Two weddings and a relegation?
All is not well in Monaco. After decades of being 'the world's most eligible bachelor', Albert II is set to take the marital plunge with a comely former South African swimmer in early July, only for Prince William to go and upstage him in the royal wedding stakes with 'Wor' Kate. Thunder promptly stolen, and on top of all that, the principality's football club is in danger of pooping the Grimaldi party spectacularly.
"It really would be one big mess if Monaco went down this season as it's the year the prince is getting married," said Jean-Louis Campora, the club's former president. "The prince's marriage is extremely important for Monaco. It takes just a little to get things moving in the right direction again."
For the last couple of years, the only things making forward progress in Monaco have been the Formula One cars that swarm into the principality for the annual Grand Prix. With the football club dropping into the bottom three last weekend, despite a 1-1 draw at Auxerre, it may take more than a little tweak to make sure Albert's wedding - heaven forbid - be spoiled by nothing more than the prawn vol au vents not being defrosted on time.
Measures have already been taken with coach Guy Lacombe paying the price for having done very little this season but lose. Installed at the helm of the club in the summer of 2009, the ex-Sochaux, Rennes and PSG coach's record reads an unflattering won 15, drawn 20, lost 22 in Ligue 1. A French Cup defeat in their first game of 2011 by fifth division Chambery, a town best-known for handball, proved the final straw for the club's board, whose first New Year's resolution was to ditch Lacombe.
"I'm extremely disappointed," said the freshly-jilted Lacombe, who appeared genuinely bewildered by his predicament. "I didn't expect things to finish like this. Even if I know the rules of the game and that it's the coach who most often carries the can when the results aren't there, I was surprised by this decision."
Former Marseille and Monaco defender-turned-radio-rent-a-quote Eric di Meco was scathing in his criticism of the Monaco decision-makers. "We should give Monaco the Nobel Prize," said Di Meco, presumably poised to write to the authorities in Norway to laud the club's work with over-privileged footballers. "It's the first time I've seen a club change their coach after the first game of the year."
The bizarre timing aside, action was inevitable. The final match before the winter break saw Monaco register a first win in seven league games, and even Arles-Avignon - hopelessly adrift at the bottom of the table - have taken a point at Monaco, who have not been higher than sixth-from-bottom since early October. The butchers, bakers and candlestick makers of Chambery merely delivered the coup de grace. "It's a feeling of shame that came over us after we were knocked out," admitted burly centre-back Sébastien Puygrenier, once of Bolton.
Shame is not the only sentiment the squad are feeling. There's frustration, too. "Can't we talk a bit about the game?" ranted the club's excellent goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier to journalists last week after being questioned about Lacombe's dismissal. "I don't give a s**t about the rest."
It is fair to say that it's not all Lacombe's fault. Swedish international Petter Hansson, a summer signing from Rennes, has not shored up the defence, while Daniel Niculae - who bizarrely decided mediocrity at Monaco was better than Champions League football at Auxerre - has not clicked with the club's big summer splash, Dieumerci Mbokani.
The reason for that is Mbokani has - in his own words - "had problems adapting" since signing a four-year deal after a € 7 million move from Standard Liege. How difficult it is to move from an unremarkable industrial Belgian city to one of the world's most luxurious enclaves is clearly beyond the grasp of mere mortals, but there is no doubt Mbokani has struggled.
With just a single goal to his name in Ligue 1 so far, the DR Congo international - whose first name means 'Thank God' - may only hear his Christian name being said with anything like praise when he finally quits the club. After being informed by text from Lacombe that he would not be needed for the squad's winter break training camp, Mbokani - unsurprisingly - decided it was time to pack his bags.
With his career peppered with more fall-outs than Bikini Atoll, the fiery Lacombe remained 'in character' in Monaco, also consigning promising midfielder Mathieu Coutadeur and Argentine linchpin Alejandro Alonso to the sidelines seemingly for no other reason than not liking the cut of their jib, leading to a poisonous atmosphere that has not helped the situation.
However, to lay the blame for the club's current mess solely at the door of Lacombe would be unfair. Ever since Didier Deschamps left Monaco in 2005, a succession of coaches - Francesco Guidolin, Laszlo Boloni and Ricardo - have dragged the club to a succession of uninspiring mid-table finishes.
Big-name players, such as Javier Saviola, Ernesto Chevanton, Jan Koller, Marco di Vaio and Christian Vieri, have all come and gone leaving their mark only on the club's finances, while the cumulative talents of Patrice Evra, Emmanuel Adebayor, Jérémy Menez and Yaya Touré have been nurtured and then flogged to the highest bidder to counteract the financial excesses of the Campora era.
The man now charged with putting the house in order is one who knows it well, Laurent Banide. The son of legendary ex-coach, Gérard, who won the Ligue 1 title with Monaco in 1982, Banide has already had one spell in charge, taking over from the hapless Boloni in October 2006 to steer the team out of the bottom three to a ninth-placed finish before being unceremoniously ditched in favour of Ricardo.
"I'm coming back to my club. I don't feel as if I'm a 'fireman'," said Banide, who clearly believes he is more than an interim appointment after buffering his CV with spells in Kuwait, Qatar and UAE following his first Monaco flirtation. "I like attacking football, attractive football. But that demands organisation. So we're going to try and put in place a plan which will allow everyone to blossom."
That 'peace and goodwill to all men' approach, which contrasts sharply with that of Lacombe, saw Banide include Alonso and Coutadeur in the side for the game at Auxerre, while Mbokani has joined the squad for a mini-break in Spain this week. With young talents such as Nicolas Nkoulou, Lukman Haruna and the on-loan-from-AC-Milan Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in his squad, all is not lost for Banide. If he can repeat his feat of 2007 and save the club again, Albert may even send him an invitation.