“Franjo, rumours have been circulating in the papers that you’re under consideration for the Montpellier job, is there any truth in that?”
“Well you’d have to ask Montpellier that, wouldn’t you?” I smirk. I quite enjoy riling up the press, especially young reporters that are still wet behind the ears. The young man goes bright red.
“B-but they do need someone with your experience in fighting relegation?” He replies. It’s more of a statement than a question.
“They certainly do need someone, but my cats have only just finished marking my new flat with their scent, so I’d feel bad about leaving at the minute.” A chuckle goes around the press conference.
I’ve heard the rumours, of course I have. Montpellier have sacked their former defender-turned-Manager Daniel Congré with the club in 18th, having just lost 0-3 3 games on the bounce. To be fair those matches were against Lyon, PSG and Monaco so I think it’s a bit harsh. I’ve got no interest in the job though. I don’t see why I would leave a club so clearly on an upwards trajectory for one in free fall.
This is yet another problem with International breaks. In the age of social media and 24 hour news, 2 weeks without football sends fans into catatonic states of boredom that the media combat by making mountains out of molehills, by which I mean making news out of rumours. I don’t mind them though, it’s quite fun watching the press grope around for any kind of clue they can find. The only news I care about is AJ Auxerre news and after playing in his 15th game for the club, Ivorian playmaker Joël Soumahoro has received a small pay bump. Nice one, Joël.
The next lip smacking piece of gossip making it’s way around the Centre de Formation is that the French 8th round draw has been made. We’re still yet to play our 7th round tie but if we win we’ll be up against Derby de la N77 rivals ESTAC Troyes, who I’ve already seen off twice since I arrived in France.
There’s good and bad news on the injury front: 4th choice striker Romain Montiel sprains his ankle in training and will miss up to 4 weeks of action. This isn’t ideal as he joins Florian Ayé and Nathan Andre on our list of injured strikers and at the moment Hicham Aidir is on an uncharacteristic dry spell. The good news is that Florian is back in light training after his horrific achilles injury, but the other bad news is that he’s still a long way off being ready to play. Even after he rejoins full training he’s going to need nurturing back to fitness.
I then get a rap-rap-rap on my office door. It’s Marc François, a versatile forward from the academy. He’s unhappy with his game-time and wants a loan move, but Captiste talks him round with one of his trademark hypnotic captain’s speeches. It’s ironic that Marc came to see me about his lack of game time actually, because with my 3 back ups injured, he’s next in line and will actually be on the bench today as we travel to Stade Malherbe Caen.
Stade Malherbe Caen have without a doubt been the League’s biggest underachievers so far. They finished 18th in Ligue 1 last year, only 3 points from safety and were predicted to win Ligue 2 at a canter as they bounce straight back, but with over a third of the season gone they’re sat in 10th place below several teams that were predicted to struggle, like Groupe Sportif Consolat, Red Star and US Orléans. This is one of those situations that feels like a trap though. The predicted title winners lying dormant in midtable, lulling me into a false sense of security before suddenly switching it on and battering us.
I only make a couple of changes after our generally fine performance before the break. Faouzi Hikem is back from suspension and replaces Mike Kakuba, who struggled at centre back on a rare start, with Mamadou Doucouré sliding back into the centre to accommodate Hikem. I also bring in Lamine Fomba for Joël, who picked up his 3rd yellow in 10 matches last time out and is suspended for this one. Adama Ba’s fit again but is kept out of the lineup by Tirard, who might actually be ready to show me why he was touted as one of our best players when I joined and as I mentioned before it’s a first call up the match day squad for Marc François.
As I feared, Stade Malherbe Caen come roaring out of the traps. With just 3 minutes gone they put together a fine passing move on the edge of our box and Abergel ends up with the ball at his feet in space to the left of goal. He shoots for the near top corner with Lenogue hideously out of position but luckily the ball bounces back off the post and is cleared by Samba. 5 minutes later we push forward ourselves. Fomba slides the ball forward to Aidir 25 yards out, who turns and chips it beautifully into Foden’s path. Foden just needs to direct the ball into either corner and we’ll take the lead, but he fires it straight at Didillon, who palms it around the post. We go on the counter as aside from that chance, the hosts have been pushing hard so far.
10 minutes later Caen find themselves with a corner on the left and their Egyptian former Anderlecht winger Trezeguet goes over to take it. He swings the ball over to the far post and Portuguese centre back Pedro Mendes rises above his marker Aidir to head home the opening goal. Another 5 minutes pass before we win a free kick on the left wing, level with the opposition box. Tirard whips a cross in which Sissako flicks on, sending the ball looping over defenders and onto the boot of Phil Foden, who volleys it against the bar from 6 yards. This might not be our day. It’s definitely not Phil’s.
