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From coaching handball to the UEFA Champions League

Leonardo Jardim has gone from coaching handball, women's and youth football to the UEFA Champions League with Monaco. He explains his philosophy to Andy Brassell.

At 42, Leonardo Jardim has been coaching for 20 years
At 42, Leonardo Jardim has been coaching for 20 years ©AFP/Getty Images

Leonardo Jardim arrived at Monaco from Sporting CP in 2014, boasting nearly two decades of coaching experience on the cusp of his 40th birthday.

Having led Monaco to the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, this son of Portuguese parents born in Barcelona – a city of around one million people in northern Venezuela – is back in the competition and enjoying a fine start to the season.

A domestic double winner with Olympiacos in 2012/13 and well known for developing young players, Jardim spoke to UEFA.com's Andy Brassell about his coaching philosophy, his journey to the top level and his experience in sports other than men's football.

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Early days

I am a coach who has been through all levels of football. I started coaching children aged ten to 12 in my town in Madeira. After training I would ferry them home, I would drive around with all the gear in my car – it was the start of my career as a coach.

I also had some experience in handball. I coached a handball team for a year, at the same time as I was coaching football.

I had quite an academic education. But I also played football and handball and therefore I had that handball coaching experience, which was also positive.

I was coach of a female team – women are even more difficult to work with than men. But I think all these moments, be it in education or be it with teams in the fourth division, third division, second division, helped me to have a better understanding of the game. Also to understand my profession better and help me make decisions.

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Journey to Monaco

My career, in terms of changing clubs, has always been constructed on whether I would be operating at a higher level. When I changed clubs, my ambition was always to coach in a different division.

When I left Camacha and went to Chaves, I went up a level; when I moved from Chaves to Beira-Mar I changed division, eventually reaching the top flight. Then when I left Braga, we qualified for the Champions League, and I went to Olympiacos.

At Olympiacos I made my debut in the Champions League. We played in the group stage which was a new experience for me, but it was extremely positive. It was when we played Arsenal for the first time. For me, that experience was very important.

From there I returned to Sporting and spent a year without playing [UEFA Champions League football] because Sporting had had a terrible season the year before and didn't qualify. We ended up qualifying with Sporting, but I joined Monaco who were again in the Champions League group stage.

That was my second year in the group stage and I went a bit further because we reached the quarter-finals. It was extremely positive. It's a marvellous experience to play in stadiums like in Turin, like in England against Arsenal – full stadiums with an extremely positive atmosphere.

Working with youth

In my recent jobs I have definitely been working with lots of young players and I have helped those youngsters develop. Yet that happened at every club I worked at. The work at Sporting and Monaco has been more visible, but it was the same at Olympiacos.

When I went to Olympiacos it was all about Greek players and young players. [Kostas] Manolas, who is at Roma, is a product of our efforts.

Then at Sporting the same thing – we had a project with young players. Many of them were loaned out and today it's with a lot of happiness that I see Cédric, [Islam] Slimani, Eric Dier in England, and William Carvalho, Adrien [Silva], Rui Patrício in the Portugal national team and European champions.

Developing young players is a job that gives me a lot of pleasure and passion, to have them reach the highest level and, of course, to win because coaches live on victories.

Clearly the experience of playing in the Champions League is very important for young players. We saw it a bit at Wembley against Tottenham. We had the chance to see a well-coached team but with young players like [Thomas] Lemar and Bernardo Silva.

In his Olympiacos FC days
In his Olympiacos FC days©AFP/Getty Images

Training habits

Firstly I believe in integrated training – football training has to be with the ball, even training on conditioning, so physical capacity as well as technical and tactical situations. Everything should be integrated with the ball.

I believe footballers cannot and should not train without the ball. It's a bit like a pianist. He isn't running around the piano, he plays, and that translates to football.

I believe in a holistic approach, in an ecological method where our ecological system is the football pitch.