While they presented the whole Philippe Clement, the new coach of AS Monaco on Wednesday, Oleg Petrov, vice-president of the club and Paul Mitchell, the sporting director, returned to RMC Sport on the reasons for the dismissal of Niko Kovac after one and a half of collaboration.
Oleg, Paul, why did you abandon Niko Kovac from his post when the club’s goals were not directly qualified for the Champions League, still achievable?
OP: Maybe yes, but this change is the result of a great analysis. We had a good first season and Niko is doing a lot to set up the first phase of our sporting project, for that we thank him. Now a new chapter opens, always in the extension of our project. The objective was to stay on the podium and we have invested a lot in the players, the squad, in the club in general. We wanted to start this season like we finished the last one. We don’t want 6th place, it’s not enough. There is the standings, the results but also the work on the field and the development of our players, Niko has done a lot but we need a new stage so that all the cursors are placed higher.
PM: We have respect for the work of Niko Kovac. We are still in the early stages of the construction of our project and the foundations were laid. We felt that between last summer and Christmas, we did not reach our potential, the performances showed us. At the start of 2021 there were some positive signals and as a result we should have been one step ahead of our rivals at the start of the season. We had the unwavering support of our shareholder who allowed us to keep our player cadre, we invested to play in all competitions and yet we have not entered the top 5 since the start of the season. In this sense, we felt the need to have the ability to exploit the full potential of AS Monaco. We are now 17 points from first place, it is too far from our ambition. We must continue to advance the project.
Paul, your departure was also part of the rumors of recent weeks because you are responsible for the transfer window and the last summer transfer window is struggling to be effective. Do you agree that you have responsibilities for the start of the AS Monaco middle season?
PM: Rumors. I think that when we talk about recruitment we have to think once again about our long-term strategy. This summer was supposed to bring us a goalkeeper but number 1 and it seems to me that we have done it successfully. After a sluggish start, I think Alex (Nübel) has been able to show us his qualities over the past few months and everyone has seen what potential as a great goalkeeper he has. Then, the idea remained to bring players with high potential, with a great future, able to add depth to our squad and who could adapt to our style of play but we know that it takes time. and integration on and off the pitch so that they can grow. I understand the assessment that can be made to date but I think that in the future the fans will start to see the qualities of a player like Ismaïl Jakobs or of the other recruits that we have recruited to perform in the long term.
Monaco for years the image of an unstable club. When Niko Kovac arrived, he was presented as the man of a new project but once again he did not stay for the duration …
OP: I don’t completely agree with that. It’s a new step and today everything is going very quickly in sport. It’s a complicated period with the Covid, but there still need to be so many demands. There are clubs which must react quickly and we cannot waste time because we have the pressure of the supporters, the shareholders… I do not think that we show instability. Look, the sporting direction remains, Paul Mitchell remains, I remain but something had to be changed to continue to progress. Could we continue with Niko? Yes, we could. But I think we needed change to guarantee more success.
PM: I don’t think so, because there is consistency and continuity in our strategy. We made an assessment that was not satisfactory. It’s not an emotional reaction like we might have had in the past. Our reflection took place throughout the Christmas period. We must remain clear on our strategy over the medium to long term following what we have shown over the last 16 or 18 months before making this change.
Paul, why did you decide to enlist Philippe Clement? What did you like about him?
PM: When you look at Club Brugge’s strategy, there are similarities with us in player development but also a conquering mindset and ambition. It is a club that always wants to push its limits and considered innovative. Taking all of these aspects into account and the fact that Philippe Clement has managed to win three titles in a row at different clubs consistently, he was the perfect candidate to take us into this new phase of long-term strategy.