I’ve been busy behind the scenes while I’ve been off with the France squad. Remember in the Summer when I went looking for an experienced head to sit in front of the defence, organise our very young team, give out bollockings or words of wisdom when required and just generally share his wealth of experience with the rest of the lads? Well I genuinely think that failing to sign somebody in that mould has contributed to our struggles so far this season. We’ve lacked leaders for everybody to rally around. Yes, Captiste is an influential bloke but this is unchartered territory for him too and he’s having to adjust himself. Aidir’s also a good leader but we all know he’s had his own problems to deal with. My point is that we still need that experienced holding man to put an arm around people like Aidir who are struggling and guide us to safety. The thing is… I never stopped looking. And I’ve found him. And I’ve signed him.
Former Juventus and Bayern Munich utility man and holder of 141 caps for his home nation of Chile: Arturo Vidal is an AJ Auxerre player. He’s bloody perfect. Massively influential? Tick. Fits into my team of determined and hard working players? Tick, tick, tick. Experienced at the highest level? A thousand times fucking tick. 35 year old Arturo, who can play in any outfield position and has been a free agent since leaving Bayern in the Summer, had already decided to hang up his boots in the upcoming Summer of 2023 and I had to spend a pretty penny to convince him to take one last playing role, in the end making him our highest earner on £20,000 per week, but I reckon he’ll prove to be worth it over the 7 months he’ll spend with us.
The first thing I do is get promising 15 year old midfielder Mathis Roux shadowing Arturo in the hopes that it’ll be a catalyst for the youngster’s development. The Chilean’s extremely out of shape as you’d expect though, having not played football for a while, but he makes an appearance for our reserves a few days after joining and impresses in a terrific 6-1 win over Châtelleraut that also includes hat tricks from Brahim Ferhat and Florian Ayé.
Going back to struggling players for a second, Serge Bamba has been going through a bit of a rough time off the field lately and his attitude has dramatically changed for the worse. He’s been very laid back and has approached training extremely casually. I sit him down and tell him I want to see him apply himself more and get back around the first team squad and luckily he’s up for the challenge. Good lad, Serge.
Hicham Aidir’s now gone 10 matches without a goal, but I’m so used to seeing him smashing them in for fun that it feels like 10 years since he found the net. Feeling like I’m on a bit of a roll, I sit the big Moroccan down and give him a pep talk too. Like Serge Bamba, he reacts positively, telling me that it’s only a matter of time before he starts banging the goals in. I like that attitude.
The Coupe de la Ligue 4th round draw is made before our next league match and it draws us against AS Nancy Lorraine. Like I said when we drew Dijon in the 3rd round, it’s not an easy draw but it’s nowhere near the most difficult we could have had, so I’m staying optimistic about our chances.
First we have more league matches though. FC Sochaux-Montbé have been very much the overachievers so far this season in Ligue 1. Les Lionceaux were predicted to finish near the business end of the table with us, but they’ve won 6 out of 12 matches so far and find themselves in 4th place. Their confidence will be very high while ours is very… Not. This is going to be difficult.
My priority for this game is to stop us conceding as we’ve let in a lot of goals lately. I’m going to try a counter attacking variant of Project: Burnie Mk III with Lenogue in goal, Captiste as a sweeper, Kakuba and Doucouré in defence, Samba and Hikem providing width either side of our debutant regista Vidal, Sissako and McCarthy providing legs and creativity in midfield and our hungry young strike-partnership of Ferhat and Andre up front. It’s your bog standard 1-2-3-2-2 formation really.
It takes about 3 minutes on the dot for Sochaux to take the lead. It’s a simple free kick routine: Tomasevic chips the ball into the box, Santos nods it on and Facundo Ferreyra, who finds himself triple marked at the back stick by Samba, Kakuba and Sissako, somehow gets a free header and puts it past Lenogue. Oh dear.
