Interview | Paul Mitchell on Monaco’s season, Thiago Scuro’s arrival, the transition and the upcoming transfer window

AS Monaco’s hectic season has drawn to a close on the pitch, but off the pitch, the work is just beginning. Yesterday, Thiago Scuro was officially announced as Paul Mitchell’s successor at the Principality club.

However, before his departure, the date of which has not yet been specified, the Englishman spoke to journalists, including Get French Football News’ Luke Entwistle, to analyse the season, as well as give insight into the future of the club, both this summer and beyond. 

Why did you choose Thiago Scuro, what do we need to know about him?

So we’ve had time to look at the market and look at many different candidates. I still think globally there’s a misinterpretation of the role in general. I think you guys often hear me say things like, it’s not just signing players. In some contexts, it is, in some clubs sporting directors just sign players and hire and fire coaches, but here it’s broader. We have two football investments across two countries, and you have to have an overview of all of that. 

So when you actually go through the different components necessary to do this job, in Monaco but also have a vision into Belgium and create one aligned strategy, manage many different people across many different departments, it changes the profile somewhat. So we obviously did a very stringent interview process, we looked at multiple people with multiple profiles, Thiago is someone that I do know. I think that is clear. I was fortunate to work with him at Red Bull in the years that I was there, and through that interview process, he became the lead candidate.

He met with the President as well and he met with other members of the senior management team, and he was the standout. He was the standout for what we feel the next part of the journey needs to be. And I wouldn’t even say what the journey has been… because I’m not sure his profile was the right guy for when I came. As we built all of the structure, we’ve got a really solid platform across all the areas of performance in both clubs. It’s a different skillset; maybe a softer skillset. I think that is the profile we see in Thiago, that he has great managerial skills to bring the club to the next level, but also he has a different type of management style that can be different and new and fresh and that after three years he’s probably what the organisation needs as well. 

What will this transition look like?

The transition? Well fortunately we know each other, and that always helps. But it wasn’t a key factor. In my job at Red Bull, I worked with multiple sporting directors each day. We had all the different personalities, ideas, and nuances of the four different sporting directors in different countries and in different clubs. The transition part I’m very comfortable with. He has to lead. He has to come to be the leader from day one. It can’t be me, I’ll be in the background but he’ll lead the future strategies of the clubs and all the key decisions. And then my job will be to support. To use my experience, network, what I know of the job, the good things I think we’ve done and what we can enhance, and the bad things that need to be improved. And give him that experience of working in France, working in Belgium, working here, and the nuance of it, and hand that over at a time when the president feels he’s happy with that. But Thiago will definitely be the lead.

Who leads the upcoming transfer window? 

He’s coming isn’t he, he’s going to be here on the 30th of June I think that’s his last day at Bragantino. He arrives here on the 1st of July, the international transfer window opens a little bit after. He will lead, he’s been very fortunate because he’s had natural exposure to the Western Europe market with RB Leipzig and RB Salzburg, and has always had a phenomenal relationship… he spends time in both countries and clubs, so he knows Western Europe, he knows the style, he knows the necessities. He also has an unbelievable network in South America, so he will be leading the transfer window and once again a little bit like my role in Red Bull. Now, I’m here to support, I’m here to advise, and I’m here to tell him some of the good things that we’ve achieved, and some of the bad things and what I’ve seen works successfully.

What will your contact be with Scuro over the course of the next month?

We talk naturally because we know each other well. And then no doubt he’s a very conscientious human being so until his last day in Bragantino, he will do his best for his organisation, up to that point I have to be very proactive here. As I say, the actual international market doesn’t open until he arrives, so we’ll be putting in the foundations, you know we do a lot of due diligence on the players. So I’m working… no holiday unfortunately for me this year!

Is your main task going to be selling players? 

