I’ve been looking forward to this Summer. Well, I often look forward to Summers, but I’ve been looking forward to this one especially. When I first arrived in Auxerre in May I had a very big squad and very little time to get to know them all. Now that pre-season has begun though I can take a step back and assess this rabble, identifying the good, the bad and the squad players and acting accordingly. There’s a lot to do so I jump straight into it, and my first challenge arises early on with the impending expiration of several players’ contracts.
I decide to give out 4 new deals, all to players who came up through the AJA academy. Firstly, I trigger a contract extension in Romain Montiel’s contract. I want the option to play with a front 2 this season and Romain’s a functional if limited target man, so I want to give him a look.
Adama Ba gets a new deal almost instantly. I didn’t pick Ba in any of my 3 matches as he’s an inside forward on the left and I feared that with him in front of defensive full back Faouzi Hikem we’d lack width on that side, which is why I selected Corentin Tirard as a winger instead. From conversations with my coaching staff though I’ve no doubt that Ba has quality and I want to actually give him the chance to show it to me.
Battling midfielder Abdoulaye Sissako also gets a new deal. I selected him in the 2 matches that he wasn’t suspended for when I came in and although there were no fireworks in his performances, he’s definitely my kind of player and I just have a feeling that he’ll be an important player to have in the squad.
Finally, Lamine Fomba gets a new deal. He was suspended when I came in but I threw him in for the last match to replace Abdoulaye Sissako and he was solid. I’m still torn with Lamine between excitement, on account of his undeniable quality and physicality, and suspicion, on account of him being one of the main culprits in Auxerre’s underachievement last year, but only time and performances are going to sway me one way or the other so he’ll get a chance.
I decide against new deals for brothers Harvey and Evan Ndicka, the former of which played in our last match and was actually one of the best performers, but will see his chances limited with Kakuba and Sohna joining our already sizeable fold, Ibrahim Sangaré, who I played twice out on the right wing but whose questionable amount of actual quality is going to see him slide down the pecking order, and quite a few reserve and youth players, who I knew fairly quickly weren’t going to make the cut.
As I continue to look for places in which my squad can be trimmed, Fraty Miezi throws his hat into the ring by suggesting that he wants to join Stade Brestois 29. Captiste talks him round initially, but when Brestois actually come in with an offer, I negotiate them up to nearly £700k and shake on it. Miezi has come up through the ranks here and is a pretty decent young winger, but I don’t think we’ll miss him.
Reserve defensive midfielder Kévin Appin and ‘Too-cool-to-try’ winger Jerson Cabral are the next out of the door, shipped to Turkish 1 League side Büyüksehir Belediye Erzurumspor and Greek National B Division side AS Anagennisi Karditsas respectively for a combined fee of around £100k. They’re both no brainer deals to be honest.
One thing that I’ve not started properly bleating about yet (But trust me I fucking will be) is our academy. I’ve not mentioned it much because at the minute my concern is not bringing through the youth, it’s hammering at the big flabby chunk of marble that is my first team squad with my transfer chisel, trying to shape it into a beautiful sleek statue. But our academy is fantastic. Famed even. As well as a fair few players still at the club, we’ve brought through some big names in World Football; Premier League Stalwarts Bacary Sagna, Younes Kaboul and Abou Diaby for example. Enigmas like Mohamed Sissoko, proven Ligue 1 players Paul-Georges Ntep and Djibril Cissé, the legendary Eric Cantona and the borderline psychotic Phillipe Mexes. Oh yes, this academy has produced some good ‘uns and we’ve got plenty more coming through.
In a roundabout way I’m trying to introduce you to young striker Nathan Andre, who’s currently probably our brightest academy talent. He’s not even 18 for another couple of weeks but he looks like an excellent prospect; Quite mature mentally, able technically, and with very good fitness, Nathan’s caught the eye of Ligue 1 sides Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseille as well as Southampton in the Premier League. If he wants to go and one of these clubs puts in a decent offer, I’ve got no problem with him going on to play in a better league. Just in case though, I sit him down, have a chat and offer a new long term deal to tempt him to stay.
