French Connection: Golovin finally ready to prove his worth at Monaco

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After a slow start in Ligue 1, the young Russian is now poised to explode in France's top flight

During the summer transfer window, it seemed Monaco had completed a real coup by signing Aleksandr Golovin from CSKA Moscow.

The 22-year-old arrived in France for a fee of €30 million (£26m/$34m), with the principality side having beaten off competition from the likes of Real Madrid for his signature. He had impressed with Russia during the World Cup and was widely expected to be one of the stars of the season for the principality side.

Indeed, head coach Leonardo Jardim described him as the club’s “most important signing” back in September.

But just as Monaco faltered unexpectedly, so too did their marquee arrival.

Aleksandr Golovin Monaco

Injury certainly didn’t help his integration into the squad, with an ankle problem pinning him to the sidelines until the end of September, by which time the confidence had already started to leak out of the team at an alarming rate.

Golovin struggled to adapt and his most notable contribution in the first half of the season was a bizarre red card against Lyon a mere 10 seconds after the break, leading to a four-game ban.

But as the principality side’s revival begins to gather pace, it seems that the Russian is ready to live up to the pre-season hype that had been built around him.

He has scored two goals in his last two games, with his strike against Toulouse on Saturday, in which he rounded off a lightning counter-attack, the first he had managed in Ligue 1. It was a goal celebrated with relish, as if a weight had suddenly been lifted from his shoulders.

Perhaps the winter arrivals of Cesc Fabregas and Gelson Martins have helped to do likewise as the offensive responsibilities are now being shared among others. 

Dmitry Sychev, a former Marseille player, puts the player’s sudden revival down to the return of Jardim, who had previously parted ways with the club in October.

“I think he was influenced by the coaching change,” Sychev told Itar TASS. “With the new coach, he has been recharged. He has also finished adapting to the championship, he has recovered from his injuries and is back in great shape, which allows him to play his game and to score goals.

“Ligue 1 is not easy at all in terms of its level; it’s difficult to be technical, fast and creative like Golovin, but it can be a springboard to an even stronger team.” 

His former coach, Thierry Henry, knew something was not quite right with the 25-time capped player and had a good deal of sympathy for his situation.

“He came back too quickly after the World Cup, without taking a holiday,” Henry said in mid-January, a week before leaving the club. “After that, he played with an ankle injury. He couldn’t even strike the ball.

“I’ve experience of how hard it is to adapt to a new country, especially when the team is not doing well. Guys point the finger: ‘Big transfer! What’s he doing? He’s not scoring and he’s not making assists!’”

Aleksandr Golovin GFX

Golovin, who was shifted from position to position on an almost weekly basis under Henry, now hopes that he has put those days behind him. Those close to the player expect to see him move forwards in leaps and bounds, particularly as his understanding of the language improves.

Franck Passi, the assistant coach to Henry, made a bold prediction while witnessing the slow improvement of the player. 

“The day when he scores one, he’s going to go on a run,” the ex-Marseille boss said.

So far, the evidence suggests Henry’s former right-hand man was correct. A thumping strike against Guingamp in the Coupe de la Ligue was followed by his maiden Ligue 1 goal last weekend, and now he is in the market for three-in-a-row when Monaco travel to face Montpellier at the weekend.

“If Monaco win some games and move into a more comfortable position, I’m certain that he’ll give the team even more,” Passi added.

Now under the guidance of Jardim once more, Golovin is set to be handed a more defined position in a team that seems in the process of getting back on its feet. And the Russian is finally ready to play the starring role earmarked for him.