Rumours are circulating that WT Franco is in danger of being removed as head coach of the French National Team. In a recent online poll conducted by generic fan-site SacDeBille.fr, 55% of participating fans thought that Franco should get the chop, with some adding comments like: “How’s he keeping the France job if he can’t even keep a team up in Ligue 1?”, “Managing a club and country at the same time obviously doesn’t work anymore. #SackedInTheMorning” and “Just look at the Netherlands result, it’s clear he has no clue how to manage players at the top level or in top leagues!”. Franco’s certainly done his reputation no favours by staying with his club side, Relegation threatened AJ Auxerre, whilst also taking charge of France and results for both teams are starting to suffer. Time will tell how long he’ll be given to get it right.
“You wanted to see me, Boss?” Asks Crouchie, poking his head around my office door.
“Yeah, I take it you’ve seen this bollocks?” I ask, turning the monitor around so that he can see the article. Crouchie nods cautiously. “I want you to find out if Don Collins has French parents or grandparents. Who’ll be the one that doesn’t know what he’s doing when I send him on in a fucking France game?!” I smile at him expectantly, but Crouchie doesn’t smile back. In fact he doesn’t seem to share my enthusiasm for the plan at all.
“You want to call Scottish journalist Don Collins up to the French National Team to make a point that you know what you’re doing?” He asks. I pause for a moment. It does sound like my scheme has the potential to backfire somewhat now that I hear it out loud.
“Well what would you do if you were me? Why’s everybody talking about getting me sacked already? I’m doing my bloody best, aren’t I!” Crouchie shrugs.
“That’s modern management, isn’t it. I wouldn’t take it personally, it happens to everyone. You’re in the public eye now and people on social media want everyone sacked, don’t they.”
It’s probably a fair point. There’s not a lot of good publicity in football anymore unless you’re one of the few at the very, very, very highest level. For the most part the rule seems to be that the higher you climb, the more you get moaned about on twitter and 606 and all the other things that former Prime Minister Robbie Savage has ever touched with his greasy, banter-rific fingers.
Anyway, it’s not just me that’s been on International duty for the last couple of weeks – A host of Auxerre players joined up with their National sides and most did pretty well. Zoun did especially well in Burkina Faso’s matches against the Congo and South Africa, while Raf struggled for Madagascar, but in all fairness he was shunted into the team as a right back.
We do lose Ruben Aguilar for 1 or 2 weeks with a twisted knee, although he’s not featured in a few games at this point so we should be alright without him.
We’re taking on Stade Brestois today at Roazhon Park, which they share with neighbours and rivals Stade Rennais. So far this season they’ve fancied a 4-4-2 so I’m bringing Project: Burnie Mk III for this one. This means there’s no place for Alessandro Bassani, despite him helping us turn around a 2 goal deficit against Bordeaux last time out. Even though he’s not playing today, he’s definitely back into my good books now after the whole Adama Ba thing though. The other 2 goal scorers Fomba and Andre do start in a central attacking triangle along with Hicham Aidir, who starts his first match since August. Also Fabien McCarthy’s shaken off his injury and is fit enough for a spot on the bench. We’ll be man marking their strikers as we often do in these situations, with Mamadou Doucouré told to keep the pacy Lamine Ndao in his pocket while Mike Kakuba marks the slower Fraty Miezi, who was one of the first players I let go as Auxerre boss because I didn’t like the cut of his jib or his lack of commitment to the shirt. Captiste will mop up any loose balls and our wing backs Samba and Hikem will mark their wingers.
We get our first chance 15 minutes in when Samba throws the ball in to Sissako, he goes inside to Fomba and our budget Pogba plays it straight through to Nathan Andre. Andre’s close to goal but the angle’s wide enough to make him think about crossing instead of shooting and in the end he does that oh so frustrating thing of doing neither and just sort of booting the ball past everybody and well wide of the far post.
15 minutes later Sissako finds Andre on the edge of the box and this time he flicks the ball on for Hicham Aidir, who wellies the ball towards the top corner but is denied by a good save from Léon. I’ve noticed Lamine Fomba could be doing more to win the ball back for us so I tell him to start closing down like his life depends on it and 4 minutes later we reap the rewards: Fomba wins the ball high up the pitch, passes to Aidir, who helps it on to Andre and our form striker slots it in at the near post to give us a deserved lead. What’s more, Fraty Miezi needs treatment immediately after the goal, having had one left on him by Mike Kakuba a minute or so before. Good lad, Mike.
