The small shopkeeper’s bell on the door “Ding-a-ling”s as I step into Perk de l’Abre Sec, my favourite little café on Rue des Carrières, just down the road from Stade l’Abbé-Deschamps. The young café owner behind the counter beams as I step in from the blistering Summer heat and rushes out to set my usual table. “Bonjour, Monsieur Franjo!” He says, dropping cutlery all over the table in his haste. I chuckle.
“Bonjour, Louis. I’ve got someone meeting me here in a little while. Point them in my direction when they get here, will you?”
“Of course!” Louis practically shouts as he scrambles across the gingham tablecloth to collect the spilt cutlery, “Who are you meeting? I’ll show them over as soon as they arrive!”
“You’ll know when you see him.” I smile as I take my seat. Louis nods sheepishly, picks up the remaining cutlery and scurries back behind the counter to prepare my usual.
It’s nice to be recognised sometimes. Last year I was able to walk around Auxerre with complete anonymity. A few people would come over to take a selfie or whatever after we avoided relegation, but that was about it. This Summer’s completely different though. The whole of Auxerre knows my name and most of them know my face. I get stopped on the way to the corner shop, I get stopped on my way to training. It’s nice. I can see why it’d get on your nerves after a while, but for now I’m enjoying it. And I’m definitely enjoying the VIP treatment I’m getting at Perk de l’Abre Sec.
I unsheathe my laptop from it’s case, blow the dust off the lid and open it on the table as Louis places my white sugarless coffee and already-cut-up-and-buttered croissant on the table in front of me. I thank him politely and open up a browser to begin my annual look around the world of football.
It’s 3 on the spin for José “Manager of the Year” Mourinho’s Red Devils in the new top division in Europe, the Premier League and in a display of remarkable consistency United finished with the exact same number of points and goal difference as last year, while Ancelotti’s Arsenal have done their very best to emulate Chelsea’s total from last season but fell short by 2 goals. Still, it was a close title race between those 2 with Pochettino’s Spurs and Emery’s Chelsea not far behind. Ernesto Valverde’s Liverpool finished in a Europa League spot while City struggled once again. The Citizens sacked Javi Gracia in February and I’m absolutely delighted to note that they gave Interim boss Lee Carsley until at least the end of the Season. The ex-Ireland international is an actual childhood icon of mine and one of the main inspirations behind “The Franjo Mould”, so it pleases me no end to see him in such a great position.
Carsley’s old club Everton finished just below the European places again under Pioli, but to be honest I’m just glad they’re out of the habit of nearly getting relegated every season. While Mazzarri’s Watford slid 5 places to finish 12th this season, they actually won the EFL Cup and grab the last Europa League spot. Marco Silva took his recently promoted Swansea team all the way up to 11th and missed out on all the fun of the final day relegation scrap, where Stevie Crawford’s Derby could’ve leapfrogged up to 3 sides with a win over the Swans but were sent straight back down with a draw, sparing the blushes of Rob Page’s Sunderland and Terry Boyle’s Hull, either of whom could very easily have dropped down themselves. Alex Neil’s Brighton and Hove Albion side had their 4 year top flight spell ended with time to spare, while former Premier League Champions Leicester City finished bottom of the pile thanks to a calamitous combination of management from Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Matt Goodwin and John Kennedy. I’m also not sure how much of a coincidence it is that the Foxes have capitulated in the season following the retirements of stalwarts Kasper Schmeichel, Christian Fuchs and Jamie Vardy.
In the Premier League Players’ Team of the Season, Golden Glove winner David de Gea is the first on the team sheet. Courtois and Butland of Chelsea and Arsenal were the closest things the Spaniard had to competition but in the end they were both a long way off. In defence Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld makes it in for the 3rd consecutive season and Chelsea’s Laporte makes it 5 appearances in a row. They’re joined by Team of the Year noobies Mário Fernandes of United and Ben Davies of Spurs. City’s De Bruyne is back in midfield to make it 5 years out of 6 and even though he was consistently one of the League’s best players in terms of rating, assists and Player of the Match awards, everyone still disagrees on how his name should be pronounced. KDB’s team mate Isco also makes the cut with United’s Paul Pogba and Spurs’ top assister and Footballer of the Year Delle Alli. Harry Kane’s unlucky to miss out after banging in 20 goals for Tottenham but he was left out for West Ham’s Jonathan Calleri, who was the League’s top goalscorer and Paulo Dybala, who was widely accepted as the best player in the league, which is backed up by his Players’ Player of the Year award.