While I’m at it I agree new long term contracts with Captiste, arguably our best centre back and captain:
Corentin Tirard, last season’s top assister and starting left winger:
And Amine Chassaing, a promising young attacking midfielder/striker from the academy:
Sivasspor attempt to lure our target man and last season’s top scorer Florian Ayé away to Turkey with an offer of up to £1.6M, but I reject the bid flat out and Florian too signs a new deal later that day.
The new season’s fixtures are released and assuming I’m not sacked before the Summer, I’ll be bookending my first full Ligue 2 season with matches against La Berrichonne de Châteauroux. They should be a team that’ll allow us a gentle introduction into the new season as they’re predicted to finish in mid table, so I’m happy with that.
When the transfer window opens we officially sign the players that the local papers are calling “The Santos 4”. Isaac Sohna, Joël Soumahoro, Mike Kakuba and Hicham Aidir have already been introduced to the first team in our early training sessions, but now they’re officially in.
You might think that bringing in 4 African players is a silly move, what with the Domino’s Ligue 2 season having a “The squad must have no more than 2 non-EU players” rule. It’s a logical conclusion to come to and it’s the same thought that nearly made me physically ill in early June when I saw it, having already finalised the transfers of the Santos 4. Fortunately though after some light research, I found out about the Cotonou agreement, a treaty between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP). In short, all of the Santos 4 count as EU players in France, which I’m sure we can all agree is a massive fucking relief.
In preparation for the new season I arrange some friendlies. As usual we’ll start with matches against the kids and the reserves, followed by a trip to Luxembourg to face Berchem and then a home match against Belgian Pro League side Eupen. Then I’m back off to England, which will be odd. It’s been 5 years since I jumped on a plane to Vellinge and although I’ve come a long way since then, I didn’t think I’d be heading back this early. Leicester City will be extremely tough opposition and Manchester City Under 23’s should probably be shown respect, but I reckon we’ll have Aldershot. After that we’ll fly back to Auxerre and host Paris Saint-Germain, because I do love an impossible challenge to finish pre-season.
Bordeaux are sick of waiting to see whether Nathan Andre will sign a new deal with us apparently because they launch a bid of up to £475k. I try to negotiate them up to around the 2 million mark but they won’t have it and eventually our talks break down. Encouragingly though, Nathan wades in to signal his intentions by signing a new contract. He wants to continue his development here for a while before moving to a bigger club, which tells me he’s got a good head on his shoulders. We’ll get on just fine.
In terms of which systems we’ll be playing this season, I’ll be starting off with very basic ones as per usual. In previous years my systems have stayed pretty basic, but I’m hoping to be able to evolve them with Auxerre now that I have better quality players to work with, who might be more suited to a more attractive, fluid style. The first system I’m bringing back is Project: Meatloaf Mk II, the 4-1-2-3 that kept Auxerre up at the end of last season. We use it for our friendly against the Under 19’s and the match is a straightforward one, as it usually is. Abdoulaye Sissako misses out with a twisted ankle and Godspower Tower is still out with torn knee ligaments, but the youngsters are put to the sword by 2 strikers that look like they’re going to give me a real selection headache: Hicham Aidir, who scores the opener, and Florian Ayé, who comes off the bench to score 2 more including a penalty to give us a 3-0 win.
Russian Premier League side FC UFA then come out of nowhere to bid £1.9M for Ruben Aguilar. He may be the best and most rounded full back I’ve ever worked with though so I’m not willing to give him up without a fight. I ask for 5 Million and the Russians withdraw. Ruben’s initially unhappy, but Captiste makes him see sense. Early signs are that the centre back is bloody good at his off-field captain’s duties, which is fantastic news.
I always look forward to the First Team v Reserves friendly matches. They’re extremely interesting as all 22 players are trying to impress you and are desperately trying to outshine their counterparts. I turn to Project: Meatloaf for this one. Not the Angrense style Project: Meatloaf though, I just look at it nowadays as a standard 4-2-3-1 system. For now. The match is very even but is actually slightly edged by the reserves. It all seems to be ending goalless until Hicham Aidir pops up in the 92nd minute to score the winner. If he can hit the ground running like this in the league, we’re laughing. I’m not particularly impressed by Loïc Goujon though, who gets himself sent off in the second half. There’s also a bit of a worry over Florian Ayé, who has to come off injured with a bruised thigh, but he’ll only be out for a few days.
