Transdisciplinarity is a philosophical and intellectual school of thought which aims to understand the complexity of the modern world. One of its greatest modern exponents is French philosopher Edgar Morin, and while Pep Guardiola, Rinus Michels or Marcelo Bielsa may have been the biggest influences on the current generation of coaches, it is Morin and transdisciplinarity that have proven to be Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim’s most important guides.
Morin is quoted as saying that “thought is the most valuable asset for the individual and society,” and this mantra has come to define Jardim’s management. “He’s a person who, I think, thinks a bit like me… or rather it’s me who thinks like him,” Jardim explained to Le Monde, “Morin helped me to build my so-called ‘ecological methodology’, to look at the idea of the global,” and “look at the complexity of things.”
Since his time at Madeira University, Jardim has been captivated by philosophy and applying it to his coaching, discovering Morin when he was 18: “I worked at the time with a volleyball coach who gave me many books to read,” said the Portuguese in L’Équipe “I loved Edgar Morin’s approach and his relationship to the complexity of the world.”
Dealing in the complex has helped Jardim overcome the many challenges he has faced in the Principality since arriving in 2014 with this season’s under the radar achievements being some of the most astonishing. Monaco are not your average club, their ‘project’ has morphed considerably since the arrival of Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev’s billions, forcing Jardim to adapt swiftly to new directions, new players and new ideas seemingly on a season by season basis.
This rapid rebuilding and realigning has become Jardim’s speciality while maintaining a broad vision of his profession in the process, continually evolving his practice, reading up on new medical themes, business management and the media amongst others areas.
Arguably the biggest shift came last summer when Jardim’s glorious title-winning side was broken up as Kylian Mbappé (€180m), Benjamin Mendy (€57m), Tiemoué Bakayoko (€45m) and Bernardo Silva (50m) all exited. True to the now well-established Monaco model of nurturing young talents and selling them on for a profit, a sizeable shift from the PSG-esque opening to the Rybolovlev era when Falcao and James Rodriguez were parachuted into the team, their replacements were by no means like for like. As a result the heights reached during the previous campaign were no longer possible, something Jardim takes in his stride. “I do not have a heart of stone but it fits into the project of the club, into our strategy. I do not have time to whine”.
While Monaco started this season as they finished the last but form, unassisted by those departed, started on a downward trajectory over the autumn and winter months and it became clear that hopes of another title race were misplaced. Les Monegasques’ Champions’ League displays, despite being semi-finalists last year, underlined their downturn as Jardim affirmed after the 5-2 loss to Porto. “Our team has a level well below what is required in this competition, we made a lot of mistakes and in the Champions League, they cost us dearly.” Monaco finished bottom of an even looking group with only 2 points.
Their Ligue 1 form soon mirrored this slump, with Lyon’s new band of freewheeling skilful forwards and Rudi Garcia finally figuring out how to get the best out of his Marseille squad, an underwhelming fourth place seemed likely for ASM having dropped points to Amiens, Nantes, Montpellier twice and a Nice side also in transition while the 2-1 loss to PSG at the Stade Louis II was flattering beyond belief. Since, however, Jardim’s talent for reinvention has come to the fore.
The iconic 4-4-2 of last season long gone, Jardim has switched to a 4-3-3 and has expertly transplanted the likes of Rony Lopes, a bullish, skilful forward formerly on loan at Lille, and Stevan Jovetic, who struggled badly with injury and form in his early Monaco displays, into a team that is now clear favourites for the second automatic Champions’ League berth. February’s 3-2 comeback win over Lyon, was achieved in spite the sending off of Keita Baldé, proof that the Jardim’s latest incarnation of Monaco was starting to purr.
This is not the first time this has happened in recent campaigns however, “In this project, there are positive cycles, followed by more difficult cycles. We know this.” elaborated Jardim in Le Parisien “but that does not affect our motivation. It is necessary to respect the evolution and the progression of the players…. We need to build a stronger team for next season.”
