AS Monaco take on Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 on Friday as first place hosts third in the French top flight's 13th round of games. Just three points separates the two sides coming into the Parc des Princes encounter which is a good opportunity for Monegasque star Folarin Balogun to get back to scoring ways after four appearances without scoring.
to his name since after an impressive spell on loan with Stade de Reims last campaign. Back in January, Balogun scored a late, late equalizer for the Champagne side in the capital and Monaco CEO Thiago Scuro was delighted to land the 22-year-old.
"We were very happy to close the deal for Folarin," the Brazilian supremo told CBS Sports exclusively. "It was at the end of the transfer window and I say that because it impacts how he has adapted to the club. He did not get to have a preseason as he arrived with this campaign already underway. It is challenging for a player to understand the style of play and training methods which he is piecing together week by week.
"We are working on this and Folarin is understanding what we expect from players in his position. He is very talented with a strong mindset, he works hard and is open to learning and developing. Those skills make us confident that we can build with him for the future and he has already had a positive impact on some games. I am sure that he will develop and progress further here in Monaco."
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Balogun has scored for the U.S. since his goal against former club Reims in a 3-1 win away at Stade Auguste Delaune back in early October, but Scuro emphasized the need to keep getting the Brooklyn native acclimatized at Stade Louis II before he can hit full flow. Playing for Les Monegasques as well as Gregg Berhalter's Stars and Stripes is taking some getting used to for Balogun.
"Everything is connected to performance, right?" said Scuro. "If we keep helping Folarin to improve his performances on the field with Monaco, he will be fitter and capable of the same with the USMNT -- especially given his position. If he scores goals for us and internationally, for sure it will open up opportunities for him and for us. I see this as a good opportunity for us but performance must be the main driver in this strategy.
"This is why we are focusing on helping him to adapt as quickly as possible. International soccer is also something new for him with so many hours across different time zones, a different style of soccer in America compared with Europe so it is a challenging process for him. He is young, but mature which helps him facing these steps."
Outside of Balogun's quest for goals with his new teammates and newfound status as a star turn in Ligue after his exploits with Reims, Monaco are enjoying a strong start to this term with seven wins and three draws from the opening 12 games. One of their two losses came at home to OGC Nice which was a particularly difficult game for the American, but Scuro is satisfied with early results.
"It has been a good season so far and it could be excellent with just a little more luck given the injuries that we have had," said the South American. "We have lost so many players in just 12 games through injuries that were out of our control which is frustrating. Overall, though, it has been positive. We are building our playing style together in a clear way and our start to the season is bringing better attendances. We are more connected to our community and fans which is an important ingredient for our goals."
PSG this weekend comes at a good time during the course of this campaign overall albeit at a tricky moment off the back of the final international break of 2023. However, ASM can feel optimistic as they head to Paris where the French champions have already lost to second placed Nice is similar circumstances knowing that three points could bring Luis Enrique's side level at the summit.
"There will be a lot of quality on the field with two very good coaches on either side," Scuro told CBS Sports exclusively. "Friday's game is very big and we are excited for it. I am always positive about ourselves -- it is not about them. I am positive about our performances, our players and our development. Going away to PSG is stronger motivation for them at home with their support. The main thing to me, though, is us performing well on the field."
Scuro himself is a new arrival in Monaco having joined the club this summer as sporting director which has quickly been upgraded to a CEO role. The former Red Bull Bragantino man is relishing the new challenge and was able to prepare thoroughly for the new project alongside predecessor Paul Mitchell who has now left the club after a three-year stint and president Dmitry Rybolovlev.
"The AS Monaco brand has a big impact," Scuro said. "I have followed European soccer since I was young so it has been special since day one. After all of our conversations, especially our President's mindset with a clear view and vision for sports and business, it connected to my beliefs in terms of soccer organizations. First, the chance to transition in professional soccer is not so common so that was very positive.
"Second, the opportunity to have my first two months here with a chance to discuss problems, solutions and other topics with Paul, as well as getting his and the President's perspective regarding plans, strategy and challenges -- especially the summer transfer market -- was important," he added. Paul was also important in recruiting Adi Hutter as head coach so I had lots of support in my first weeks which I was grateful for. Paul built a good organization across different areas which I am respecting and trying to follow."
Hutter is another new face in the principality having arrived after five years in the Bundesliga after spells with Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Monchengladbach. The Austrian tactician is getting to grips with his second major European league in France after Germany but brings significant experience from his time in Switzerland and Austria where he was part of Red Bull's setup.
"Adi has been very loyal to his playing ideals which was the main reason why we got into conversation with him," observed Scuro. "Adi has also stayed for three seasons with different clubs in different leagues which was important to us for stability in terms of the coach-club relationship. He has engaged the players in terms of the philosophy, team spirit and objectives and has started well in what we plan to be a long journey with big goals. Also, he has had to make many changes because of injuries so that also contributed towards our performances oscillating so far."
Each season with Monaco in Ligue 1 is fascinating given the conveyor belt of talent which comes through the eight-time champions' youth academy. The current senior side features young gems such as Maghnes Akliouche, Soungoutou Magassa, Chrislain Matsima, Eliesse Ben Seghir and Eliot Matazo who all benefit from a new state-of-the-art Performance Center.
"It is part of the club history since forever," said Scuro. "Monaco is a place for young and talented players to develop and get minutes in the first team which is challenging nowadays at such a high level. It has to be part of the club culture and we are working to protect that. Our academy is number one in terms of providing players to the France national team across all age groups over the last two international breaks which we are proud of. When looking at what is coming next, it is not just Maghnes and Soungoutou, but also Chrislain, Eliesse and Eliot getting minutes already. This season shows the quality of development at the club and a readiness for professional soccer."
Balogun and Monaco return to Ligue 1 action away at PSG this Friday before facing Montpellier HSC, Stade Rennais, Olympique Lyonnais and Toulouse to close out 2023. Reims are the first Championnat visitors of 2024 to Stade Louis II and Balogun will be targeting a big second half of the season once his adaptation period is complete.