Thierry Henry surely didn’t realise at the time what a negative impact one decision would have on his tenure as Monaco manager. But on Dec. 11, on the eve of his team’s Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund, he went too far.
That day, Henry humiliated his 20-year-old goalkeeper, Loic Badiashile, for not properly pushing his chair back under the desk at the end of their pre-match joint press conference. Henry was probably just trying to show his authority, while being a bit pedantic as well. Some people applauded his action, highlighting that it was his way to get respect. But at Monaco, it didn’t go down well at all. It’s not the way a manager, let alone a huge name like Henry, should treat a player in public or in private. Badiashile did nothing wrong. He had tucked his chair under the desk. Clearly not enough for his manager, but still, why shame him publicly like that?
This one incident sums up perfectly Henry’s 104 days in charge of Monaco, which came to an end on Thursday. It never really worked between him and his players in the dressing room, though his dismissal is not only about player power.
Most of the squad didn’t want Leonardo Jardim to leave. Despite their bad results of the start of the season — they won once in Ligue 1 on Aug. 11 and didn’t win again before Jardim was sacked on Oct. 11 — they still believed they could turn things around with him. They were still behind him.
In contrast, they never fully were behind Henry. The disconnect was mostly down to his attitude, as seen in the incident with Badiashile. Henry still behaves like a player and, according to someone close to the squad, it felt too much like he was still “one of the boys.” The Frenchman, 41, who had never managed a first team before, never carried himself like a manager. His body language, some of his reactions and his methods gave away the fact that he wasn’t ready for a significant rescue job like this one.
When Henry arrived, Monaco were 19th in the table. Twelve league matches later, they are still 19th after picking up just two wins, but the club stood by him. They promised to back him up in January, which they did. He wanted Cesc Fabregas and he got him. For a 31-year-old who had only started one Premier League match all season, l’ASM went the extra mile: a huge signing-on fee, €6 million net salary per year and the assurance that he will start all the time. Naldo, 36, arrived from Schalke 04 and Fode Ballo-Toure, the young left-back, from Lille.
So, despite the tensions with the players, his attitude, the bad results and the pair of humiliations last week — against Strasbourg in the league (5-1) and, more importantly, on Tuesday against Ligue 2 club Metz in the French Cup (3-1), both at home — the club was ready to give Henry a bit more time.
On Thursday morning, his job was still safe, but he lost a lot of club goodwill during the Strasbourg match when he insulted Kenny Lala, the opposing right-back. He tried to justify himself and expressed remorse after the match, but the damage was done. In Monaco, the image of the club and the Principality is everything and Henry’s actions drew too much negative attention.
Nevertheless, he was still in charge on Thursday when he oversaw the training session (his last one) and held the press conference that would end up being his last one as well. The final straw reportedly occurred when he decided to send some of the club’s senior players to the reserve squad. He wanted hungry players and this act ultimately cost him his job. In his head at that moment, he was convinced that he would still be on the bench at the weekend.
Fundamentally, Monaco’s problems are not all his fault. He inherited a team that was seriously low on confidence. The injury list is as significant as his trophy cabinet and their star players have not performed all season. But on Thursday afternoon, the players complained about Henry.
The majority of Monaco’s squad reportedly wanted Jardim back and were still loyal to their former manager. They would voice their concerns over the poor standards of Henry’s training sessions and his tactical struggles. There were too many problems, too much tension. The club had no other option than to get rid of him or, as they chose instead, to suspend him first, barely 48 hours before the biggest game of the season so far.
Dijon are 18th in the table, just two points above Monaco and with a game in hand. This is the game that could define their season. Henry promised it would be war but he won’t be there to see it. Instead, if Monaco go down just two seasons after winning the league in flamboyant fashion, Henry will take some of the blame.
On paper, it was a seductive idea to appoint Henry as Jardim’s replacement. It was, after all, at Monaco that everything started for “Titi” in football. The prodigal son was back. The club wanted a big name: they could have gone for Marcelo Gallardo, who also played at Louis II, or Antonio Conte, two proven managers. Instead, they picked the biggest name of the three but also the most risky choice and the most inexperienced candidate. It was a mistake to name him. Henry thought he could do a great job there, but underestimated the task and was clearly not ready for it. The same happened to Gary Neville at Valencia three seasons ago.
For someone who cares so much about his own image, the whole thing has been a disaster for Henry. As for Monaco, it looks really bad as well. Since they took charge of the club in 2010, owner Dimitri Rybolovlev and vice president Vadim Vasilyev had made few mistakes. But this misstep is big, and potentially very costly. It will certainly be financially: Three months after sacking Leonardo Jardim with an €8m severance payment, they have reappointed him and now must pay off his successor-predecessor with a hearty sum as well.