My “Managerial Move of the Season” award goes to Brian McDermott, who brought Portsmouth up to the Championship last season, jumped ship at Christmas for the QPR job and leapfrogged both his old club and Sheffield Wednesday with a final day win that sealed his new side’s survival on goal difference. Incredible. But look at me focussing on Championship relegation, coming up to the top flight next year are Ryan Giggs’ Middlesbrough, who end a 5 year spell in the Championship, Norwich, who appointed David Wright after Chris Hughton was made Ireland manager and Gareth Ainsworth’s Fulham, who’ve been down for 3 years and actually didn’t have a prayer of promotion before he was swiped from Millwall in April. Under Gareth, Fulham immediately ended former gaffer Stanimir Stoilov’s horrible 3 month winless streak and went unbeaten for the last 10 games to sneak in via the playoffs.
Last time Real Madrid won the title I was optimistically dragging my suitcase onto a Katowice-bound flight after going the season unbeaten with Angrense. That feels like an absolute lifetime ago but at last they lift the La Liga title once again. Marcelino deserting them to take the Spain job was probably the best thing that could’ve happened for Madrid, who gave former Real and Man City coach Rodolfo Borrell his first job as Manager after he impressed as interim boss. He looks very, very good.
Borrell’s side only lost once in the league under him to title rivals Barcelona, but in the end Manager of the Year Jürgen Klopp’s Catalonians were edged by a single point. Didier Deschamps’ Atleti were disappointing and ended up 9 points behind Barça in 3rd, the lowest they’ve finished since 2016, while Bilbao recovered well after Guillermo Amor’s poor first season in charge to finish in the final Champions League spot. Rubén Baraja’s Valencia and Zinedine Zidane’s Villarreal also recovered from bad seasons to finish in the Europa League spots with Marcelo Gallardo’s Sevilla. Zizou’s been picked up by Juve since, but we’ll come to that in a bit.
The one year that Real Madrid win the title, the Team of the Season actually seems curiously Galactico-less, but never mind. Marc-André ter Stegen won the Goalkeeper of the Year award and a place in the Team of the Season with team mates Sergi Roberto and 35 year old Gerard Piqué, who’s still somehow putting in top class performances despite having all the pace of a broken down pedalo sailing majestically down a scenic country road. They’re joined in defence by Real’s Raphaël Guerreiro and Raphaël “5-inclusions-in-a-row” Varane. Atletico Madrid’s Saúl earns his second inclusion in a row in midfield for his league-high 14 assists with teammate Koke, while the pair are flanked by Barcelona’s Rafinha and Neymar. 34 year old Player of the Season Leo Messi makes the cut for the 6th year in a row and is joined by former Valencia sharpshooter Simone Zaza, who was the league’s top scorer.
Presumably you were thinking the same thing I was after the last Bundesliga season: Bayern Munich could really do with a bigger lead at the top. Thankfully Manager of the Year Diego Simeone and his side obliged and celebrated their literal decade of unbroken Bundesliga dominance by finishing 8 points clear of Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund, who were back in 2nd place above Roger Schmidt’s Bayer Leverkusen. Dare I say it though below the bottom 3, the Bundesliga was borderline interesting this year. Ralph Hasenhüttl’s Köln and Sergiy Rebrov’s Mönchengladbach both reclaimed Europa League places after a couple of years out along with Markus Babbel’s Leipzig, Peter Stöger’s Mainz were agonisingly close to their own surprise European place and even though André Schubert’s Schalke and Bruno Labbadia’s Stuttgart both slid a fair way down the table, their declines were nothing compared to Hamburg, who absolutely fell apart in Markus Gisdol’s 6th season in charge and survived relegation by the skin of their teeth via the playoff after finishing 7th last year.
The 2021/22 Bundesliga season must have been directed by M Night Shyamalan because in the mother of all twist endings, the Team of the Year, especially in defence, is dominated by Bayern Munich players. Sorry, I’m getting all sarcastic and bitter but I’m just so fucking bored of Bayern Munich. Why can’t they just be shit? Even if it’s just for a year? One day I’ll go into the Bundesliga and take them down, mark my words. Anyway, where was I… Right, so Dortmund’s £18M Summer signing Bernd Leno earned himself a place between the sticks in the Players’ Team of the Year, while Bayern’s entire back 4 made it into the team too. That’s Benjamin Henrichs, Mats Hummels, Jérôme Boateng and David Alaba. Thomas Müller also makes it in, because obviously and alongside him is Footballer and Players’ Player of the Year Leon Goretzka. Kai Havertz and Emil Forsberg both get a place for the 3rd straight year while Hertha’s Lars Stindl backs up lone striker and the League’s top scorer Michael Mohammed of Bayer.