At half time we’ve had a healthy 16 shots to Stade Brestois’ 1 and we’re feeling good, but we’re forced to make a change when they restart the game in an aggressive 4-2-4 shape. The last time I tried to use Project: Burnie Mk III against a 4-2-4 we got ripped apart, so we drop our full backs and Fomba back into a flat 5-3-2.
We hold them at arm’s length for a while but Stade Brestois must have had some rollicking at half time because they’re desperate for the equaliser. 20 minutes into the 2nd half Bondi crosses low to Miezi on the edge of the area and he smashes the ball against the post. With 10 minutes to go Murillo’s cross is headed away by Kakuba but only as far as Ibrahima Sissoko, who controls the ball with his chest and hammers it against the bar. With 2 close calls in relatively quick succession, I bring Bassani on for Andre and we go to a defensive 5-4-1 with Goujon as a makeshift right winger, Bassani on the left and Aidir holding the ball up as best he can up top. With fresh solidity in the team, we see the game out to make it 2 wins on the bounce and climb up to 12th place in the table.
This almost feels like momentum but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. Bourg-en-Bresse are our next opponents and it should be no surprise that I’ve been looking forward to their visit. Before we get to that though Aguilar swaps out his boring old twisted knee for a shiny new strained wrist and will be wearing protective equipment for the next week, but he is available if we need him. We also lose Corentin Tirard for 4-5 weeks with a hernia, but unless Adama Ba’s “Wingers v Franjo” movement had picked up significantly more steam and turned all of my wide players against me, he wasn’t going to be anywhere near the squad anyway.
There’s a bit of a grudge match vibe around Bourg’s visit. I noted in the Summer that they’d overhauled their squad, spending £2.1M on a raft of new signings, so I can’t imagine this’ll be another 4-0 walkover like the last time we met. They’re sitting 3 places but just 1 point above us in the league, but with a worse goal difference, naturally.
We’re lining up with Project: Meatloaf and reintroducing young wide men Alessandro Bassani and Brahim Ferhat, who’s back from injury. Captiste makes way after Kakuba’s impressive display against Stade Brestois, as does Aidir, who’s yet to get off the mark this campaign. I’m getting slightly worried about his goalless spell as we really suffered when he went through the same thing last year.
I can hardly imagine a more perfect start to the match: 90 seconds in, Bassani marks his return to the starting line up by curling a 20 yard free kick over the wall and into the top corner. 20 minutes later it could be 2-0 when Andre gets the ball from Ferhat’s flick on and sets up Sissako with a through ball, but Fabri tips his toe-poked shot behind.
Quarter of an hour later, a defensive mix-up leaves Doucouré to mark both Attah and Fernandez. The former draws our centre back’s attention and slips the ball into the space for the latter, who has plenty of time to place it past Lenogue’s fingertips and into the net. As unimpressed as I am that Kakuba and the rest of the defence hung Doucouré out to dry like that, we should still be ahead with the chances we’ve had so far. That’s Bourg’s 1st shot to our 12th.
To my horror, Bourg score with their 2nd shot a few minutes before half time too: An awful loose pass from Fomba leads to a quick counter down the right wing, Tafaj pulls the ball across and Fernandez taps in his 2nd from close range. I can’t get over the appalling pass that lead to the 2nd goal and Fomba comes off at the break to be replaced by Joël.
In the first 20 minutes of the 2nd half Xavier Lenogue keeps us in the game by the skin of his heroic little teeth, pulling saves straight out of the top drawer to deny Fernandez and Jebbour. I bring Zoun on for Ferhat and get the word out to work the ball into the box as we attempt to find a foothold. Within seconds of his introduction, Zoun nearly gets us one as well, but his shot’s tipped against the post by the keeper.
With 20 minutes to go we win a free kick on the left wing and the optimism’s creeping in, but the set piece quickly breaks down, Bourg counter, Labidi whips a cross in from the left and Fernandez completes his hat trick. Shit.
Bassani goes close soon after, shooting wide after being picked out by Andre and McCarthy comes on for Sissako to give us a bit more creativity in the middle. A few minutes later Zoun barges forwards with the ball, passes to Joël, who slips it through for Bassani. The winger, who seems to be cementing his reputation as one of our brightest young prospects more and more with every match, tucks the ball in at the near post to pull the scoreline back to 2-3. Despite throwing the kitchen sink at Bourg for the last 15 minutes though, we can’t find a way to equalise. Needless to say I’m delighted with Bassani, but I’m less than impressed with the overall team performance and some harsh truths are dished out in the changing room.
