon d’Or winner, Jurgen Klinsmann was introduced in his place. Waiting in the wings all the while were some of the world’s best young talents; Trezeguet, Henry and Barthez. Yet with the more success Monaco achieved the more France chose to detach herself from the principality. Football had exacerbated tensions with the French and had ostracised Monaco. Yet Wenger’s philosophy of passing and making forward moves with great pace was refreshing the clubs imagine and took them to the European Cup semi-final in 94’, losing to eventual winners Milan. Bayern Munich approached Arsene in 1995 but his board rejected the move, weakening the relationship between them and Wenger. Midway through the season Monaco found themselves in ninth position and saw fit to dismiss Arsene. However, the foundations he had built were impressive and demonstrated his vision for the next decade of football. Below is the team he left behind as he swapped the crystal shores for Japan and, as we’re told time and again, there’s no sweeter fruit in football than what you grow yourself.