No, it’s not to sell players. It’s to get everything moving in a normal process. That’s speaking to players, looking at targets, looking at opportunities, and looking at the market as well. Of course, my disappointment here is that I see the quality of the team that we have this season, and naturally if I see it, everybody else sees it. So of course we’re going to get interest… we have it every year because we have good players. But my job doesn’t really change too much so that on the 1st of July I hand over to Thiago and he’s in the best position he possibly can be to deliver a great window for the club.

And when do you leave the club?

That’s a very good question, to be honest! We haven’t defined a time. And you know that’s maybe as complicated for me as it is for AS Monaco, but we wanted continuity. You know I can’t come in, as I did three years ago, and say we need stability, continuity, consistency and be the volatile element. I said to the President that I’m here for as long as they need me, to make sure we keep consistency and continuity. To make sure we stay on the right track. Then it’s probably a conversation between me and the President.

Is it his decision but not yours?

I think it’s both of ours. I know people try not to believe this, but we’ve always had a pretty open relationship. Even in some moments where we disagree. Football is a beautifully opinion-based sport so there are moments we disagree. You guys know my character now, I’m not closed to a disagreement either when I have a strong opinion, so we’ve kind of agreed let’s keep checking in with each other, I’m not gonna rush, and I’m definitely not pushing, I’m going help the best I can for as long as I’m here.

So perhaps you’ll be here on 1st July at the same time as Thiago?

I think so, yes. Once again, this is about seriously committing to the way we want to work. We do want stability. Historically, I think from the outside it’s seen as this volatile decision-making machine. But it’s the furthest thing from what the President tells me he’s always wanted. And I think we’ve shown a different chapter and different face of ourselves the last three years and I want to continue that so if it’s the first of July and they say we want to continue the transition and the handover given your experience and support, I will stay. And it’s that conversation that we have regularly between us that both of us get to a point and him in particular as the president says I think we’re at that destination where we feel comfortable. And then we’ll part ways at that point. 

Are you involved in the process of recruiting the new manager? 

I’m here to give my opinion. Listen, there’s no point in giving away three years of experience in France and French football and watching and admiring the profiles that have done great jobs here so I think it would be silly to just give that straight away. I think once again it would be silly to give that away. Even if I probably wasn’t asked my opinion I would still like to give it. I still have a lot of personal and emotional commitment to everything we’ve done here and the people here. So I’d probably voice it anyway even if they didn’t want it! And then, we will try and get the best we can but in the end, the new sporting director needs to work with this guy and they need to have confidence in each other. Because we all know the season is long, and at some moments you’re going to have those couple of invariable results/performances – the sporting director and the head coach need to come together and feel there’s a level of trust. So that’s why it has to be in the end, Thiago and the president’s sole appointment. But as I said, I will have a strong opinion as always.

Is there a deadline for hiring the new manager?

Like always, it’s like with players – it’s better to get the right one at the right time than rush to get the wrong one. Because then you’re always chasing a little bit. So, I think the idea is to get the best coach possible for this organisation to again push ourselves back up to where we think we deserve to be and then that’s, as you know, in the top three, challenging the top clubs and I think they’ll take their time but they’re conscious that the season’s going to start 3rd July and that people will be in new training kits and all fresh and tanned from their holidays, but that’ll come around fast. 

What kind of profile are you looking at? There are strong links notably to Red Bull coaches like Jesse Marsch…

To be fair, Red Bull do pretty well with their coaches, they get some good ones. No, I’ve seen and read the articles and I think that it’s clever from multiple sides to link my history and Thiago’s history and link us to Red Bull coaches only. It won’t be like that. We’ll always look long and far across every market including this one and try to make the best selection. I’ve seen Thiago do that, he’s worked with multiple coaches that have not all been Brazilian. It’s an organisation that hires across four different markets in Europe and South America and I know he and the boss want to have success next year. They want to push us back up to where we all believe we can be so it will definitely be the best man for the job, not just a ‘relationship hire’. 

Has a shortlist been drawn up? 

