Question of the Day: What does it actually mean to be a club in “crisis” in modern football? Is it two losses in a row? Possibly two outgoing transfers at just an inopportune time? I’m a pretty educated guy and know my way around the English language, but I am almost certain the unnecessarily used word of “crisis” is currently not matching up to its dictionary definition.
Fans, media and even players alike commonly abuse the word as if there is no other substitute when describing a struggling club. Arsenal surely was in a deep, dark place back in early September when the historic club failed to supply its fans with the plentiful points that they were used to, but did anyone really think the Gunners weren’t going to save themselves? Surely, a disappointing season could have been predicted by even an optimistic Gooner like myself, but doesn’t a crisis imply a chaotic experience that signifies a massive turning point? I could see one or two bad years in the Gunners forecast back in September, but to label Arsenal as ready to go through the horrific transformation that the word “crisis” implies would be silly.
With their prestige, money and fan base, everyone in the back of their minds knew that Arsenal wasn’t going anywhere in the long run, but merely taking an uncomfortable, unexpected detour. They were not in a crisis and, like many other teams in this world, did not deserve the label that seems to be tossed around for sport by anyone who can have an opinion in modern day football.
I ask that we spare ourselves the sanity and save the word for clubs that actually need your attention. Clubs where a downward turning point is relevant, and complete disaster can be seen at the end of the tunnel. Clubs that would dream of a simple detour, but instead are lost and have no map to guide them out. Clubs in crisis. Clubs like AS Monaco.
For those of you who aren’t avid French football fans, hopefully the name sounds familiar. It may have been a while since the club last perked up on your radar, but for the next few minutes, here’s your unofficial guide to its last decade to keep you up to date. You can thank me later.
Let’s pick up in the 2004 Champions League final. Monaco, led by skipper Didier Deschamps and star Ludovic Giuly, went on a miraculous cup run, beating the likes of Lokomotiv Moscow, Real Madrid, and Chelsea to earn a bid into the Champions League final against Cinderella story Porto.
Both teams were underdogs and both teams had the whole world at the palm of their hands. The publicity, prestige and worldwide recognition received by playing in such a game should have been a turning point for both clubs looking to make the next step in European football. Monaco outshot and out-possessed their opponents, yet after an early injury to Giuly, the club lost its rhythm and offensive structure. With a lack of creativity and imagination to ease the roster transition, the club struggled to get back on its feet and eventually lost 3-0 to their Portuguese opponents.
Fast forward seven years later and the club currently lies dead last in Ligue 2, with just one win to show for in 18 league games. The team is also 18th in Ligue 2 attendance with just an average of 4,455 "diehards" showing up to support their once lovable club. This club is in a crisis, not Arsenal.
How did this all happen? Well, a series of legitimate financial problems and mistakes have undoubtedly plagued the club to a devastating degree. After the 2003 season, the club was threatened to be sent down to Ligue 2 due to an enormously large debt and a dearth of investors. The club found a way to convince the French Football Federation of their stability, yet frequent coaching changes (six in four years) and lack of constant money flow (causing the departure of top talents such as Jerome Rothen, Dado Prso, and Ludovic Giuly) inevitably proved the club was heading in the wrong direction. The poor foundation that tormented the club from within caused top young prospects that had uplifted the club just a decade earlier, such as Thierry Henry, to avoid the club altogether in favor of more stable options. Everything that had made AS Monaco such a strong contender just a few years before had all but evaporated, and the city moved on without it.
The common question of “Would you support your club if they were bad?” comes up quite often in general soccer conversation. Of course, every confident, seemingly loyal fan answers with an immediate “Yes” without even thinking about the real life situation. Simply put, Monaco fans did not hold up their end of the bargain.
First things first, the club was never Manchester United, bringing in crowds and crowds of fans to fill up the bleachers from top to bottom (after all, Monaco has only 1/18th the population of Wyoming, and most of the homeowners don’t even live in the city year round), but the support has been declining ever since the club started experiencing significant problems. Just a little over 4,000 on average show up to see their hometown team play on the weekends, a number almost 1/3 of that when ASM was at its peak. Monaco may not be the most populated city in the world, but the attendance clearly shows the fans were there and now aren’t. Unless the migration patterns of Monaco have changed in the last couple of years, I suspect the ultimate sin of a soccer fan in turning your back on a struggling club has to the utmost degree been fulfilled since 2007. Did Arsenal go through a 60% decrease in support during their crisis period? Team support was tested but always there for the Gunners.
Monaco’s problems are evidently on a different level. A smaller city, a less competitive league and weak management—it is no wonder why AS Monaco’s support is down. It was the perfect storm to devastate a football club. A perfect storm for a crisis.
Where do they go from here? The prestigious club that has produced some of the greatest living legends is now desperately trying to simply stay relevant in their country, much less European football. Just like how the team struggled to find creative ideas to get their backs off the wall in the 2004 Champions League Final when Giuly went down and the investors pulled out early in the process of something special, the club simply couldn't find the motivation or right combination to solve the problem. It is obvious for Monaco that the crisis "turning point" has occurred. With a miniscule fan base and an enormous debt, one does have to wonder whether European Football will ever be graced with AS Monaco’s presence ever again.
Until then, we play the blame game.
Maybe fans were a little too quick to jump ship once things started going down hill.
Maybe management could have utilized the Champions league opportunity better and used the money more wisely for the better of the club.
Maybe Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and every other club’s problems that we so aimlessly complain about aren’t so devastating after all.
Should we all count our blessings next time we want to use the word “crisis” when describing our club?
Maybe. I’ll let you decide.
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