This last week has been fantastic. The sun’s shone brighter, the beer’s been colder and training sessions have been light hearted but tremendously effective. There’s just been a genuine feel-good atmosphere around Auxerre since Phil Foden struck to get us off the mark in Ligue 1. He’s named in the first Team of the Week of the season and it’s richly deserved.
Yep, everything’s going just fine for old Franjo, I think to myself, leaning back in my comfy chair and putting my feet up on the desk. I glance towards my office door, but nothing happens. Huh. That’s right. As I said, everything’s going just… Suddenly and to my utter surprise, the door bursts open dramatically and in steps Adama Ba.
“I need to leave”, He pants, out of breath for some reason. “I’ve achieved all that I can at Auxerre.”
I pause for a moment, then say “Are you serious, Adama? Achieved all you can? We’ve just been promoted! Have you achieved helping us stay in the bloody division?” He says nothing, staring at his feet. “Have you spoken to Captiste?” Adama shakes his head. I walk to the door, lean my head out into the corridor and bellow “Captiste!”.
“Yes Boss?” Comes a voice from about 2 feet away.
“Oh, there you are.” I say, spinning to face him. “Adama thinks he’s achieved all he can here, could you work your magic on him please?”
Nodding solemnly, Captiste strides into the room and stands in front of the inside forward, studying him for a moment. I smile. I’m quite excited, having never actually seen him in action before. I usually find it better to let him deal with these situations one on one. The skipper closes his eyes and takes a very long and very deep breath. There’s a palpable silence before Captiste reopens his eyes and clears his throat.
“You will be happy to stay.” Says Captiste, waving his hand slowly in front of Ba’s face. My smile vanishes. Ba slowly turns his head to face me, looking as confused as I feel.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I ask. Captiste looks at me, then back to Ba.
“You will be happy to stay.” He repeats, his voice slightly more strained as he waves his hand more forcefully in front of our bemused Mauritanian.
“No, I want to leave.” Says Ba meekly. “I feel that I’ve…”
“Are you shitting me, Captiste?” I ask, exasperated. “This is your secret? This is how you keep the dressing room happy, bloody… What, Jedi mind tricks?” Captiste turns to me, raises a finger to his lips in a shushing motion and winks. My brow furrows dangerously. “No, don’t shush me as if it’s top secret mate, it’s bollocks isn’t it.”
“You WILL be happy to stay!” Barks Captiste, whipping back around to face Ba and swinging his hand around wildly. Ba shakes his head and walks out of my office, leaving Captiste looking crestfallen, holding his hands out in front of him and staring disbelievingly down at his palms.
“I don’t understand how you’ve managed to turned so many players around.” I sigh. “I mean it’s still impressive, but in an entirely different way than I thought. It’s baffling, really.”
Captiste turns towards me, smiles, winks and raises his forefinger to shush me once again. He then begins to back slowly out of my office, smiling and shushing as he goes, until he closes the door behind himself. Oh captain, my captain. I fucking despair.
I catch up with Adama and we have an actual grown up chat. He’s a polite lad and he seems to have made up his mind, so although it wouldn’t be ideal for him to leave, I agree not to stand in his way. Adama’s a runaway train and he’s never going back. On his decision. Personally I think he’s going the wrong way down a one way track.
I want to get as many points on the board as possible before the first international break in 2 games time. Our next match promises to be a big challenge though: Mancini’s Marseille are coming over for a kick about. It’s easy to forget how good Marseille are when they’re stood in the shadow of PSG and Monaco, but as they’re usually in or around the 3rd Champions League spot, they’re definitely not to be underestimated.
To punctuate this point, OM are coming to Stade l’Abbé Deschamps off the back of a 4-0 win over Fenerbahçe in the Champions League Play Off First Leg, so it’s fair to say I’m bricking it a bit. Sport Pesa posit before the match that for us to have any chance we’re going to have to keep it tight and hope that we can snatch something on the break. I wholeheartedly agree. We’re staying unchanged and we’ll start off closing down less, staying on our feet and sticking to our positions like we did against Lorient.
We nearly make the perfect start with Hicham Aidir going close after 15 seconds. He has a shot tipped brilliantly around the post by Samba. 15 minutes in though Marseille start to take charge. First Geraldes makes himself some space on the edge of the box and fizzes a shot wide, before Carrasco gets away down the right a few minutes later and whips in a cross that Enes Ünal smashes home on the volley. Shit.
The next 15 minutes are tense as the next goal will be vital. When Bruno Fernandes lays the ball off for Mexican winger Hirving Lozano and he slams it into the far corner of Lenogue’s net, we need to roll the dice. We hand a Ligue 1 debut to our attacking Project: Meatloaf.
