Six months. Six long months have passed since the abrupt end of the 2019-2020 season for the trainees of AS Monaco’s Academy, due to the health crisis. There was a difficult period of quarantine, then a gradual return to training this summer, before a final ramp-up during preseason. From the U17s of Manu Dos Santos to the reserves managed by David Bechkoura, through the U19 squad led by Frédéric Barilaro, the return to football has not been easy for the members of the Principality’s club training center.
A very promising start
However, the results obtained since the restart by the three teams of the Academy have been very good. While we are at the start of a season that promises to be still unique, from the point of view of the health situation, the Director of the training center, Bertrand Reuzeau, has taken stock of this difficult period, and reflects here on the resumption of competition, as well as the Academy’s goals for the coming season.
To begin with, let’s talk about this unprecedented period that has just taken place, from quarantine until the return of the youngsters. How did you handle this?
It was difficult because we lost contact and a level of estrangement developed with all of our youngsters. We were very happy to see them and they were also very happy to come back after a few weeks of absence. Everyone was happy, even if it was quite complex in terms of the organization of things, because with COVID, we had to adapt, to get organized and put into place protocols to respect social distancing. By thinking carefully, and using the different components we have on hand, we have managed to organize everything well. It was very challenging but we had to do it, to adapt things with the safety and protection of the young players and all the staff in mind. It was my priority as manager and it was also that of the management of the Club. We had a lot of appointments and meetings to get it all settled. We were also lucky enough to move into a great building (La Diagonale), which gave us a bit of warmth in our hearts. This place is exceptional.
On the sporting side of things, the season has started off pretty well for the various teams, with wins for all of them. What are the goals that have been given to these different groups and to the Academy as a whole?
The simplest and most effective goal is to train players for our first team. This is the top priority. Our place in the league is going to be important, but we are not going to focus on it even if it is true that in AS Monaco, we are obliged to get results. Last year we had a difficult season but we still found ourselves with three National 2 players who are now in training with the professionals in preseason. (Eliot Matazo, Chrislain Matsima and Enzo Millot). These players have benefited from playing in N2 and working in training to progress. We almost had forgotten about our ranking in the end. We are also fortunate to have a real bridge between the Academy and Cercle Bruges. With Paul Mitchell and Laurence Stewart, we look at the course and the path of the player to give him them the benefit of going to Cercle Brugge if he needs playing time before joining the club. It is something which is adapted according to the profiles of each player, in order to send a player to the first team.
You were talking about Eliot Matazo, Chrislain Matsima and Enzo Millot. It must be a satisfying outcome for you to see them join the first team…
This is what makes AS Monaco so strong. It is true that we were lucky that Niko Kovac and his staff were able to integrate them into training with the first team when they arrived. It’s something important. And seeing that the coach keeps them with the first team makes us very proud of our work. This is beneficial. We also have the example of Giulian Biancone, who spent time on loan at Cercle Bruges and who has joined the first team. It’s interesting, we have different backgrounds in the first team, which also includes Benoît Badiashile from the Academy. These are interesting elements, which influence the discussions we have with to parents during our recruitment, to convey our message.
Cercle Bruges continues to restructure itself with, notably, the arrival of a new coach and a new technical director. Do you follow what is happening in Belgium, where the team has made a good start to the season?
We look at the results every weekend. The new management of Paul Mitchell is looking at how to revamp a player’s trajectory. Bruges will be used to improve and give playing time to players who are looking to break into the first team. Paul Mitchell, who will lead this succession in his role as Sporting Director, has a real idea of what he wants to do. It is certain that this will bring us real added value for players from the Academy. And I am delighted that Cercle Bruges is doing well today, with a coach that I know well, Paul Clement, having worked with him alongside Carlo Ancelotti at PSG.
What relationship do you have with Paul Mitchell?
In the various discussions I have had with him and his team, it appears that we have the same guiding idea. Paul and Laurence told us that they wanted to rely on the French talent pool which is of a very high standard. The Academy of AS Monaco, which has produced great champions for several decades, is the best example of this. We must have the possibility of integrating young people from the Academy into the first team, either directly or through Cercle Brugge. Once again, Paul Mitchell has a very clear idea of each player’s path and journey. We are very happy to have someone who knows his job inside out and has relied on this way of working in his past experiences, especially in Leipzig. Paul Mitchell and his management will make it possible for the players to take these different courses and I think it will be very beneficial.
This is a real priority. When I arrived at AS Monaco 4 years ago, there was not a single former player working with the team. I asked myself a lot of questions and I also received a lot of questions. I opened the doors for them because they had a real motivation and already had their coaching badges. I can’t see AS Monaco and the Academy not having former players of the team within their structure and staff. It is crucial for me to have players with exceptional careers, who have trained with the Club, to deliver messages. Young people will always be ready to listen to them owing to their careers and experience. You don’t become a manager just like that – you have to be motivated, available and not be impatient. They really are working in that spirit and it has been a win-win situation since they arrived.
We talked about the idea of the athlete, but a young person is also in school. How is this side of things going?
This is a real priority for us. A youngster who arrives in U16 has three primary goals: sports, schooling and education. The sports project is something very classic, but schooling isalso important because we are obliged to provide the player with the different diplomas depending on what each is able to do in general, whether technologically or professionally and also in their post-baccalaureate education, with BTS for example. I am firm on this — it is an obligation to give them a diploma. I am a father and it is unthinkable for me that my child would have nothing. All young people who train here must earn a diploma upon leaving, even if they become professionals. This is also a priority for the management of the Club. We have the cooperation and supervision of a private high school with about fifteen teachers. Everything is done to ensure that we can continue our success in terms of the players’ exams, even if it is for the retraining of a player to anticipate him not having a career in football.
And the educational project?
The diploma is also a real balance for these young people. When one is between the ages of 15 and 18, if you only focus on football, you are not balanced. It gives them an opportunity allows them to think and to develop a culture. After a while, at a very high level, one is told about tactics and thinking around the game. This is also very useful.
In closing, what can we hope for from the Academy for this season?
That everyone continues to be healthy is the real priority. And of course, that we can continue to train young players for the first tem, and that those who are currently there continue to work hard to stay there and play in more official matches.