Over the next few days I complete my Continental B License and after talking to Mr Chabod, the Chairman, I start on my Continental A License, courtesy of the club. If I carry on at this rate I should have my Continental Pro License in the next few years, which would put me in a fantastic position in regards to the quality of clubs that would see me as a serious option.
Let me introduce you to another lad from the academy: Brahim Ferhat. He’s a pretty versatile but technically limited striker, but has excellent pace, fitness, work rate and team play and those are qualities I admire.
He’s another one of our great prospects and Olympique Lyonnais are interested. They bid £275k to take him away but I reject it out of hand. I’d much rather keep him and maybe send him out on loan, as he could well have a future in my team. I also resent the sneakiness of Lyon’s bid to get him on the cheap just a few days before his 16th birthday when he turns professional, which he then does.
At the start of July we lose a player that I’d not really bothered to get to know; Khamis Digol. Khamis had already agreed to join US Orléans at the end of his contract when I joined the club and it’s a shame really. He looks like an interesting right back; 6’4″, strong as an ox and otherwise decently rounded. On the other hand though, he’s no Ruben Aguilar, so I’m not too bothered.
Russian club UFA really want Aguilar actually, but I really don’t want to sell. They come back in with a £2.5M bid, but even though it’s way, way more money than I’ve ever received for a player, I invite them to double it if they’re serious.
For our trip to Luxembourg, I’m debuting a new system and one that I’ve been considering for some time. Project: Burnie Mk III is a 3-5-2/5-3-2 system: A back 3 with 2 wingbacks, 2 central midfielders and an attacking midfielder behind 2 strikers. It’s a flexible system that hinges almost entirely on what I ask of the wingbacks. I’ll sometimes need them to bomb on into the final third and provide support but I’ll sometimes need them to stay at home and make up almost a bank of 5. It makes sense for us to use this system now because from what I’ve seen I have at least 3 quality centre backs and at least 2 quality strikers, as well as a right back who’ll be able to do a job going forwards and a left back who’s young enough to learn. I use Project: Burnie Mk III against Berchem’s narrow 4-3-3 and it’s a success, although annoyingly centre back Patrick Verbeeck is sent off for the hosts in the first half, so it’s not really a fair experiment for my new system. Nevertheless, 2 goals from Nathan Andre, who’s playing behind the 2 strikers, and a thunderbastard from Joël give us an extremely comfortable 3-0 win in Luxembourg.
Alessandro Bassani is the next young star to attract the attention of the Ligue 1 clubs. He’s a 16 year old left winger and he’s extremely promising; Quick, agile, determined and hard working enough and decent enough technically to give me hope that he’ll be ready to make a few appearances for us this year. Stade Rennais make a pitiful bid of up to £120k and I turn it down without discussion.
So at this point I think I have a fairly good idea of my squad for the upcoming season:
Goalkeepers: Xavier Lenogue, Bingourou Kamara, Anthony Gasnier
Defenders: Ruben Aguilar, Issa Samba, Captiste, Mike Kakuba, Isaac Sohna, Godspower Tower, Fabien Fonrose, Faouzi Hikem, Jérôme Mombris
Midfielders: Raf, Loïc Goujon, Lamine Fomba, Gaizka Basauri, Abdoulaye Sissako, Zoun, Adama Ba, Joël Soumahoro, Amine Chassaing, Corentin Tirard, Alessandro Bassani
Strikers: Hicham Aidir, Florian Ayé, Nathan Andre, Romain Montiel
There are a few players there that I’ve not yet mentioned, so let me do that now: Anthony Gasnier is a pretty promising young goalkeeper, although I worry about his aerial reach as it’s quite low for a 6’2″ goalie, teenager or not.