It’s not Trezeguet’s either. He gets stretchered off with only 27 minutes on the clock and it looks like a particularly nasty one. He was sprinting into our half with space all around him before suddenly hitting the deck, howling in pain. Fingers crossed it’s nothing too serious. At half time I bring off Raf, who’s still pretty knackered after spending the last 2 weeks playing for Madagascar’s National side. Goujon comes on in his place and we head back out to attack.
10 minutes after the restart I hook Tirard, who’s been quiet again. I can’t give him many more chances. Ba comes on and as he and Foden will be cutting in we’ll have our full backs charge up the wings beyond the 2 wide men. The change takes only 8 minutes to pay off, when Ba holds the ball up in the centre, plays ahead of the rampaging Hikem and he floats in a brilliant cross to the far post, where Foden arrives to head in the equaliser. Game on.
With a quarter of an hour to play I bring François on for his debut in place of Aidir, who’s in the middle of a really bad spell at this point. The game is still tied at 1-1 heading for the end of 90 minutes, but then something utterly terrible happens. Bouzat receives the ball on the left wing and plays what I can only describe as a “Pea-roll-cross” straight at our near post. Lenogue has a howler, misjudging the shitty, trickling little pass and letting it bounce off his shin and out to Osaguona, who tucks the ball into the empty net from point blank range.
Lenogue feels the full force of my wrath in the changing room after the referee’s whistle confirms our 1-2 defeat. Top of the league and minutes away from a good point against one of the best quality squads in the league and we’re undone by a stupid mistake like that. I’m fuming.
Malherbe Caen’s victory came at a huge price I’m afraid. Trezeguet’s injury is about as serious as they come – He’s damaged his cruciate ligaments and is almost certainly out for the season. It’s never good to see something like that, even happening to a rival. At least we get to blow that result away with a nice easy Cup tie against lower league opposition though. Our last cup match didn’t go all that well but that was against a side that narrowly missed out on Promotion to Ligue 2, whereas Tiercé Cheffes are down in the regionals somewhere.
I’m that confident that I’m making 11 changes again. Kamara starts in net so that Lenogue can spend some time in the stands thinking about what he’s done, while Aguilar, Kakuba, Tower and Mombris make up the back 4. Fomba and Basauri are our central midfield duo with Zoun, Chassaing and Tirard behind François. We’ll look to control the match and play some fluid football with Project: Meatloaf. I 100% expect a victory.
We get off to a good start under 10 minutes in when Zoun releases Captain-for-the-day Aguilar down the right, who sends a cross into the 6 yard box. Romero heads it away as far as Zoun, who chips it back into the mixer again and this time François powers a header against the bar, but when the centre back Ugo Henry swings a boot to clear the ball he smashes it against his team mate Gérald Lafon. The ball bounces straight past the keeper to open the scoring. The own goal’s credited to Henry, which really confuses me as he was the one specifically kicking away from the goal. Best not to overthink it though
10 minutes later after Tirard’s free kick is cleared, Zoun crosses the ball into the Tiercé box again and Kakuba heads it goalwards, but it’s blocked by a defender on the line. With 5 minutes to go before the break we go close again when another Aguilar cross is once again headed against the bar by full debutant François, but seconds later Mombris drills a low cross into the box and Zoun’s tripped as he goes to latch onto it, winning a penalty. Tirard dispatches it coolly into the bottom corner to double our lead.
If I were the Tiercé boss I’d want nothing more than an opportunity to regroup at the break, but being the complete set of bastards we are, we don’t let them get there. With under a minute of normal time to play Zoun drills a low cross in from the right byline. In an attempt to hoof the ball clear, Lafon, who contributed to the opening own goal, smacks the ball – Against fellow centre back Thibaut Bonnet, sending it careening into the bottom corner. Oh lads.
I’m willing to bet that our half time team talk was a lot more laid back than our opposition’s. In all fairness they look more resolute after the break and it takes 18 whole minutes for us to add our fourth. An outswinging Tirard corner is headed back across goal by Zoun at the far post and nodded in by Lamine Fomba. Job done, I bring off Chassaing and introduce Hicham Aidir in the hopes that he’ll break his goal drought. He doesn’t, but you can’t blame me for trying. 4-0 it ends.
This match will have been nightmare fuel for a lot of the Tiercé players, especially Gérald Lafon, who orchestrated both own goals without being credited with one. We’ll be facing our rivals ESTAC Troyes in the 8th round, which I can’t wait for. We can win that. We can keep progressing. Even though we’ve slipped back down to 2nd in Ligue 2 below new chart toppers Angers SCO, which is clear evidence that I should focus on the league, I can’t help but wonder if this could be the year that I finally get my hands on a cup. I mean, it’s almost certainly not as Monaco and PSG seem to keep this particular trophy between them on some sort of timeshare scheme, but I can still dream.