From that point we match Marseille stride for stride but we can’t pull the deficit back. We start to even take control early in the second half so I make a couple of attacking changes: Samba and Aguilar are encouraged to go on the attack while Brahim Ferhat and debutant Fabian McCarthy take to the pitch in place of Zoun and Goujon, with Ferhat taking the left wing and McCarthy utilised in a deep lying playmaker role.
With 20 minutes to go we’re hammering on the visitors’ door, firing crosses into the box and going close without being able to make anything stick. Samba gets the ball on the right wing and instead of crossing, passes it inside to Phil Foden, who turns and lays the ball off for 17 year old Ferhat. Ferhat makes no mistake, tucking the ball into the far corner to put us right back into the game. Good lad, Brahim.
A minute later we’re still all over OM and a beautiful flowing counter attack ends with Hicham sliding the ball into the box for Sissako, who’s clean through on goal. Sissako shoots… Straight into the keeper’s arms. Somebody get me a water bottle to kick. With 15 to play I throw Florian Ayé on for Joël and we go to a more direct 4-2-4. It’s Marseille that go closest after that though when Lozano forces his way down the left hand side and forces a good save from Lenogue with a shot from close range.
We keep plugging away and with 2 minutes to go we put together an absolutely outstanding move. Brahim Ferhat turns inside from the left wing and plays a direct diagonal ball to Ayé, who flicks it on perfectly into Aidir’s path. The Moroccan chests it down on the penalty spot and let’s rip… Straight at the keeper.
I can’t say I’m not disappointed when the final whistle blows, but the players’ effort was admirable today. We threw everything at Marseille but it just wasn’t enough.
We just need to move on quickly. I do get an offer the next day from CS Sedan Ardennes, who want to take Ba on loan for the season. They don’t necessarily want to play him though and don’t want to pay much for the privilege, so I reject the offer.
During the build up to our final match before the international break, it’s time to announce my very first France squad for our European International League match against the Netherlands and friendly against Austria. It still feels a bit surreal to call them my France squad. I have a system prepared that me and Crouchie have been working on for the past few weeks, but for now we’ve got a League match to focus on so let’s save all that for another day.
A few of our players have been called up by their countries, although none by me. Raf, Ba, Kakuba, Lenogue, Zoun, Aidir and Andre will all join up with their home nations over the break.
A trip to Lyon isn’t exactly the match I’d choose to bounce back from our narrow defeat, but them’s the breaks. I don’t exactly help myself though by accidentally allowing most of my bench to play in a youth team game for a bit of fitness, not realising that the youth team match is also today, so they’re all unavailable for the first team. Lyon have had a decent start to the season with 4 points from their first 2 games and they sit 3 places above us in 7th.
For the 3rd match in a row we’re keeping the exact same lineup. I do consider swapping out to Project: Burnie Mk III to sure us up against Lyon’s 4-4-2, but this side’s performed well so far and I don’t want to disrupt their momentum.
Lyon’s Juanpi tests Lenogue in the opening stages with a shot from the edge of the box, but it’s a routine stop for our Martinican keeper. 20 minutes later we go close ourselves when Zoun plays in Aidir. The big striker dribbles and shoots from the edge of the box but just misses past the top right corner.
5 minutes later Zoun cuts in himself and has a pop, but he’s denied by a good low save from Lopes. Memphis Depay does likewise a few minutes later, cutting in from the left and shooting just over the bar as both sides wrestle to take control of the match. Lumbering Lyonnais striker Yussuf Poulsen tries to get involved with a pot shot from 35 yards just before half time, but he almost hits the corner flag with his wayward effort.
As we enter the second half it could still go either way, but with all the near misses from great shots that we’ve seen so far it’s disappointing when Lyon pull ahead through a close range Memphis header directed down under Lenogue after Brekalo’s cross. The Dutchman nearly bags a 2nd before the hour when Lyon counter from our corner kick. He skips past a couple of our defenders and tries to bend a 20 yarder into the far corner, but can’t curl it enough and watches it go wide.
Young Senegalese winger Djilby Ba, on the bench today due to my administrative cock up, gets his debut replacing Zoun for the last half hour and slots in as a poacher alongside Hicham Aidir in a narrow diamond, but we can’t pull the game back from the hosts’ grasp.
To compound the misery of our last week, Phil Foden collapses in a heap in the 63rd minute and has to be stretchered off, with McCarthy replacing him. We’ll assess him over the international break but sometimes you just know instantly that it’s not a problem that plasters, deep heat or a week’s rest is going to mend. After our bright opening to the season, the future suddenly looks quite bleak.