The fact that we’ve played just over a quarter of our season and have already been beaten by the other 2 promoted teams that we finished above last season is the kind of thing that’ll really scare the shit out of you if you think about it too much, so let’s just not. Alessandro Bassani wins a place in the Ligue 1 Team of the Week and I think we can all agree that that’s a positive thing.
We’re taking a break from the league now and we’re facing Dijon, our division’s bottom side, in a Coupe de la Ligue Bourguignon Derby, or Burgundy Derby. This is a great chance for us to gain some confidence around the changing room and in the stands: A home game against a struggling rival in a competition that they might not even take that seriously.
Goujon’s suspended and will miss this match, while I’m dropping Samba, Hikem, Sissako and Fomba for their poor performances in the Bourg game. Bassani misses out too but again, that’s purely for tactical reasons. Dijon are another side that love a good old fashioned 4-4-2 so Project: Burnie Mk III comes back in, albeit with a few tactical tweaks. We’re using a slightly deeper defensive line and we’ll incorporate a sweeper to defend against Dijon’s very quick and powerful strikers. Captiste, Aguilar, McCarthy, Raf and Joël all start although Aguilar and McCarthy are lacking match fitness, while last Summer’s £10k signing Billy makes his Auxerre debut at left wing back. Versatile young American full back Ed Bolton’s recovered from an awful stint on the sideline with knee tendonitis and makes the bench today, while Serge Bamba and Fabien Fonrose could also feature.
6 minutes in, Billy gets a surprise chance to bag a debut goal when Andre plays him in with a clever through ball, but the shot’s disappointing and easily saved. Luckily I haven’t selected him for his shooting. Similarly I don’t select Nathan Andre for his marking ability, but it’s still disappointing when he switches off at a Dijon free kick in the 17th minute, allowing his man Meguenni to tap the ball into our net completely unmarked at the far post. Nathan does redeem himself just 2 minutes later however when his 25 yard shot’s kept out by Leroy, but the striker gets to the rebound 1st and slots in the equaliser.
5 minutes on, we take the lead through a well worked set piece! Fabian McCarthy, finally starting to pay back some of that record fee, swings a corner to the far post, Mike Kakuba heads it into the 6 yard box and Mamadou Doucouré nods in his 1st goal in the white and blue. We’re gliding comfortably towards half time with our 2-1 lead until the 40th minute, when Faustin wriggles through on the left wing and supplied a low cross for Aguado, who knocks in his side’s 2nd.
Ed Bolton makes his debut at half time as Aguilar’s still shattered after his injuries, along with Florian Ayé, who makes just his 2nd appearance of the season in place of Ferhat. The 2nd half’s tight and tense though and with no extra time played in the Coupe de la Ligue, I bring on Hicham Aidir in the 87th minute so that he can score a dramatic late winner or at least a penalty. He doesn’t manage a goal in the last few minutes, so we head for a penalty shoot out.
The first 3 penalties are routine: Ayé, Abeid and Raf all knock their pens in to give us a 2-1 lead. When Meguenni’s subsequent effort is saved by Xavier Lenogue, the stage is set. Hicham Aidir steps up to open his account for the season. Hicham steps up to get that injection of confidence that’ll see him return to form and retake his thrown as Auxerre’s top goalscorer… Hicham Aidir’s penalty is saved. My head goes to my hands. For fuck’s sake. I don’t want to sound pessimistic but if he’s going to keep this up all season, we’re bloody doomed. The score stays at 2-1.
Fontaine… Saved by Lenogue!
McCarthy… Scores! Good lad.
Faustin has to score… Lenogue catches it!! Bloody hell, Xavier. Our keeper’s mobbed by the rest of the team after 3 penalty saves in a row hand us the win and send us through to the 4th round.
It’s another situation where I’m going to choose to see the positives in this performance, but the negatives are still going to niggle at me. Nathan Andre’s doing a brilliant job as our number 1 striker but I’d feel so much better if Hicham knocked a couple of goals in. Even if a clearance smacks him in the face and bounces into the net, like what happened with Andre a few games ago. Just something would be nice at this point. Hopefully he’ll be back to his best before long.