Now that the FIFA World Cup break is here (check it out on fuboTV -- try for free), European clubs will enter into a six-week period where they aim to keep their remaining players sharp while some teammates are representing their countries in Qatar. Some will take some time to rest up and recharge the other batteries, others will look to recondition their players -- especially those who did a lot of business over the summer.
All, however, will be treating the pause as a preseason of sorts which can be as competitive as possible or simply designed to keep fitness levels up without over-exerting themselves. Some teams will look to address issues which they might have had to leave until the end of a normal campaign while others might even be getting to grips with a new boss and coaching staff entirely.
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AS Monaco enter the World Cup break sixth in the Ligue 1 table and just outside of the European positions after a dramatic 3-2 loss at home to Olympique de Marseille on Sunday. Although it is not quite where the principality outfit wanted to be at this pause, Philippe Clement's men are still just four points behind Stade Rennais in third and can make up group once domestic and continental action resumes.
Monaco now need to keep their non-World Cup core sharp ahead of the return of Le Championnat away at AJ Auxerre on December 28 as part of an unprecedented "French Boxing Day" experience which also includes a round of fixtures on January 1. Sporting director Paul Mitchell told CBS Sports exclusively how Les Monegasques are going to tackle this unusual downtime to hit the ground running at the end of the year.
"We are well structured, and we like to plan well ahead of time," said the Englishman. "Our entire winter schedule is already planned and locked down. We are going into it as a micro preseason to play as many competitive matches as we can find. We will use that time prudently to enhance ourselves tactically and to keep our game time high. The one thing that you lose when you are involved in multiple competitions, as we have been, is time with the team to enhance the collective -- you are literally playing, resting, and recovering, in that cycle all the time. We will optimize this time to make sure that the collective and individuals are further developed without distraction."
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January has often been a busy period for Monaco in recent years with Leonardo Jardim, Robert Moreno, and Clement all winter appointments over the past three years. Mitchell arrived at Stade Louis II in 2020 so was only involved in the handover from Kovac to Clement via Stephane Nado but admitted that January has traditionally been quite busy for ASM since he joined and that it depends on the post-World Cup market.
He's here! ❤️🤍#ASMOM pic.twitter.com/TRtY8QAN9j— AS Monaco EN (@AS_Monaco_EN) November 13, 2022
"I am never that lucky to have anything calm in my life and I have been in the game for far too long to know that you can never say never in this industry," said the former Red Bull man. "As always, we will be prepared, diligent, and look at the market for opportunities. The last two winter windows we have signed Krepin (Diatta) and Vanderson who have both had an impact. We will always look to strengthen as Monaco must be competitive. As always, it will be strategic and we work within certain restrictions to remain sustainable, but we will not hesitate to strengthen what is already a very talented group if there is an opportunity."
Aiding Monaco in their preparations for the return to action after the World Cup is a new state of the art performance center which opened back in September. Mitchell recognized that the plans and construction of the facility which started back in 2018 played a big part in his decision to join the project from Red Bull on top of a talented squad with great potential gems like Aurelien Tchouameni and Youssouf Fofana.
"The conversation that I had with the owner when I moved across from Red Bull was that we were going to change the model and strategy to something more player-focused -- putting the player at the heart of everything that we do," explained Mitchell to CBS Sports. "Not only technically, but tactically, athletically, and mentally as well. Aurelien and Youssouf are great early examples. Aurelien was a substitute in his last game before lockdown as I arrived while Youssouf was doing ok but nowhere near his current level and those of his two previous seasons. This is our second year with the Performance Center, and we can already see that it is repaying the sizable investment from the owner."
It is not only the $57 million investment in the performance center but also Monaco's data-driven approach which is enabling Mitchell and the club's staff to maximize performance in both sporting and financial terms. There has also been the project running parallel to ASM in Belgium with Cercle Brugge with the crossover starting to pay dividends.
"Aleksandr Golovin's success, for example, is clear to see," said Mitchell. "He really struggled with the physicality in France and to be available each week for the coach. He is now well past his availability record, and we are seeing similar with some of the guys at Cercle too. Being able to share intel over good practices and processes is helping to develop and raise both clubs."
Still not fully recovered from injury, Presnel Kimpembe won't participate at the World Cup. 𝗔𝘅𝗲𝗹 𝗗𝗶𝘀𝗮𝘀𝗶 has been called up to replace him!#FiersdetreBleus pic.twitter.com/1lLArvXD6h— French Team ⭐⭐ (@FrenchTeam) November 14, 2022
When Mitchell set about trimming a bloated Monaco squad, he also tackled a revamp of Cercle's organization with the Belgian club's fortunes taking a turn for the better of late with help from a few select talents sent to Bruges from their Monegasque parent club. Radoslaw Majecki and Jean Marcelin have helped Groen en Zwart to sit midtable at the World Cup break as Cercle look to better last season's 10th place finish.
"We are one organization -- that is how I view my responsibilities," Mitchell explained. "Nobody gets preferential treatment and like with Monaco; it was a complete infrastructural and personnel rebuild with Cercle Brugge. We are now seeing the seeds of all that investment and work has started to show. It is also the best start for Cercle in a decade too. We are doing good things. We have patiently rebuilt from the ground up as with Monaco which was always the idea. We are also the youngest team in Belgium so there are synergies at work, and we have invested a lot in this area of specialization."
"From our perspective, now, two clubs (Monaco and Cercle Brugge) are already a big responsibility," he added. "When I came in, the idea was lobbied that we did not take our Belgian responsibilities seriously enough. We have shown over the past two to two and a half years that we have done that -- they are the focal point of everything that we have done in terms of our global strategy change. We will continue to do that. At this moment, we want stability. We want to continue building, especially in Monaco, and to ensure that we get back to where we want to be. For now, we have enough on our plates. We want to keep moving both sides of our organization forward in the right way with patience and intelligence."
Monaco president Dmitry Rybolovlev was recently voted onto the Professional Football League's (LFP) board of directors and not only does that promote stability for the principality outfit, but Mitchell also believes that French soccer will benefit from his knowledge and experiences since acquiring the club in 2011.
"It has been a commitment from all of us," he said. "People have also heard me speaking about the growth and the development of the French game. The boss (Rybolovlev) puts that at the heart of everything that we do -- trying to be a shining light and pioneers in many ways. To have him bolted onto the board, we are grateful for his continued support internally and I am sure that the French game will benefit from his knowledge. He has been an owner for 10 years now and he has seen the good and bad sides of the ownership experience. I am sure that he can incorporate that into helping the growth of the game in a way which will benefit all teams."
You can follow Monaco's progress in the UEFA Europa League on Paramount+ when they take on Bayer Leverkusen in the Knockout Round Playoffs in February. Watch every match of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League all year on Paramount+. Paramount+ is the only place to watch every minute of every UCL match this season in addition to Serie A, NWSL, Europa League and more. Get 50% off the annual plan with promo code ALLYEAR! A subscription not only gives you access to all the soccer you could want but also the NFL on CBS, and countless movies, shows and original content.