Side Note: Bloody hell, I just realised that my WordPress site alone’s had over 50,000 views, which is just mental. Thanks once again for reading, everyone!
Now where was I?
Oh yeah, what a year! A good cup run, a promising but ultimately fruitless European International League campaign, a couple of sound thrashings both given and received, a late charge up the league and then a cross continental switch to save a fallen giant from relegation. Let’s have a look back on Year 5.
Final Position: 16th
Record: W2 D0 L1
Key Players: Baptiste “Captiste” Aloé, Corentin Tirard, Florian Ayé
Highlight: Survival in Ligue 2
Lowlight: Our loss against Nimes Olympique
I think it’s a bloody tragedy that I’ve had to save Auxerre from being relegated to the 3rd tier. When I was younger I remember the French 1st Division being a very different beast to the monotonous duopoly that it is today. Paris Saint Germain and Monaco were decent top half clubs, only occasionally challenging for the title. Teams all fought fiercely because they knew that the title was up for grabs. In the 2000’s Olympique Lyonnais had a strangle hold on the top division, but they were always closely contested by teams like Marseille, Bordeaux, Lens, Lille, or Sochaux. Even Nantes won the title a couple of times before fading years later.
AJ Auxerre were always buzzing around the top 8, frequently qualifying for the UEFA Cup and even the Champions League a couple of times. Before the Millennium we were even better, securing top 5 finishes all through the early 90’s before falling away somewhat after winning the 1995/96 title under the stewardship of legendary Auxerrois Manager Guy Roux.
I don’t have much to say about my short stint in Burgundy at the moment for obvious reasons (I’ve not even fully unpacked my suitcase yet), but I want it known that I’ve not joined them just as a stepping stone in my career. Auxerre aren’t just another team that I sign for first and get to know later on my path to the top. Auxerre are different. I joined them because it saddened me to see them struggling like they were after such a magnificent period in the top flight. I joined them because I want to see them back in Ligue 1 and back in European football. I reckon I can bring them back.
The end of season awards are an education for me as I get a real insight into who the top performers were in this horrifically underperforming team. Ruben Aguilar is voted Fans’ Player of the Season by a landslide, followed from a distance by Florian Ayé and Corentin Tirard. Florian Ayé gets the Young Player of the Season award and interestingly in the Team of the Season, Bingourou Kamara is selected in net. I know I’ve not seen him play live yet but from what I’ve gleaned he was sub par under the last regime. For me, Xavier Lenogue has proved that I chose my goalkeeper wisely with 2 clean sheets in my 3 matches.
Young target man Florian finished the season with 15 goals, our top scorer by a distance, and Ruben Aguilar was rated the highest performer on average and picked up the most Player of the Match awards. Corentin Tirard set up the most goals with 9 and Raf was the best retainer of the ball. I think that he can offer something different that I’ve not given him a proper chance to show me yet, so he’ll get his chance in the new season. Captiste picked up the most yellows with 14 and Tirard, Hikem, Godspower Tower and Moussa Diallo all picked up a red over the course of the season.
The Auxerre Football Messenger, a local newspaper, are scathing in their assessment of L’AJA’s season, claiming that we fell well short of expectations, which I have to say I agree with. We’ve got enough quality in this team to finish in the top half like we were predicted to. Not much quality in depth though despite our abundance of players. It’s an interesting dilemma but I think my priority for the Summer will be to trim the fat from the fringes of my squad and add a few quality players. It’s simultaneously quite flattering and damning that our match of the season was one of the 3 that I oversaw at the end of the season, our 1-0 win away at Strasbourg.
Final Position: 5th
Record: W16 D6 L11
Key Players: Mike Kakuba, Isaac Sohna, Sello Japhta, Sandile Stanley “Sinbad” Sibande, Joël Soumahoro, Mandla Greatful Masango, Hicham Aidir
Highlight: The 2 4-0 wins over PSL opposition in a row that took us to the my first Cup Final: The SA Cup Final
Lowlight: The SA Cup Final
I loved my 2nd season in Lansdowne. It definitely had shades of that 2nd season in Hero Creek about it, but it wasn’t nearly as straightforward. There were serious highs, such as the majority of our SA Cup run, and there were lows, like getting destroyed 1-5 by our local rivals Ajax CT and 0-4 by Kaizer Chiefs. In the end though we made it, thanks in no small part to the developing defensive partnership of Kakuba and Sohna, the industriousness of Sinbad, the creativity of Japhta, Joël and Masango and the clinical finishing of Aidir.