Sticking with my point about boring teams, thank you Antonio Conte. Thank you so much. When you headed back to Turin I thought that it was the end of any notion of variation in Serie A. I thought that Juve would be back at the top for years on end, but this season they slumped to 4th place, the lowest they’ve finished in 11 years. Manager of the Year Ramón Diaz took AC Milan charging back to the top for their 2nd title win in 3 years, closely followed by Spalletti’s Roma and Vincenzo Italiano’s Fiorentina. Juve have since installed club legend Zizou in an attempt to change their fortunes. He’s had relative success in La Liga with Real and Villarreal, but he really stunk up the Premier League with City, so it’s going to be interesting to see how he does. Oleg Luzhnyi’s Inter and Claude Makélélé’s Napoli retained their Europa League places along with surprise package Genoa, who were masterminded up to 7th by Managers’ Manager of the Year Andrea Stramaccioni and it’s also worth mentioning that Lazio have finally managed to scrape their way back up to Serie A at the 2nd time of asking by finishing 7th in Serie B and qualifying through the play offs.
Juve’s defensive 5 of Goalkeeper of the Year Gerónimo Rulli, Nacho, Alex Sandro, William Carvalho and Defender, Player and Fans’ Player of the Year Leonardo Bonucci all made the Team of the Season alongside Martín Montoya of the Champions Milan. In midfield, Midfielder and Foreign Player of the Year Marcelo Brozovic of Inter got in with Roma’s Lucas Torreira, who they swiped from Sampdoria in the Summer for a mere £7M. Up front are Italian Player of the Year Accursio Bentivegna and Striker of the Year and Top Goalscorer Duván Zapata, both of Milan, as well as Roma’s Mo Salah.
Now then. Here we go. My new stomping ground, Ligue 1. That’s still quite strange to think about. José Barros and his Monaco side are the new kings of France after dethroning Pep’s PSG to end the Parisians’ 3 year stranglehold on the division. Roberto Mancini… My palms get slightly sweaty as I read through more and more of the Managers I’ll be facing in the coming season… Roberto Mancini’s Marseille swiped the last Champions League spot from Jocelyn Gourvennec’s Lyon, who have to settle for a Europa League place with Michel Der Zakarian’s Bordeaux, who knocked us out of the French Cup 10th round this year, and Yves Bertucci’s Guingamp. At the other end of the table Frédéric Hantz’s Nantes, which has a nice ring to it, Alaixys Romao’s Lille and Denis Renaud’s Saint-Etienne all fell away after good showings in the previous season, with the latter 2 clubs only just avoiding relegation. Saint-Etienne actually had to beat Olivier Frapolli’s Lens on the final day to sneak past them on goal difference. Lens then went on to get absolutely hammered by AC Ajaccio in the playoff, resigning them to Ligue 2, where they’ll be joined by Jean-Marie Huriez’s Bastia and Fabien Mercadal’s Montpellier, a side that I was quite heavily linked to earlier in the season. We won’t meet any of those 3… This year at least.
The Ligue 1 XI of the Season is comprised almost exclusively of Monaco players. There’s Goalkeeper of the Season Sergio Rico, defenders Almamy Touré, Daniele Rugani and José Giménez, midfielders Fabinho and Thomas Lemar, Kylian M’Bappé and winner of the Best Player and Star of the Season awards Bernardo Silva. PSG make up the numbers with Toni Lato, Mateo Kovacic and Florin Andone, although oddly there’s no room for the League’s top goalscorer or assister, which was Lyon’s Yussuf Poulsen and PSG’s Gelson Martins respectively.
It was a year to remember in the Europa League for Jason Tindall’s Bournemouth, who matched fellow English side Arsenal in getting to the Quarter Finals where they were knocked out on penalties by eventual finalists Inter, who were in turn beaten at the Red Bull Arena in Leipzig by Sporting Lisbon, who finished 4th in this year’s Liga Nos. The final itself was actually godawful. An incredibly cagey match with few chances that was decided by a goal from Brazilian Léo Jabá in the 73rd minute.
The Champions League was won by Bayern, who really know how to get on my tits today, don’t they. They fought past Juve, Manchester United and Spurs to face Chelsea, who had an arguably much tougher run to the final of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Dortmund. The final was very similar to the Europa League final though. Not much action, chances at a premium. At least 3 goals were scored at the San Siro though with Andrea Belotti’s opener immediately cancelled out by Mauro Icardi, but Bayern got the decider before half time through André Silva.
I said last year that I felt like I was knocking on the door. With a season in the company of the likes of Pep Guardiola, José Barros and Roberto Mancini ahead, that door’s been flung right open.