Fabien Fonrose is a 23 year old centre back who spent last year on loan with rivals La Berrichonne. He’s fairly well rounded but I don’t see him as a long term prospect if I’m honest. I just need a couple of extra centre backs for back up, especially as I’m trying out a back 3.
Gaizka Basauri is an interesting little player. He’s an 18 year old defensive midfielder, or central defender at a push but he’s 5’9″ so I’m thinking not. He does have plenty of interesting characteristics though, he’s full of flair and can smack a free kick to rival Juno at Santos, as well as being fit, strong and hard working.
Chassaing I mentioned briefly but let me talk about him for a second. He doesn’t exactly fit my mould as he isn’t what I’d describe as a “Fighter”. Low determination and work rates are usually signs that a player is about to get sold but he’s young, versatile, can run all day, has a few tricks and thunderbastards in his locker and is just generally pretty rounded. He’ll get a chance to impress me at some point.
Anyway, I reckon we could do with 1 more player. You see, we have a natural right winger in Zoun, a natural left winger in Tirard and a natural left inside forward in Adama Ba. We could really do with a right inside forward; A creative left footed player who can cut in from the right and cause some chaos in and on the edge of the box if we want to play that way. And I think I’ve found just the bloke. I remember years ago on some podcast or other, I heard somebody say that if Manchester City can’t bring Phil Foden, who at the time was the latest in a long line of “Saviours” of the English game, through into the first team, then they might as well close their academy down. Because what’s the point? What’s the point of having a local footballer of such staggering potential come up through your ranks if he’s just going to be left to rot while you spend hundreds of millions of pounds on ready-made players? Flash forward to present day, 2021, and 21 year old Phil Foden hasn’t made a single appearance for City’s first team, although he did play a full League One campaign on loan at Bury 3 years ago… I don’t blame Manchester City for letting him down. I blame the English game. I blame the Premier League, where clubs hold themselves to ransom because of the jaw-dropping amounts of money on offer for those who can stay up, or especially those who can break into the Champions League. If you give a chance to a young player and he contributes less than a £40 Million signing would have, meaning you only finish 5th instead of 4th, WHAM! There goes your revenue. You can’t afford to hold onto your best players and no suitable replacements will join you, so you’re on a downwards trajectory, making less money, and etc etc etc. So to avoid this, you buy ready-made players who’ll get you where you want to be. The English have methodically built and nurtured a system in which, in the vast majority of cases, good young players simply cannot break through.
Wow. I didn’t mean for that to get so… Ranty. My point before I went off on that tangent was meant to be that Phil Foden was once destined for true greatness, but a lack of first team football has stalled his development. If he can get back on track he could still be a top player and I’m willing to take a chance on my ability to make that happen. I’m also willing to break my own personal transfer record to bring him in. A £500k offer is accepted and I offer Phil a contract.
Issa Samba is the next player in demand, and this time it’s SPL side Hamilton that want to take him on loan. I want to keep him around though, so I reject the bid and make it clear that Issa will be staying with us.
Not long after, we get a call. Phil Foden’s agent says that he’s delighted to be given an escape route from City to a club where he might actually play football. They fly over and Phil signs on the dotted line, becoming my 5th signing of the Summer.
I’m taking a big punt on him here. I know he doesn’t exactly adhere to my philosophy but he’s still young, he’s still got potential and at the very least he’s extremely versatile, most comfortable as a number 10 but also able to play in midfield or anywhere behind the striker. I’ll be looking mainly for him to play as an inside forward off the right as I mentioned before and I think he’ll do a job. I get the feeling that he’ll either be one of the very best or very worst signings I’ve ever made.
I think my squad’s complete now and we just need to gel together and get ourselves disciplined in these formations I want us to use. Stade Rennais make a £300k bid for Bassani and Alanyaspor bid up to £1.1M for Zoun, but I reject them both. They’ll both play a part on the wings this year.
