The scoreline suggested a struggle, but in reality, it was a Sunday night stroll for Paris Saint-Germain in the Principality as they swept aside AS Monaco 2-1 to move nine points clear at the top of Ligue 1. Already, the thrilling dart towards the title by Leonardo Jardim’s side seems like a long time ago.
Still, there’s a strong argument that the champions have done little wrong this season. Despite the exodus of players that brought in an estimated €357 million in the summer (including the fee that will be received when Kylian Mbappe’s transfer becomes permanent), the difference between this season and last seems clear, in statistical terms at least.
After a dozen games of this league season, Monaco actually had two points more than at the same stage in the last campaign. In the two games since, Jardim’s team drew at Amiens before losing on Sunday, and now they tally just three fewer points than after 14 Ligue 1 games of 2016-17. PSG, on the other hand, are six points better off than at the equivalent point last term, and it feels as if they are only going to get better from here.
There is room for improvement on the Monegasque side of the fence, too—unsurprisingly, given the volume of player turnover, with Youri Tielemans, Stevan Jovetic and Keita Balde among those still settling in.
The question has to be whether that will come too late for this season, with PSG becoming a speck in the distance and the team already eliminated from European competition, having made the Champions League semi-finals in April.
If this is to be a season of transition, the frustration of Fabinho at not being one of last summer’s exits is only likely to increase.
Going into the offseason, the midfielder believed he would be able to leave the Stade Louis II, according to an oral agreement he had with the club, per So Foot. Even entering the final stages of the transfer window, he still thought a move was on, with hope only snuffed out a few hours ahead of deadline.
At the end of their championship season, they aimed to sell two or three of their starters, and no more (deals to ship out Bernardo Silva and Tiemoue Bakayoko to the Premier League were quickly in place). That was before offers that were eye-popping even by their sell-high standards began to roll in for the stellar talent on their books. That was before they truly countenanced the idea of selling Mbappe.
In the end, the deal for the teenage phenomenon ended up torching the Fabinho one—for not only was it a player too many for Monaco to lose, it was PSG who wanted the Brazilian.
After four years of excellent service, it must have seemed to Fabinho as if all the stars were aligning. As well as stepping up the strata of Europe’s elite clubs, he would have the chance to play with a quartet of Brazil’s stars—Neymar, Dani Alves, Thiago Silva and Marquinhos—tuning up for the World Cup. It couldn’t do his own national-team ambitions any harm.
With Fabinho having agreed personal terms with the capital club shortly before pre-season training resumed at Monaco, per So Foot, it must have seemed like a matter of time. Then, having sold Benjamin Mendy when the money from Manchester City became just too big to resist, the Mbappe situation accelerated. The idea of losing a key piece—arguably the key piece—on top of all this, and to their premier domestic rivals, became too much.
When this column saw Monaco at Dijon in August, Mbappe was banished to the bench as his potential transfer began to take shape, and the sense at the club was that his head was elsewhere. Fabinho, on the other hand, played, as he would continue to do throughout the speculation. “The club know what I want,” he told us afterwards. “There’s nothing more to say.”
Three months on, one wonders if Monaco’s high-stakes poker has a casualty. Fabinho is the man his words back in August suggested; dignified, stoic, uncomplaining. Yet this has clearly taken a toll of sorts on him.
“Sometimes, subconsciously,” he told Nice-Matin in a recent interview, “I couldn’t give my best. I was convinced that I was right and yes, I thought about going up against the club.”
If the thought of striking crossed the mind of the 24-year-old, thought of by team-mates and those who know him as the epitome of decency, the wane from his relentless standards of consistency is easy to understand.
Part of that is down to the environment as much as the individual, of course, and Fabinho has admitted that even for one as steady as himself, the knock to the team’s equilibrium has been hard to deal with.
“With Bakayoko,” he recently told L’Equipe, “we had great reflexes (as a pair), we were both capable of defending and attacking. Physically, we were strong.”
This term, he has felt strait-jacketed on occasion, forced further back and with the team lacking last season’s flow.
The focus, naturally enough, is likely to remain on the psychological effects of the failed transfer. Fabinho signed a new deal last September, taking him through to 2021, and Jardim thinks a player just has to suck it up, per So Foot.
The Monaco boss said: “When (a contract) is signed, it’s not so we can say later that the contract isn’t valid anymore, because (the player) has reached another level.”
Monaco has been good for Fabinho, but he has made his share of sacrifices too. He accepted the club’s decision to not let him go to the 2016 Olympic Games, and he has seen others jump him in the queue for the Selecao.
Jardim’s repositioning of him in midfield has confused matters as well, with the player recounting a tale of a national-team scout coming to Louis II to watch him only to discover he was no longer playing as a full-back, per L’Equipe.
Maybe this was simply a deal that couldn’t be done. PSG baulked at Monaco’s €60 million price on deadline day in the light of their financial fair play challenges, but how much less were they supposed to ask for one of their standouts in the context of that window?
When the time finally does come to sell, it is highly likely Fabinho will have retained most, if not all, of his value. Midfield sentinels of his quality are hard to find, and his reputation as a reliable, team-focused stand-up guy is only enhanced now.
Recent disappointments mean regret overshadows that perspective for now. Fabinho has been hurt, but Monaco would have preferred another conclusion, too. The masters of the transfer market were simply so inundated last summer that even they were unable to plot every move.
Originally published by Andy Brassel at BleacherReport.com