After I left, my former assistant Jakub Kalikowski took over the 1st team on a temporary basis, guiding them first to an away win over Mthatha Bucks. He made some bold choices like restoring Dino Visser, Roscoe and Luke Fanteni to his starting lineup and it paid off, with a Ryan Moon double grabbing the win.
Jakub then took Santos over to Pretoria to face Supersport United, who we had beaten twice earlier in the season 4-0 and 3-1. Supersport were clearly looking for revenge and thumped the people’s team 0-4, with Dino Visser in particular having an absolute shocker.
For the last match Goolam Allie reinstalled Boebie Solomons as Santos boss, pinching him from the relegated Magesi FC. Boebie took his first managerial footsteps with Santos in 2008 and stayed with them for 3 years, eventually getting them relegated from the Premier Soccer League. Let’s hope that after a decade of management in South African football and with Auxerre’s £1.5M in his pocket, he’ll be able to build well upon what I’ve started.
The new manager finished the season and started his second stint at the Athlone with a 2-1 win over his old club; the League’s whipping boys Magesi FC, who in all fairness beat my Santos team just before the SA Cup final. He had the good sense to restore Captain Komo between the sticks, so that’s a good sign.
Santos players finished the season with some impressive stats – Mandla Masango for example covered the 2nd most distance per 90 minutes in the league and also got 10 assists, the joint 2nd most.
Mike Kakuba was comfortably the best centre back in the PSL, so I’m glad that he’ll be joining me in Ligue 2. The Ugandan made the most key headers and interceptions and the 2nd most key tackles.
Obviously Hicham Aidir was in a league of his own, getting the 3rd highest shots on target percentage, the 2nd highest average rating, the most Player of the Match awards, the fewest minutes per goal and of course the highest number of goals in the league with 23, which won him both the Golden Boot and the Young Player of the Season awards. Absolutely first class season from the young striker.
Ajax CT’s Serame Letsoaka won the Manager of the Season award, closely followed by Kaizer Chiefs’ Professor Ngubane in second place, and yours truly in third.
Sometimes things just aren’t meant to be: Joey Tribbiani and Rachel Green, Barney Stinson and Robin Scherbatsky, Franjo and GKS Katowice. I don’t know if it’s thanks to the continuing payments from the top league or if I just royally messed that job up, but Katowice are flying without me. After sneaking into the top half last year, they went and followed it up by finishing 4th! I barely recognise the side to be honest. Almost my entire squad has been dismantled apart from exciting winger Ari Tuovinen and reliable defender Damian Garbacik. Hurley and Kevin have both departed after a pretty unsuccessful stint in Poland. They didn’t get much game time after I left. They’re both back in the Portuguese Championship with Cova da Piedade and Santa Clara respectively.
Overall I like to think that I helped GieKSa on their way to where they are now, but to be honest I think Tomasz Kaczmarek is just performing miracles over there.
Speaking of the Portuguese Championship, Os Heróis were very close to going back down there themselves this year. It’s a shame, they had 2 excellent seasons in the Portuguese Second League but it all fell apart in the end for Pedro Amora’s men. The manager was sacked with Angrense fighting a losing battle against the drop and Hugo Carlos Pereira stepped in to save them, but only just. Again, most of my Angrense squad have dispersed at this point, but Captain and Vice-Captain Jaime Seidi and Cristiano Magina are still there. Magina’s still knocking in a minimum of 10 goals a season, but Seidi’s struggled for game time and will leave on a free this Summer. I’m still rooting for Os Heróis and hope that Hugo consolidates, builds and finally gets them promoted to the top tier. No pressure though.
Not much has changed at FC Höllviken sadly. I still hope one day they’ll climb back up the Swedish pyramid.
I’m building quite the portfolio of former clubs nowadays, aren’t I. I still keep a close eye on them and certain players and I still hope each and every one of them keeps progressing. After all, I like to think that I’m not just a ‘short term fix’ kind of manager. I bring in and develop the youth, I’m sensible with finances, I build the infrastructure wherever I go if I’m able. Here’s to another good year ahead for everyone.