We’ve got a list for sure. Arguably it’s short or long. We’ve been doing this for a long time. We know who the guys are, one thing for me that has been strangely great is the amount of interest we’ve had. And that’s not just people out of jobs, that’s people in jobs in multiple markets and this one in particular so it still shows where our brand has once again stabilised itself in the market. There are people that have shown interest in our work and that shows the status of the club. As I have always said and believed in, we have this great potential because other people are wanting to be the head coach of this football club and I think that is a testament to the work that’s gone on. 

What is your point of view on Marcelo Gallardo? He is a popular choice amongst the fanbase… 

I think he’s done an amazing job at River Plate. He’s done a great job at River. He’s been there for eight-and-a-half years, which is a very unique tenure in modern-day football. I believe we’re down to a 12-month average tenure for head coaches in Western Europe. So he’s a very good, strong, recognisable profile but there are also some strong candidates that this club will also review.

Is he a candidate? Have you made contact, or would this be a difficult hire?

Hiring coaches is always a complicated affair because usually, you find that they’re complicated individuals. So the best I can say is obviously we have a lot of respect for Marcelo and for the work that he did at River. The timeframe that he had there was very unique. But as I mentioned, there are a lot of really really good, exciting people that have expressed interest in this job and that shows where we’re perceived in modern football so I think we all have to do our due diligence and get the right pick for now- what the club wants, what the club needs and what we are. But he’s held in the highest regard for sure.

How do you explain Monaco’s sixth-place finish? A car crash?

I’ll be honest, we’ve been in the last days since Saturday evening. That’s all I’ve thought about. What we could have done better, what we were doing well. In mid-April, someone’s pushing out stats that say Clement is the best points-per-game coach since 1999 to 50 games and that’s mid-April. And that was six or seven weeks to the end of the season. So that’s a really great trajectory and then at the end, we fell away. We won one game in seven and that’s not good enough. We didn’t reach our ambitions by doing that and that led to us making the decision we made.

It was a long season. We started early with the playoffs again, it’s been an eleven-and-a-half-month season for us, which is unusual. It’s the first time in my career, in all of our careers, we’ve had such a long season. Leverkusen was another heartbreak. We scored so late and then were denied that emotional release of victory against a top team and losing on penalties, I think we started to come down a little bit from there and I think then Lens was a big one. After Lens, the team lost the objective for the Champions League and then they kind of lost their clarity of the objective of the podium that we’d had for two years. You felt the team just couldn’t regroup. The coach just couldn’t bring it back together to refocus and there was a little bit of a performance hangover. 

The long season starts to kick in and everyone starts to feel a bit more tired, a bit more mentally fatigued because they’ve lost two key aspirations. I think all of these things were a factor. We’re disappointed. I spoke to the team yesterday and yes, the coach leads the team. Yes, he’s highly responsible for the results. But I think this year we all have to take collective responsibility, including me. 

There were disciplinary problems at the end of the season. Will these have consequences for the players?

There are always consequences even if you don’t see them. Consequences to your career, to the way you are viewed internally, and externally. I think some of that at the end of the season comes down to it being a long long long season. Losing those objectives that keep you focused psychologically, I think that all played a part towards the end of the season. Maybe that disconnect with the coach, with the plan, maybe players become more individual as well, they always do because some are thinking about themselves… ‘don’t get injured’, ‘I’m going away with the international team’, about the future, ‘where I could be’, in the transfer market. The season comes to this part where players do start just thinking about themselves. But this season in particular with how long it was. Following big hits like Leverkusen and Lens, I think the team really struggled to regain its focus. And then when you’re not focused, those sorts of things happen because they are young men and young men make bad choices sometimes, and I think that all played into it.

Was it your choice to fire Philippe Clement, and what errors did he make? 

