As the 2017/18 season draws to a close and the transfer rumour mill begins to crank into full gear, so too does the managerial merry-go-round.
Several major clubs are expected to change their manager this summer, with shortlists for incoming tacticians already being drawn up.
Arsenal, for instance, will need to find an heir to Arsène Wenger, who recently confirmed he will step down from his post in north London after 22 years, while Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and perhaps even Real Madrid could all be set for upheaval in the dugout.
One name that will be consistently appearing on shortlists of desired candidates for all major clubs will be Leonardo Jardim, the Portuguese coach earning rave reviews for his work with Monaco in Ligue 1.
The crowning glory of Jardim’s coaching career to date is, of course, his triumph with Monaco last season, leading the Principality club to an unlikely Ligue 1 title, overcoming the riches of PSG, while also guiding his young side to the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Still only 43, though, there is plenty of scope for the Venezuela-born coach to embark on new projects, should any team be successful in prising him away from the Stade Louis II.
Belonging to the new breed of European tacticians, for whom playing experience is not a prerequisite of a high-level managerial career, Jardim took his first steps into coaching back in 1996, meaning he has more than two decades of training-field experience despite his relative youth.
Having climbed the ranks of Portuguese football organically, gradually attaining a higher station thanks to his demonstrable managerial talent, he progressed and impressed through top jobs at Camacha, Chaves and Beira-Mar, before being given the chance to pit his wits in the top flight with Braga.
He guided the side from the north-west of Portugal – whose nickname, Os Arsenalistas, translates to “the Arsenal fans” – to a third-place Primeira Liga finish in his first season at the helm, leaving after a disagreement with the club’s president and assuming the hot seat of Greek superpowers Olimpiacos.
Jardim’s one season in Greece saw him claim a league and cup double, before returning to Portugal to take charge of Sporting Lisbon.
Again remaining in situ for just a single campaign, Jardim led a youthful Sporting side to second place in the Portuguese top flight, finishing a full 25 points better off than the season before his arrival. At that point, Monaco came calling.
Last season, Jardim’s third with the club, saw Monaco capture the imagination of the European football audience with their vibrant, attacking football, scoring an incredible 107 goals in 38 league games, making stars of the like of Kylian Mbappé, Liverpool transfer target Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva.
However, the Portuguese had previously been regarded as somewhat of a defensive coach, seen as prizing solidity and rigidity over flamboyance and flair. The truth is, as Jardim has himself admitted, he is a pragmatist: with the squad he had at his disposal last term, free-flowing, attacking football was merely the most viable option.
“It’s easy to say ‘that’s my style’ when the season is successful,” Jardim said. “All coaches want to play nice football but sometimes it is not possible, 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.”
Despite losing key players such as Mbappé (who joined rivals PSG), Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Tiémoué Bakayoko and Valère Germain last summer, Jardim has impressively steadied the Monaco ship, integrating new arrivals and on course for a thoroughly respectable second-placed finish – all while maintaining a degree of attacking prowess, averaging 2.32 goals per game in Ligue 1, outscored only by big-spending champions PSG.
Much of Jardim’s success is owed to his adaptability and ability to problem-solve tactically. Last term, Monaco swept all before them with a 4-4-2 approach made up of a solid core and dynamism and creativity in wide areas. This season, as results threatened to take a downturn, the former Sporting boss switched things up, moving to a 4-2-3-1 shape and shifting winger Lemar inside into his preferred No.10 role.
Perhaps the aspect of Jardim’s track record that most makes him an attractive candidate for prospective suitors is his ability to work with and develop young players, along with his proven ability to work with a comparatively restricted budget and deal with the loss of key players without suffering a drastic drop-off in form.
Monaco’s average squad age was among the youngest in Europe last season, and several of the prodigies at his disposal have gone on to become established stars of the world game.
In his time at the Stade Louis II, he’s seen superstars like James Rodríguez, Radamel Falcao (before the Colombian striker returned from two years out on loan), Mbappé and Silva leave for elite clubs, with the incoming replacements usually young players of potential but immediate qualitative downgrades.
However, through such trying circumstances, Jardim has consistently exceeded expectations. Few could begrudge the Monaco boss the chance to test himself elsewhere, at a club where the rug won’t be pulled out from under him each summer.
With a Premier League-ready squad and a Premier League-sized transfer budget, there’s no limit on what Jardim could achieve.