PARIS, France, Aug 3 – Monaco head coach Leonardo Jardim is confident that Kylian Mbappe will be focused for the start of his side’s Ligue 1 title defence at Toulouse on Friday, despite being linked with a big-money move to Real Madrid.
The principality side stunned Paris Saint-Germain last season to claim their first French championship in 17 years, although PSG have flexed their muscles in the transfer window and look set to sign Neymar for a world-record 222 million euros ($260m) from Barcelona.
Monaco’s successes of last season, when they also reached the Champions League semi-finals, were built with a young team, including the 18-year-old Mbappe.
But they will kick off the new campaign with an already-depleted squad after the departures of Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy to Manchester City and midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko to Chelsea, while forward Valere Germain decided to switch to domestic rivals Marseille.
But Mbappe, who scored 15 Ligue 1 goals and six goals in as many Champions League knockout games last term as he burst onto the scene, is still a Monaco player, and Jardim doesn’t think he was affected by transfer speculation during a difficult pre-season.
“Mbappe didn’t score during pre-season, but he’s been working very hard,” he told the club website on Wednesday.
“You can only do your talking on the pitch. A high-level player does not need motivation.”
Polish centre-back Kamil Glik was one of the players who joined a year ago to sign new contracts in the close-season, along with French international full-back Djibril Sidibe, who has been ruled out of the season-opener against Toulouse with a knee problem.
“Mbappe is the same as two-three months ago, I see no difference,” said Glik.
“We will try to do as well as last season. We are the champions, we have to have great ambition. The players who have arrived can do as well as the ones who left.”
Monaco have stuck to their policy of buying potential stars at a young age.
They moved to replace the outgoing Bakayoko with Belgian international midfielder Youri Tielemans, and he impressed in last Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to PSG in the French Champions’ Trophy.
On Wednesday, they also secured the signing of 21-year-old striker Adama Diakhaby from Rennes.
“This is my fourth season, we work with the players we have,” added Jardim.
“My goal is to help the players progress, to play well and to have good results.
“The club sold little last year, this year there have been more departures. But each year the most important are the players who stay.
“The club believes in my work to make the project grow. The results support this strategy. It was a dream season last year, but to think that we will do the same is to not understand football.”
PSG will start their bid to win back the title with a home game against newly-promoted Amiens on Saturday, when Neymar’s Brazil team-mate Dani Alves is likely to make his French top-flight debut.
Sunday’s clash between Lille and Nantes will see two new head coaches go head-to-head at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
Lille boss Marcelo Bielsa has made 13 close-season signings as he looks to revitalise the 2011 champions, while Claudio Ranieri will make his bow in charge of Nantes, only 15 months after guiding Leicester City to their shock English Premier League triumph.
Ligue 1 fixtures
Monaco v Toulouse (9:45PM)
Paris Saint-Germain v Amiens (6pm), Lyon v Strasbourg (9pm), Metz v Guingamp, Montpellier v Caen, Saint-Etienne v Nice, Troyes v Rennes (9pm)
Lille v Nantes (4pm), Angers v Bordeaux (6pm), Marseille v Dijon (10pm)