Like everything, I have a big, big say. I ultimately speak with the board and with the owner before I make any big decision like that as well, but it’s normal practice. In the end, it’s my final assessment that I have to make. I think it wasn’t easy because he did a lot of good things. As you guys know, in the modern game in general, teams are getting younger and younger. So player development, working with young players, understanding the potential, delivering potential into first-teams, it’s not just here, it’s kind of the job, but here we still have ambition. 

We have always stated that ambition has to co-exist and live with player development and young player management. One win in seven, and what I saw from the way the team disconnected and became very individualistic and wasn’t driving like the team that we know, to go from that to what we saw at the end, there was no other choice than the one we made because we do have ambitions this year. Next season, the top three are guaranteed a Champions League so there is a big opportunity there. This organisation is ambitious. Monaco is ambitious. Even for me personally, to have three, three, six hurts, because this is probably our most talented group. 

I think ultimately, your job as a coach is to inspire, to lead, to create sometimes fear, where the players are just scared and they play out of fear, but it is part of their job. A collective group of talented players to perform as a team and win football matches. That is on the job description, and in the end, one win in seven says everything. With this team, this season, I think there was no other choice. I think we could see he was struggling to find the answers, or the key to bringing it back together for a short period of time. We could all see the team struggling a bit, and part of his job is to give direction, to give structure, and a strategy for the collective to come together to win. He was struggling to find at that moment, the right structure, the right balance, we started conceding a lot of goals, for us over the past couple of years that was strange for us, so it showed something was structurally wrong there. I think he was an honest guy, and said he was struggling to find the answers.

You spoke about him not being able to bring the group back together, do you think an element of that was the club is at the end of a cycle and that some maybe had their heads elsewhere? 

I think losing those objectives, the collective objectives pushes more players to think about their singular objectives and that becomes about the future, not the now. I think that was an element. I think some players were thinking “me” rather than “us.” We had to clarify that “we,” as an organisation, had standards. I think towards the end, he was searching for the right formula: balance, formation, system, and players within that system and clearly with just one win in seven we didn’t get the right answers.  

The loans of Malang Sarr, Alexander Nübel and Thomas Didillon have come to an end. What does the future hold for them?

Malang unfortunately got an injury, a muscular abdominal injury in training a few months ago so he wasn’t available for selection for a long time. Alex will go back to Bayern Munich. Thomas, we’re yet to make a decision on what we’re going to do. Malang is already back in Chelsea. 

What about Wissam Ben Yedder’s future? 

He has another year on his contract. He’s our player. We have him. I think with Ben, like everyone, it’s been a long season. Everybody needs to go away and seriously reflect on their impact; as the captain that includes Ben. Then we’ll come back and start to talk about those decisions next season. 

Is the club needing to sell a lot of players this summer given that Monaco missed out on European competition? 

Every club has to sell players. Are we very very conscious of cash flow, DNCG, and FFP? We take those things very seriously. Everyone saw the level of spending from 2018 until 2020. You have to start to pay those cheques back when they don’t go well. Everyone has seen that we have moderated our level of investment in the last three seasons, especially after a high level of investment, bad investment, between 2018 and 2020. Of course, at some point, you have to make a trade. What I would say is that this is still AS Monaco. There is still a level of value that our players have in the market.

This club does have a big expectation and ambition, and when you take a player from this club, there is a premium to pay. This is a balanced model. After Covid, after everything, every club has to be a balanced model, even with the money they have. We need to be sensible. As always, the job of a president is to be a custodian of a football club, and our president takes that very seriously, and he’s also a super ambitious man. My job for the last three years has also been as a custodian. It’s not just about the capital wealth of the human being any more; ownership doesn’t work like that, it has restrictions, sanctions, and structures. We want to respect that and adhere to that, but ultimately, we are still AS Monaco with our ambition. If people want our players, like last year and the year before, they should be expecting to pay a premium because they’re buying from us and the players are good, they’re internationals, they’re high quality, have lots of high exposure, they are young, and therefore very valuable to the market. We’ll always be competitive in any discussion about our players. 

