Although not officially confirmed by the club, Nico Kovac was relieved of his duties as manager of AS Monaco on Thursday night, and a list of potential successors has already been drawn up.
Shock rumours of Kovac’s departure first surfaced in French media on Wednesday, with the owners seemingly unhappy with the side’s league standing, despite being within touching distance of the podium.
Following the Christmas break, Kovac then returned to the club’s training centre in La Turbie on Thursday afternoon and took charge of training, unaware of what was to come. The session has been described as rather banal, and just like Kovac, the players were also in the dark about the plans to sack the Croat.
But it was ultimately Kovac’s relationship with his squad that put paid to his time in the Principality, according to L’Equipe. The Croat has a semi-military style approach to training and man-management, which didn’t sit well with some of the playing staff. Youssouf Fofana was one of many in the squad who was reportedly unhappy with this style, as Kovac gradually lost control of segments of the changing room.
The hierarchy are also reportedly unhappy about the progression of some of the younger players in Kovac’s squad, as well as the summer arrivals. Jean Lucas, Ismail Jakobs and Myron Boadu all arrived in the last transfer window, but are yet to develop as expected.
Nonetheless, both the decision itself, as well as the timing of it, are curious. AS Monaco, having started the season slowly, have gradually improved in the domestic division, whilst their phenomenal performance in Europe saw them finish top of a difficult Europa League group.
The upheaval mid-season will likely hinder and disrupt the team in the short-term, as the players adapt to a new philosophy and way of playing. Sporting Director Paul Mitchell now has the difficult task of finding a replacement, but it remains to be seen whether a manager will be installed in time for Sunday’s Coupe de France match against Quevilly-Rouen.
Amongst those slated for the post are Phillipe Clement, Jesse Marsch and Paulo Fonseca. Belgian coach Clement, whose Club Brugge side currently sit second in the Belgian league, is favourite for the role, and the tactical similarities he shares with Kovac, for example an insistence on a high press, may offset some of the disruption that a manager change always brings.
Whoever takes the role has a difficult task given that positive results on the pitch weren’t enough to save Kovac. As well as continuing the charge towards the podium in Ligue 1, and progressing in the Europa League and Coupe de France, Kovac’s successor must also harmonise a divided squad, and earn the support of a fan base that has been fractured by the club’s latest decision.