Eupen are our next friendly opponents at the Stade Abbé-Deschamps and I see the Belgian Pro League side as a good challenge as we start to turn up the difficulty on our pre season. New signing Phil Foden gets a place on the bench as we line up with Project: Meatloaf Mk II. What follows almost brings a tear to my eye; First my prolific Moroccan striker Hicham Aidir nods us ahead from an Aguilar cross, then he doubles our lead just after the break with a clever turn and a clinical left footed finish. We’re awarded a penalty 15 minutes from time and I scream at Hicham to take it with his right foot to complete his perfect hat trick, but he’s a striker, and strikers don’t tend to take any chances when a goal’s on offer, even in a friendly. He opts for his trusty left peg and completes his imperfect hat trick. Still though. The bad news is that Lamine Fomba picks up a twisted ankle and will be out for a few weeks, but he should be back for the new season.
He won’t be lonely in the treatment room though, even as Godspower Tower and Issa Samba return to full training with the rest of the team. Phil Foden and Loïc Goujon suffer a pulled hammy and a thigh strain respectively in training a few days later.
Alanyaspor are dead set on buying Zoun, our nippy right winger, but I’m still not selling. Their improved £1.5 Million bid is rejected.
The Coupe de la Ligue draw is made a couple of days later, pitting us against GFC Ajaccio in the First Round. They were in Ligue 1 only 6 years ago but have since plunged to the National League, the third tier of French football, and gone semi-pro. The winner of the tie will face FC Metz or Stade de Reims in the Second Round, both of whom are fellow Domino’s Ligue 2 teams.
Touching down at Leicester Airport is a weird feeling. I’m back. Not back in Leicester, obviously, but back in Blighty. It’s exactly the same as I remember it; Grey skies, grey buildings, grey people. Thick drops of rain start dribbling down my window and merging with each other as the plane taxies around to the terminal. As we make our way to the hotel I see so many people, so many of my people, all hiding behind black umbrellas and ignoring one another, even the ones walking together. My God, it’s good to be home.
The prodigal son’s return raises some eyebrows too when we take on Leicester City at the Kings Power Stadium. The former Premier League Champions dominate the plucky visitors but the Auxerre defence hold strong. We take the lead in the second half thanks to a goal from defensive midfielder Gaizka Basauri, who comes off the bench and is released through on goal after some good hold up play by Florian Ayé. Gaizka converts the chance and completes an extremely satisfying smash and grab victory.
Anyone wanting to put a quid on the team that avoided relegation on the final day of last season getting promoted, the odds are 50-1. We know we underachieved but the bookmakers have made us the 7th favourite to go up to Ligue 1 this season. My first thought is that it’s a bit optimistic to rate us so highly, but do you know what? I think I actually like those odds.
FC Metz’ Ivan Santini, who was last year’s Ligue 2 top goalscorer, is evens to repeat the feat this season. In fact looking down the list, there are no odds being given on any Auxerre players outscoring the rest of the league. I smile to myself. These bookies haven’t met a certain Moroccan striker I know yet.
There is an Auxerre player in the list of most likely players to be the league’s top footballer though and it’s not somebody I expected. Faouzi Hikem, the left back that I dropped after only 2 matches watching him due to his poor performances when I first came in, is 24-1 to be the best player in the bloody league. I’ve not seen it from Faouzi yet, but I look forward to being proved wrong.
I get a pretty frustrating phone call later on that morning; Alanyaspor have increased their bid again for Zoun, with an offer rising to £2.1 Million. Again I reject it, as I want him in my team. I’d consider bids towards the £5 Million mark though.
I suffer an unexpected bit of backlash from an Auxerre fans’ forum after the club release this year’s squad numbers on it’s website.* Apparently quite a few of them are irked by Zoun having kept the number 6 shirt, admittedly not a traditional number for a right winger, but it’s only 1 away to be fair. To be honest though I’ve had so much on my plate this summer that the squad numbers were pretty low down on my list of priorities and I just left the existing ones as they were. A quick glance down the rest of the list reassures me as I don’t think there are many more badly numbered players, although my first choice goalkeeper having the number 16 shirt isn’t ideal.