How would you assess your work with the club over the last three years? 

I wanted to go on holiday and think about that. There’s been a lot on my mind the past few days. I was hired at a time when the club was in real distress. That’s not just Monaco, that was Cercle Brugge as well. The whole football investment got itself in a horrendous and terrible position. I was hired to rebuild all of that from the ground up. It’s been very complicated, and it’s not been easy, but I feel from the academy, winning the Gambardella, the Elite Development Group, the number of debutants, getting us back on track again where we’re revered for player development of young French talent, from the sales, from the performances, being back on the podium, and until the last six weeks being competitive as well. Cercle Brugge can get lost in our coverage, to arrive at the highest point in 14 years, our first player being recognised in the senior Belgium team; those are massive milestones as well. 

I leave having delivered the job. Would I have liked to beat PSG in the Coupe de France final? Yes, I would have. Would I have liked us to arrive in the Champions League? Yes. But in the context of what I was employed to do, which was to bring us back to a competitive level, to make sure I had been a custodian of the health of the club financially, both on and off the pitch, to build the structures that we have, to build the brand back to being highly respected in Europe, where we rightly belong. I feel I’ve achieved the objectives. Would I have liked to have achieved more? Will this season give me a sense of regret? One million per cent. I’m very disappointed and upset with it, but when I look back at the whole picture, which I have to do as a strategic hire to do something over a long period of time, I feel everything I was hired to deliver has been executed. 

Is there any truth in the rumours about Cercle Brugge being sold? 

No. It’s normal for every business to do an audit every five years. We did a professional audit of our investment. We are turning a new chapter with a new head coach, and a new sporting director, so we did that. What happens, it usually makes everyone think you’re doing it for different reasons, but you’re actually just assessing where you are, and assessing to see what growth and how much investment you have to deliver to keep the club progressing within the strategy, and that’s what we did. After the season we’ve had, the quality of players we have there now, we’re really, really, happy, the president too, with the work that has been undertaken there. 

Which positions will be targeted in the recruitment? 

I think we have to focus on some defensive options. Malang has gone back, Benoît (Badiashile) went in January, and we have Yllan (Okou), Chrislain (Matsima), Ritchy (Valme), the captain of the Gambardella team, so we have to have a look and make sure that there is some space for their growth. But in terms of senior players, we have Axel (Disasi), people are telling me there are some clubs interested in him, and there is (Guillermo) Maripán so yes, we will be looking at the defensive side because we conceded too many goals. Once again though, the team defends, it’s not individuals. That also is a collective responsibility. 

We want to strengthen the team, we want to be better. We know we have a really great talent pool to go into the next season and be competitive. As I said, this owner is super ambitious, it will be Thiago’s first season, so no doubt he’ll want to be super ambitious as well, I think the players that will be here on 1st September will have a clear goal in mind to get back to where we belong on the podium. 

Does Monaco have money to spend this summer? 

In a measured way. I think you’re reading after the season how many clubs are talking about FFP, selling players. Football doesn’t have an unlimited amount of money and the ability to take cash. We will spend strategically, and moderately, with the intention of making the team stronger and better. Yes, we’re playing in fewer competitions, so probably we’ll reduce the debt, that makes some sense. We want the team to be better, to put a team on the pitch that excites fans, but that can be super competitive. 

Following Pablo Longoria’s comments about Marseille’s head coach, does Monaco’s next manager have to speak French? 

Did every coach that has been successful in Monaco speak French? I think it’s important to have an understanding of the culture; that is more important. Just speaking the language of one demographic of our changing room, we’re multicultural, the game is multicultural. The most important is whether the head coach has the skill and quality to communicate with all of the players and get the best out of them, that would be more fundamental for me. 

Are you close to the appointment of the new head coach? 

We’re working hard. Everybody is. The President, myself, we’re keeping Thiago updated, and all the staff as well. There won’t be many holidays this year. He and Thiago will take us into the new chapter.


GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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