The former coach of FC Monaco between 2014 and 2018 before returning for a few months in 2019, Leonardo Jardim closely monitors the performance of the club that led him to the title of French champions in 2017. Hours of the round of 16 first leg of the ASM Europa League against Braga, the club that revealed (0-2 in the first leg), the Portuguese technician believes in Monaco’s chances but also mentions Kylian Mbappe, who fired him in Ligue 1 in 16, or even the Portuguese selection.
Leonardo Jardim, is Monaco’s qualification for the Europa League quarter-final still possible after this setback in the first leg against Braga?
Of course, he’s still open even after the 2-0 defeat in Braga. If Monaco scores in the first half, everything can be played in the second half. Before the first leg, the probability of Monaco qualifying was 75%. It is now 70% for Braga. So there is still a 30% chance.
I was at the Municipal Stadium in Braga for the first leg. What would Monaco have better done on Thursday night?
We saw that Braga was very strong in the transition. In the first leg, Monaco got the ball. But when Braga came out, it was dangerous. They scored two goals, but it could have been heavier. Tonight, Monaco will certainly have to score goals and attack, but above all maintain a good balance so as not to be deceived by the Braga transition. The move is not just a counter-attack, it is a four or five player move that reflects the game, it is organized to take advantage of the spaces that Monaco can give. He will attack Braga, it is his DNA and properties.
“I still love Monaco”
Many supporters and observers are still questioning whether firing Niko Kovac after a year and a half is a good solution. You are the one who had two experiences in Monaco, do we allow time for the coaches to work at this club?
I worked for about five years in Monaco and I really liked it. If my last experience (in 2019) was on the level of what happened at the club in the last three or four years, I had time during my first experience. First of all, we did a very big job. Then for my comeback, I think the goals have been met. It wasn’t about letting the team drop in the second division. I remember getting it back after 25 days with 15 pips. No club in French football has ever been able to save itself under these circumstances. The following year, new players arrived, and they needed to get to know each other well. At the end of August – beginning of September, we are the penultimate. But at the time of departure, we had just got 10 points out of a possible 12 (9 out of 12, editor’s note) But I respect the leaders’ decisions. I have nothing against that, I still love Monaco. It’s a place that I really like and I wish the club every success…but also for Braga, because it’s a club that I coached.
Did you see Oleg Petrov again in Braga?
Yes, it went well. I greeted him, we discussed, I asked him if he was all right, if President Rybolovlev was also. We talked about football in Monaco, but we also talked about more special things.
There will be another Franco-Portuguese clash tonight with Lyon-Porto. I had put Porto in the list of candidates before the first leg…
Yes, because Porto was playing at home and usually very strong at home. But Leon surprised me. I wasn’t surprised by the value of the team, because I know the quality of the OL players. They used to play at the top of the French football table, but things haven’t been going well for them lately. In Porto, they played at a high level. If OL is able to repeat the same match, he will qualify. Even if Porto, of course, has the ability to pass because they are a team that is used to this type of match.
Back in Monaco, does the 2017 French Champion still be your best moment as a coach?
It’s a great time, but life has a lot of good times. When I won the Portuguese third and second place, it was a good moment. The first Madeira Cup against the First Division was a big moment as well. Obviously, winning in France is a very beautiful and very important trophy. This year, with Al Hilal, we also won the AFC Champions League. No Portuguese has won it yet… All awards matter.
“Mbappe, the best of his generation”
The player you have launched accurately sequences the trophies and can win many trophies in the coming years. This is Kylian Mbappe. He was 16 when she decided to make him into the pro world, in December 2015 against Kane. What do you think of what happened to him?
He was already a high-ranking player when he left Monaco and today he has gained and continues to gain experience. He’s getting more and more capable, he’s just the right age, 100% fit. I saw him last year, and this year he is the most important player in PSG, he always scores goals or plays a decisive role. When I start it at 16, it’s hard to think that it will reach that level. But a few years later, when we remember his Champions League matches, we already saw his quality, his character, his acceleration…we saw right away that he had not only potential, but a margin of progress as well. Keep taking steps.
He is now one of the nominees for the Ballon d’Or…
I think he will. The players who have gone before him in recent years are much older. He is to me the best of his generation, the most complete and most decisive of recent years.
Did you stay in touch?
not directly. But if we meet tomorrow around a table, we will have a positive discussion.
About his future and his choice between staying in Paris or going to Madrid?
When he left Monaco, we both talked about his future. But this remains in the private sphere. It is up to him to figure out where he wants to play.
When you’re champion in 2017, it’s against PSG. This season, he crushed the championship, as so often in recent years. But once again Paris fell in the Champions League, how do you explain that?
It’s a little strange because there are so many great teams in the French championship. But I think over the past 10 or 15 years, only Monaco and Lyon have reached the semi-finals and Paris in the final. In order for French football to progress, its representatives must be more present in the last four. There are qualities in France, the proof with Lyon of qualifying for the semi-finals, even if it was a special year with the final of the tournament in Lisbon. This season, when you look at the quarter-finals, there are three Spanish teams, three English teams, a German club and Benfica for Portugal. France should have a team in the quarter-finals or semi-finals of the Champions League.
“Portugal coach, I don’t think about that”
A few days ago, in an interview with AFP, you said that becoming a sports director or coach in a few years could be tempting. Becoming a coach for Portugal is a goal for you?
For now, I still want to train. But the day will come when I may want to work for the selection or become a sporting director, yes, a different position than the one he has held for the past 20 years. Portugal coach, do not think about it. On the contrary, I really like Fernando Santos. He had a very good career by winning the 2016 European Championship, the 2019 Nations League. I have a lot of respect for him and I hope he stays for many more years.
It will be necessary to get Italy out in the play-offs in order to qualify for the next World Cup. Do not you see Portugal in Qatar would be a disaster for the country?
I think Portugal will be in Qatar, respecting the play-off opponents (Portugal will play Turkey before facing the potential European champions). I have confidence in the coach, in the quality of our players and in everyone who supports the team.
In your opinion, Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world?
The best player in the world is not the best player in the last months or in the last three or four years. It is the player who is able in the important moments to be a leader. Cristiano Ronaldo holds the record for the number of goals in selection, and he’s been a huge hit and that’s for the past 12 or 13 years. Maybe in fact that over the past five years there has been a better player than him, but you have to prove over time that the level is still there. Last week I was watching a Manchester United match, and everyone was talking about him, and he scored three goals (3-2 against Tottenham). Still able to tell the difference. Hope he has a good day during the play-off matches. If this is the case, then there are great opportunities for Portugal.