So yes, fine. I threw a bit of a wobbler last week against Ajaccio, I’ll admit that. I lost my head. We weren’t good enough on the day, we didn’t come close to the high standards that I’ve come to expect from AJ Auxerre and I was fuming. But that’s football isn’t it? The sport where Portugal and Greece can win the Euros, Chelsea can lose to Bradford and Ian Holloway can take Blackpool FC into the Premier League without a bloody washing machine at the club for the players’ kits, all the while making comparisons to pulling at the end of a night out. The mad bastard. Football can be unpredictable and emotions often run high. So fuck it, live and learn. I’m also being advised to “congratulate” Ajaccio on their victory, so… Yeah, well fucking done.
Seriously though, sincere congratulations to Ajaccio for crocking my revelation of an inside forward. Phil Foden took a whack during the match and came away with broken ribs, so he’ll miss about a month of football. That to me is the equivalent of a jealous older sibling seeing that their younger sibling has a better set of toys than they do and lashing out by… Oh I don’t know… Elbowing them right in the abdomen like some kind of shit eating, brain dead troglodyte.
Anyway with my sincere and heartfelt apologies out of the way, let’s move onto some better news, shall we? Hicham Aidir always lifts spirits so let’s start with the fact that he’s only gone and set his 2nd club goals record in as many seasons at as many clubs. Bloody hell, he never ceases to amaze me. He’s on 19 for the season so far with 14 matches still to play, which already eclipses our own Florian Ayé’s tally of 18 set in the 2017/18 season. You’d better up your game, Florian.
For a change though it’s not Hicham that’s catching the eye the most, it’s our in-form pair Zoun and Abdoulaye Sissako, who are voted 2nd and 3rd respectively in the Ligue 2 Player of the Month competition. They’ve been excellent since the break. Zoun in particular has really impressed me, taking to his new role on the left like a duck to water.
In more brilliant news it’s time for our annual intake of academy graduates. I always like to pay close attention to the new generation and being at a club with such a great reputation for bringing players through, this year will be no different.
In no particular order let’s introduce some of the most promising of the bunch. First up and hailing from The Woodlands in Texas, USA, is right winger Patrick Granger, brought through our ranks thanks to our ongoing affiliation with Texas Rush. He’s one that I’m going to keep an eye on despite his lack of ambition because he’s a quick, aggressive team player who knows how to score from range and with a better attitude and improvements in certain areas, he could be decent.
Then there’s 14 year old Sylvain Laurent from Belfort, a couple of cities East of us. He’s a definite prospect and puts me in mind of Juno from Santos; A brave, hard working and tough-tackling defensive midfielder who’s also full of tricks on the ball and has a free kick up his sleeve to boot. He’s got an interesting combination of skills that could well prove be useful.
Mathis Roux is another 14 year old home grown talent, hailing from Orléans. He’s definitely in my preferred mould; high level of fitness, very determined, good decision maker and team player and able technically too. He likes to play in central midfield but could become a good number 10 too. He thinks he can also play as a striker but I respectfully disagree as he’s even worse at shooting than I was in my day.
And finally, Brazilian-born/French-raised Celsiney Andre, or “Celsiney” as he’s already dubbed himself. The thought crosses my mind that if 15 year olds are already working on ‘Branding’ then humanity has officially failed, but hey ho. Celsiney Andre is an extremely determined right full back, which puts him back on my radar. He’s also terrifically brave and pretty quick too, so I look forward to seeing to what extent he can improve his god awful technical skills.
I’ve (finally) learned my lesson from previous seasons and refrained from offering pre-contracts to those lads until after they’ve played for the grads against our U19’s, as in previous years they’ve gone straight into the latter team and haven’t played in this showcase match.
Interestingly though, not all of the 4 standout kids start the match. With the grads opting for Project: Burnie Mk III, there’s no wingers and so Granger has to settle for a spot on the bench. Laurent, Celsiney and Roux however all start against the U19’s Project: Meatloaf, which is quickly scrapped in favour of their own Project: Burnie Mk III. A wise choice.
It’s a quiet match to be honest and the grads really fight for a result, but are undone when the Under 19’s sub right back Brice Traoré whips in a corner that’s headed home by centre back Rui Correia. They’re made to work hard for the narrow victory though and I am impressed by the noobies’ performance.
When the match is over the youth contracts are handed out and pre-contracts are given to the 4 who’ve caught my eye. They eagerly sign.