Before the title-winning run, a promising side that finished third the previous year was improved with the signing of an entirely new back four, Jemerson arriving in the winter, complemented by the returning loanees Falcao and Valère Germain. This was a response to the exodus over the previous offseason as Anthony Martial (€60m), Geoffrey Kondogbia (€40m), Yannick Ferreria-Carrasco (€20m), Layvin Kurzawa (€25m), Aymen Abdennour (€25m) and Lucas Ocampos (€7m) were striped from the team that made the Champions’ League quarter finals in 2015. The end of another cycle.
Perhaps crucially for Monaco this process of developing players, remoulding the team and varying its approach is one that both suits Jardim and one that he buys into. “I am a coach who likes to adapt to the players I have,” says the Portuguese, “It’s easy to say ‘that’s my style’ when we win and the season is successful. All coaches want to play nice football but sometimes it is not possible and we must be content to seek victory at all costs to give the players confidence and progress. To have a style, it would be necessary to be able to keep our players each year, or to recruit others with the game which you want to practice in mind. The Monaco project is different. We train players, we value them but we can not be sure to keep a style of play, because we must always adapt to the players we have.”
Jardim’s professor-like approach promoted the ever-jovial Benjamin Mendy to refer to his then coach, in response to Marcelo Bielsa’s ‘El Loco’ monkia, as ‘El Tactico’, an apt description of Jardim’s demeanour one which is largely at odds with modern footballing stereotypes. Jardim quietly goes about his work, effectively if not noisily. He may not be the most charismatic of managers but he is one of the brightest, someone who does not seek the same rewards of many of his peers. “My goal is not recognition. Between more sponsorships and working in different countries, I choose the second option. I hope that football will bring me that in the future, that one day I will work in Brazil, in China, in India. My thing is to know different cultures, philosophies of life.”
Despite his ability to reinvent his team and its strategy, Jardim has not always been the most popular of coaches. Monaco teams of the past, he would argue out of necessity, have been slow and defensive while results have not always been of the standard required.
Nevertheless he has routinely received the support of Vadim Vasilyev, Rybolovlev’s right hand man, chief negotiator and face of the Monaco club hierarchy, as the club too buys into Jardim’s style as he does theirs. “I had a difficult start,” Jardim admitted in 2015, “because people said that Monaco would become as big as Paris, and then players like Falcao and Rodriguez leave. It was necessary to improve young players but also to win at the same time. It’s more difficult than recruiting players to win [trophies]… For now, it’s hard to imagine a team in front of PSG but this is not because we have no ambition. If we keep the core of this team two or three years, we will play for the title.” Not for the first time, he was right.
Perhaps most startlingly, with his quiet, considered, wizened nature and his balding scalp, it’s hard to believe the 43 year old Leonardo Jardim is currently Ligue 1’s youngest manager, making his apparent mastery of squad management and tactical adaptability even more impressive. Jardim is reportedly on PSG’s shortlist to succeed Unai Emery in the summer, this however may not interest Jardim. The Portuguese coach’s philosophy is unlikely to suit the Parisian behemoth.
When asked if he missed his ‘Ferrari’ of last season he responded: “I’m sorry, last season we did not have a Ferrari. We had built, with our hands, a vehicle of very high quality. We did not buy a perfect car equipped with €250m tires. There was only Mendy coming from OM, Glik from Torino and Sidibé from Lille. The others grew up in Monaco. Today we have another car, we changed a few parts, we work, we make adjustments.”
Jardim may stay with Monaco for 10 years as he recently suggested he might or he may pursue new ideas in Brazil, China or India but should he remain in the Principality, the cyclical Monaco project will continue and likely experience triumphs akin to last season as well as the criticism that their weaker, defensive incarnations have received. Jardim and Edgar Morin’s holistic, transdisciplinarity philosophy will remain the same however, as Jardim explains: “Often, I hear: ‘We lost because the team is not physically good enough,’ but football is a little more complex than that.”