After that’s dealt with we make our way over to Manchester City’s academy to take on their Under 23’s. Sadly Phil Foden misses out on a return to his former club, but as we’ve only had 3 days break since our last match I decide to give my second string a run out, because what could possibly go wrong? A thrashing. A thrashing even worse than Leicester City’s first team gave us. I suddenly realise why Phil stayed here for so long, these lads are bloody good! We’re not helped on the hour when the Kings Power goalscorer Gaizka Basauri is sent off for a second yellow, but by that point we’re already 1-0 down and showing no signs of coming back. Things go from bad to worse when Florian Ayé picks up a gashed head, and then a second City goal finishes us off. 0-2 it ends.
Alanyaspor are getting either desperate or annoyed at this point and they raise their offer to up to £3.1 Million for Zoun, but again I reject it. If they keep going like this though they’ll have him within a couple of weeks I would have thought.
To finish off our dismal holiday in the North of England we travel over to Aldershot, the most surprising inclusion on my homecoming tour. I put out another second string side, giving players match time who need it, and we romp home in a thoroughly entertaining game. Florian Ayé scores twice in a minute but then gets stretchered off before half time, which isn’t a good sign 9 days before the start of the season. Aldershot pull one back through Idris Kanu before Adama Ba scores, and then we’re pegged back again by Jaidon Anthony. Ba scores again in the dying minutes though to wrap the match up at 4-2. It’s a dominant display by us but it’s overshadowed by the injury to Florian Ayé, which turns out to be a damaged achilles tendon. He’ll miss 5-6 months. I certainly hope Hicham Aidir hits the ground running now because we can’t really afford him not to.
But it’s no use crying over damaged tendons, despite it being very frustrating to lose last year’s top scorer perhaps for the rest of the calendar year. We’ve got a pre-season to finish and we’re going to finish it in style. I welcome none other than Pep Guardiola to the Stade Abbé-Deschamps dugout with a firm handshake and a smile. Pep bloody Guardiola. I’m about to face off against a legend of Football management. Someone who’s achieved almost everything that I aspire to. I don’t let on that I’m bricking it. I play it cool. He puts an arm around my shoulder as the players warm up in the background and says: “It’s windy today, yes?”
“Haha, yeah.” I reply awkwardly.
Cool as a cucumber.
We aren’t facing a full strength Paris Saint-Germain side, but we’re still facing a good one with such stars as Renato Sanches, Stefan de Vrij and Gianluigi Donnarumma, and they have some more big names on the bench. Knowing Pep loves a 4-4-2 nowadays I set us up with a defensive variant of Project: Burnie Mk III. We’re essentially playing with 5 defenders, 2 ball winners in midfield and an attacking front 3.
Amazingly, we take the lead after 35 minutes when Hicham Aidir turns in Ruben Aguilar’s cross. In fact PSG don’t really trouble us throughout the entire first half. The second half is a different kettle of fish though and we go on the counter after they come out swinging. Before the hour, Rolón Martinez drives home the equalising goal, 15 minutes from the end, Edinson Cavani heads the visitors into the lead from a Serge Aurier cross and 8 minutes later Bernadeschi’s corner is bundled home by Lucas to give some gloss to the scoreline for the French Champions. I was impressed with our domination against PSG B in the first half, but the second half is an onslaught. Mind you, there’s no shame in being beaten by the best.
After the match I sit down and chew the fat with Pep over a glass of chablis. For one of the best managers of his generation he seems like a nice grounded bloke. He commends my team’s first half performance and is very humble about his own team’s win. I quiz him about his time at Barca and Bayern, but neither of us mention City after his unceremonious sacking. We sit and talk as equals. Colleagues. Despite the defeat, it’s an extremely good day.
After our final friendly has been played and with the new season looming, I’m left with 1 last big decision: Who should captain Auxerre for the 2021/22 season? When I arrived Captiste had the armband and Ruben Aguilar was his deputy. From what I’ve seen of Captiste so far he is an excellent captain on and off the field and will probably also play every single match that he’s available for, so he’ll stay on. In terms of our vice captain though, I’m not so sure. I do like Ruben Aguilar but if I’m being completely honest I’ve had my eye on someone else for over a year. Last Summer in Lansdowne, I toyed with the idea of making Hicham Aidir the Santos captain, due to his leadership skills, determination, work rate and “Lead by example” attitude. I decided against it as I didn’t know him too well and he was new to the team, hence the decision to give Komo the armband, but this year… New signing or not I think Hicham’s ready to get used to the idea of leadership. He’ll certainly be a captain in the future, perhaps for club and country, and I think the vice captaincy will suit him perfectly for now. He gets the nod over Ruben.
