By Robin Bairner
That Claudio Ranieri will leave Monaco in the summer now seems inevitable. The Italian replaced countryman Marco Simone just shy of two seasons ago and has led the principality side into Ligue 1, but the ultra-ambitious Stade Louis II side believe a change of boss will lift them to the next level.
For most teams, finishing second in the top flight 12 months after winning promotion would be cause for raucous celebrations, yet Monaco are no ordinary outfit, with millions of euros poured into the forging of a title-challenging team over the course over the last two years.
Ranieri, it has been decreed, is not the man to lead them to glory.
Just as Bayer Leverkusen won the title ‘Neverkusen’ at the turn of the millennium for their unerring ability to fall at the final hurdle when closing in on major silverware, the ‘Tinkerman’ will forever be remembered for being the nearly man.
In a coaching career dating back to 1985, the affable Italian, who has spent time at clubs such as Juventus and Chelsea, has in his trophy cabinet little of worth. Alongside the European Super Cup he won with Valencia in 2004, all he can boast of note is one Copa del Rey and one Coppa Italia.
Having progressed to the Coupe de France semi-finals with Monaco, it seemed that his long-forgotten collection would be increased in number for the first time in a decade, yet an embarrassing 3-1 loss to relegation-threatened Guingamp after extra-time ensure that would not be the case.
Compounding the cup exit is the fact that Paris Saint-Germain have easily distanced themselves from the Fontvieille side over the second half of the season. The board may not have demanded the title in their first season back in Ligue 1, yet they had expected to be more competitive and the manner in which the capital side have moved easily to a 10-point lead has been deemed unacceptable.
A change of mindset is desired in the principality as much as anything. The incessant pessimism of Ranieri, who played down his side’s title chances from the outset, has frustrated the board, who would have preferred a more bullish character to lead the side.
“PSG, Lyon and Marseille look more like teams than Monaco. So we need time. It will be difficult to be champions this season,” the former Chelsea manager told L’Equipe at the start of the season.
While some may have called this realism, the board wished their figurehead to be more forthright, and even words spoken by the coach to the media in the last week suggest there is something of an ideological rift.
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“A team is always an expression of the character of its coach. Me, I can lose, but I fight, I give everything,” Ranieri said.
Put simply, Monaco want a coach who does not see defeat as an option.
And there have also been questions about the Italian’s man-management abilities. As one might expect from a coach known as the Tinkerman, he has regularly switched around his team’s formation, and while the personnel have not necessarily rotated to quite the extent they might have done in the past, the unexplained absences of youngsters like Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco and Lucas Ocampos has allowed an air of discontent to breed.
Perhaps the greatest error of Ranieri’s reign has surrounded influential centre-back Eric Abidal, who started the season strongly but whose indifferent form of late has left his position in the side under threat.
After spending a brief period in hospital with the flu, Abidal returned to the squad and had expected to go straight into the first XI. The coach, however, elected to leave the veteran defender out of his matchday squad entirely, prompting a row that saw the former Barcelona defender simply depart the stadium and return home.
Little surprise, then, that ultra-ambitious Monaco wish to replace the 62-year-old, whose contract expires in 2015, with a figure who boasts a track record of success.
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The Argentine has been so closely linked to Monaco owing in part to his relationship with Jorge Mendes, who has several clients already at the club. The Portuguese agent has already arranged deals to take Radamel Falcao, Ricardo Carvalho, Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez to the principality, setting up a rivalry with PSG, whose players are dominated by the agent Mino Raiola.
Whoever takes over the side in the summer will take on a club in a good position, owing partly in thanks to Ranieri’s leadership. It would be wrong to portray the Italian’s reign as disastrous, as he is set to achieve Champions League qualification at the first opportunity, while he has allowed young figures such as full-backs Layvin Kurzawa and Fabinho to flourish.
Monaco has a team to be proud of once again, but while it was Ranieri who gave them that, the board wants more. Monaco want a team that wins, and for that it is the Italian who must be sacrificed.