It’s time to shift focus back to the first team though because the race to break Jérôme Mombris’ assist record of 12 in a season is heating up. Foden looked certain to break it first, but now that he’s sitting out for the foreseeable future the door’s opened up for Joël Soumahoro, who’s on 10 assists. The joke’s on me again as just like when I brought him to Santos, I had doubts in the summer over Joël’s ability to stake a claim for a regular first team place in a Ligue 2 side. I’ll gladly eat my words… Well, my thoughts, for the second season in a row though. He may not be the biggest, toughest, fastest or most skilful, but my God the young Ivorian gets results.
US Orléans are the side making the trip to Auxerre today and after the Ajaccio match I’m looking for us to bounce straight back. It’s fitting that I should have just watched our young talents battle it out with Project: Meatloaf Mk III, because Orléans play with a 4-4-2 so I’m bringing it back.
We’ll feel the game out with a standard mentality. I don’t want us charging out too recklessly against a team with a strong attack and I don’t want us to sit back too much either. In terms of personnel, Faouzi Hikem and Raf are of course suspended, so Aguilar and Goujon are in. Or they would’ve been but Goujon twists his knee just before the match and misses out on a rare start. Fomba starts instead, while Ayé and Captiste also make the lineup at the expense of the injured Foden and the unfortunate Zoun, who doesn’t fit into this shape. Orléans play with that delightfully nostalgic big man/little man duo up front with 6’5″ target man Toutain and non-6’5″ all rounder Wissa. Mike Kakuba, still one of the most aerially dominant defenders I’ve worked with, will mark the former, while Doucouré marks the latter, both with instructions to stay tight as they should have their men for pace too. Captiste makes his reintroduction between them and will push into the hole to start moves and break up attacks. Oh, and I do apologise to Mike for what I said after the last match. And not nearly as sarcastically as I apologised to Ajaccio.
We get off to a good start, with Orléans being pretty well nullified making a good base for us to build upon. In the 17th minute we open the scoring with an absolute beauty. An Aguilar throw in on the left wing starts a rapid 6 pass move that ends with Aidir taking a touch and clipping the ball past Despirez and into the bottom corner. An excellent start marked by an excellent striker’s 20th goal of the season.
We nearly double our money 15 minutes later when Joël, on corner duty after Phil was brutally savaged last match, crosses from the set piece and finds Captiste at the far post. The skipper heads the ball back across goal and Fomba gets his head to it, but can only direct it into the grateful arms of the Orléans keeper. But then just as I start to feel like we’re on course for another bright, bright, sunshiney day, Sissako has to hobble off with the assistance of one of the physios. We suspect a sprained ankle. This is troubling with Raf suspended and Goujon out as I don’t have any senior backup for him, but it’s even more troubling because I’ve grown to bloody love Abdoulaye Sissako and his ridiculous levels of energy. He limps down the tunnel with a grimace and I turn to young Gaizka Basauri for his first appearance in quite a while. Even though he’s quite creative I just want him picking up where Sissako left off for now as a ball winner.
Gaizka looks solid after his introduction and we continue to dominate without adding to our lead. At half time I’m careful not to seem overly happy as this is the exact situation we had at half time against Ajaccio. I don’t have to worry for too long though. Just before the hour mark and after another lovely flowing move, Fomba slips Samba in behind the defence on the right, our right back squares the ball for Florian Ayé and he drills it home for 2-0.
5 minutes later the visitors react, hauling off their mountainous striker Toutain and replacing him with Morel, who is about as far in the opposite direction as you can get. He’s small, low centre of gravity and fucking rapid. We ditch the tight marking and I have Basauri and Joël drop back to form a 3-3-2-2 formation with a deeper defensive line, which should hopefully clog up the channels and prevent their 2 nippy strikers from getting in behind us.
And to be fair, it works. We’re unlucky not to add a 3rd 10 minutes later when Basauri’s corner is headed against the post by Lamine Fomba and I even give a cameo to young Amine Chassaing, who is another youngster I’d planned on using this season. I do still think this squad’s a bit flabby because I’m not giving these kids nearly as much time as I’d like to. I’ll stick a pin in that thought for the summer though. We shut up shop and take our 3 points. It’s a professional performance and I’m more than happy.
Ah, what a difference a week makes. Records are crumbling, another 3 points are up on the board, some of the kids are getting to play and more tiny reinforcements are scurrying up through the system. A new hope has been breathed into Auxerre and I feel like a completely new man.
But I do wish Bourg-en-Bresse would PISS. RIGHT. OFF.