PARIS (AP) Leonardo Jardim turned an inexperienced Monaco squad into one of Europe’s most entertaining teams, doing so while competing on four fronts.
The soft-spoken Portuguese coach with the unflinching stare was under pressure to keep his job. Now he’s one of the most sought-after coaches in Europe after wresting the French league trophy from Paris Saint-Germain and reaching the semifinals of the Champions League with a hedonistic brand of attacking football that produced 155 goals in all competitions.
“Winning the title with a team that is not the favorite is a great trophy,” Jardim said after securing the title late Wednesday. “Monaco as champion is worth four times PSG as champion. When PSG wins, it’s normal, but Monaco …”
PSG had won the previous four titles, clinching last season’s by 31 points.
Such is the huge popularity of this Monaco side that even opposing fans have applauded the team.
Monaco’s feel-good factor was reflected in the way Jardim escaped reproach when making the kind of decision only the most single-minded managers dare to make. It was up there with Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho for its unapologetic boldness.
At the end of April, with Monaco preparing to face mighty Juventus in the Champions League semifinals, Monaco travelled to play PSG in the French Cup semifinals. Victory would put Monaco within touching distance of a league and cup double, but Jardim calculated differently.
He wanted to rest his players before facing Toulouse and Juventus in quick succession, so fielded mainly reserves and lost 5-0.
Even though Jardim arguably devalued France’s national cup on its 100th anniversary, there was scant criticism because neutral fans wanted Monaco to do well in Europe. Even the league president understood.
The 42-year-old Jardim met his match only once this season; tactically outmaneuvered by Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri.
In the knockout rounds against Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund, there was no talk about it being 50-50 or other such soccer cliches. Instead, he specifically explained how Monaco was going to get through.
It is this firm confidence that defines an articulate man whose interests stretch far beyond football.
Last month, he met with French philosopher Edgar Morin, whose books have been translated into 28 languages. Jardim stumbled upon one when he was a physical education student in the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira.
“My approach is very much influenced by Edgar Morin, who talks about seeing things through different perspectives that can interlock,” Jardim told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper. “I made the link between football and the complexity it entails.”
That’s not exactly your average coaching talk.
But Jardim has been different from the time he arrived from Sporting Lisbon in the summer of 2014, and caught the eye in his first match at home to Lorient.
He left out star striker Radamel Falcao, played midfielder Joao Moutinho out of position, and handed an unexpected start to young midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko – then hauled him off after 32 minutes.
The ruthless kind of behavior synonymous with his countryman Mourinho, perhaps. But Jardim’s decisions are rooted in an obsession with balance.
“A manager is permanently dealing with contradictions between the individual and the collective,” he said. “Sometimes, an approach that is too collective stops the quality of the individual from emerging.”
A year into his job, Jardim had to completely rebuild.
In the summer of 2015, because of former Financial Fair Play rules designed to control club finances, Monaco sold forward Anthony Martial to Manchester United. Midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia, winger Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, center half Aymen Abdenour and left back Layvin Kurzawa were all sold. Falcao was loaned out again, this time to Chelsea. The previous summer, forward James Rodriguez went to Real Madrid.
Still, in difficult circumstances, Jardim redesigned Monaco from a cautious team into a flair side packed with young talent and built around the verve of attacking midfielder Bernardo Silva.
He gambled correctly on Falcao this season, too, giving him another chance after two miserable years in England.
His other masterstroke was promoting teen forward Kylian Mbappe from the reserves in October.
Falcao scored 30 goals and the 18-year-old Mbappe netted 26, with one game remaining at Rennes on Saturday.
Jardim was named coach of the year with six of his players in the team of the season.
The ultimate compliment.