Phil Foden and Lamine Fomba return to full training just in time for our first match, albeit lacking some match fitness after missing a few of our friendlies. I also get a very interesting offer from fellow Ligue 2 side USBCO, who want to take our 16 year old striker Brahim Ferhat on loan for the season. They want him to play regularly too, so I agree. Regular football at the same level as his parent club should do wonders for the lad’s development and as USBCO have been recently promoted and are one of the favourites to go back down, it’s not as if I’m strengthening a direct rival. Hopefully. I look forward to seeing how he copes.
Hey, before I finish off this pre-season, I want to draw attention to a couple of my ex players, who I’ve noticed are doing extremely well for themselves: Firstly Joseph Ekwalla (Boo, hiss), who’s moved on from Orlando Pirates after just a year to join PEC Zwolle in the Eredivisie. My grudge against Joe faded when Santos ended up doing fine without him and to be fair he funded a lot of our transfer activity in that hugely formative summer of 2020. Santos will have also got a chunk of his latest £300k fee, which will please Goolam Allie.
Perhaps even more amazingly, I wonder if you remember Carlos Antunes? In a way he was SC Angrense’s Joe Ekwalla; a promising young attacking midfielder who held a place in my first team from the age of 16 but was sold by my meddling Chairman at the time, Miguel Borba. He was initially sold to Vit. Guimarães but has since moved from there to Estoril, where he became a regular Liga Nos player, and then onto bloody West Ham! Ironically the same club that I loaned Domingos Quina from at the time as a direct replacement, although he didn’t end up pulling up any trees. Antunes spent last season on loan in the Eredivisie himself as a regular starter for VVV-Venlo and is now back in the Liga Nos on loan with Arouca. I wish both players all the best and will continue to keep an eye on them. Maybe our paths will even cross again some day.
I receive another very interesting offer the day before our first match against La Berrichonne. Fellow Ligue 2 side Nimes Olympique want to take Isaac Sohna on loan this year and would use him as a key centre back, as well as paying his entire wage and a monthly fee on top. I take a pretty long time over this decision as I think more than any other player, Isaac’s development is going to need an extremely delicate guiding hand and a wrong move could prevent him from fulfilling his potential. In the end though I agree to the arrangement. Similarly to Ferhat, a year of consistent Ligue 2 football is something that I might not be able to offer him this year as we’re well stocked at the back, and it’s something that I think could really make him push himself and help him grow. It’s now up to Isaac himself to decide whether or not he wants to go.
Here it is then. It’s Friday night. The 30th of July 2021. The start of the Ligue 2 season. Tomorrow will be the 5 year anniversary of my first step into management, when I sent my CV to FC Höllviken Chairman Alexander Lundgren. Since then I’ve been relegated in Sweden, won a league title unbeaten in Portugal, beaten the drop in Poland, guided a struggling team to a cup final and almost a Confederation Cup place in South Africa, won a couple of matches in Liechtenstein and beaten the drop again in France. I’ve told Slaven Bilic to go fuck himself, become something of a Connect 4 master and ruthlessly tormented a dehydration-induced hallucination of my spirit guide and perpetual failure Abel Xavier. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve kicked more water bottles than my players have kicked footballs and I’ve quite literally pissed myself in front of my drunk landlord in a vampire costume. It’s time to begin my 6th year in football management with AJ Auxerre and amongst all of the feelings of optimism that a new season brings, I smile as a single thought crosses my mind, bright and vibrant: I’m only just getting bloody started.
*Commiserations to sammuthegreat and jakec91 from fm-base for having to look at a number 6 on the back of our right winger! The comparison to William Gallas and his number 10 shirt has been thrown about though which I think is somewhat extreme. Anyway, someone remind me to change it next Summer!