We nearly equalise through Ferhat 8 minutes later but his low drive is tipped behind by Kitanov’s fingertips. Ferreyra also has a good chance after 20 minutes after powering forwards towards our area, but his shot’s weak and easy for Lenogue to catch. Luckily he’s back on form before the half hour mark: Bajric gets down the right and crosses it in and the Argentine lashes the ball ferociously into the top corner on the volley. With 10 minutes to go before the break, Hikem chips a cross in from the left byline and this time Ferhat must score. He rises well in the 6 yard box but glances his header wide of the far post. Sensing my mood, Crouchie instinctively goes looking for a water bottle that I can boot into next week.
Chances are at far more of a premium in the second half as Sochaux are happy with their lot and content to kill the game off. I bring Joël, Foden and Aidir on for McCarthy, Ferhat and Andre with 20 minutes to go and we finally push forwards with some good possession play in the final minutes, but our move breaks down and Sochaux counter. Their left winger has all the space in the world to run into and crosses from the byline, allowing Ferreyra to complete his hat trick with a glanced header. It’s by no means as one-sided a game as the scoreline would suggest, but Ferreyra has been clinical today. I’m not going to dig Ferhat out too badly because he’s only a lad, but he, among others, was absolutely not clinical today. That’s the difference.
At this point I’d take a 1-3 loss and an Aidir goal as a win. It’s been over 9 hours for the striker now and I could really do with him getting that confidence boost. The sooner he finds the back of the net, the better our chances are of beating the drop.
Ruben Aguilar’s unhappy again after barely having featured since his early struggles, but I set Captiste on him to do his weird, not-at-all-real Jedi mind tricks. It does work though and Aguilar’s happy to stay afterwards, so… I don’t know how he does it, quite honestly.
We’ve got a couple of new injuries too. Bingourou Kamara’s pulled hamstring isn’t that bad as we don’t need him urgently, but it’s Gaizka Basauri’s broken ankle that really stings. I recall him from Groupe Sportif Consolat, where he’s so far had a productive loan spell, so we can rehabilitate him ourselves. It’s a shame for him because I was hoping he’d develop enough in Ligue 2 this season that we could integrate him into our squad next year.
But anyway, Nice home. No, that’s not a thoughtful compliment on your interior design skills, that’s a description of our next match and just a really solid piece of wordplay.
Nice have had a solid start to the season and play with a 4-4-2. I’m sticking with the newly renamed Project: Burnie Mk IV because I know for a fact we can make it work. We’ll play with a standard mentality and Goujon’s coming in to replace McCarthy in midfield. I want Vidal to be our main playmaker so we need defensive players and legs around him, hence Goujon.
We’re under the cosh for the majority of the first half and finally go behind 5 minutes before the break, when Gaye’s drilled cross is turned in by Bosetti at the near post. We go on the counter after that to try and turn Nice’s momentum against them and it works to some extent. We definitely start to create more as we move into the second half of the match. In fact, in the 51st minute Hikem’s corner is missed by the keeper, the ball falls into a crowd of bodies in the area and Goujon manages to stab it home! It won’t count though as Captiste is judged to have fouled Nice’s keeper Cardinale in the build up. For fucks sake.
With half an hour to play Vidal, Sissako and Goujon work the ball patiently around the edge of the Nice box, before Sissako splits the defence with a perfect pass through for Ferhat. This time he really has to score. He has to. He’s 12 yards out, through on goal and has practically all of the net to aim at… But he shoots into the keeper’s gloves. We don’t equalise.
There’s only so many times you can make excuses for losses. “We kept hitting the post”, “How the fuck was that a penalty”, “They took their chances and we didn’t”. We’ve lost 10 matches out of our first 14 now and we need to stop. We need to turn it around. We’ve conceded 28 goals, which is 2 per match, which is the worst defensive record in the league. Vidal’s not been able to make much of an impact so far, but if he can smash the ball against Aidir’s arse in such a way that it ricochets into the net and gives our striker his first goal of the season, I’ll consider him a successful signing. Fingers crossed, because we really need something to happen. Anything.