“That’s 20 games without a goal for Hicham Aidir now, Franjo. Do you have faith that he can break that drought?”
“Of course I do.” I reply, slightly confused by the question. “Every player has a bad run. Even Pelé went 20 matches without a goal once.”
“Well, probably.” I answer, to a chuckle from some of the press. “Look, the transfer window shuts soon, doesn’t it? If I had a striker that I didn’t think would score goals, I doubt he’d still be here, much less playing matches.”
“What about Florian Ayé then?” I pretend I don’t hear that one.
I’m not in the mood to let Hicham Aidir be put under any more pressure than he’s already subjecting himself to. I sat down with him again the other day and gave him a bit of a pep talk. He’s still convinced that he’ll score soon, which is a great sign. But then he’s seemed convinced for most of the season so far.
Another of our attackers is the subject of some transfer speculation at the minute: Brahim Ferhat’s apparently a target for Roma and their boss Luciano Spalletti was in the stands for the Marseille game. He’s going nowhere though. At the minute he’s a first team player and I wouldn’t be able to replace him unless we got a ridiculous offer.
Brahim’s not the only member of our first team in demand either. Xavier Lenogue’s the subject of a surprise £210k bid from Southampton, but they too can jog on.
Xavier’s agent Laurent Robert (Not that one) comes in and asks for a new contract for his client and to be fair I’ve got no qualms about offering one, so I do.
And finally we get an offer I can work with. Serbian side Vojvodina make a £500k bid for Ruben Aguilar, which after some negotiation becomes £850k, rising to £1.5M with future incentives. The fans are going to be pissed off, but he needs to go and that’s a decent price. I accept.
I’m coming up against a familiar foe at the Stade Abbé-Deschamps. It’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose completely ordinary stint in charge of Valenciennes recently earned him the Olympique Lyonnais job. Now, not that I’m bitter or anything… I mean I would’ve turned them down for Auxerre personally but I would’ve thought they’d at least ask me over Zlatan “12 months experience of being mid-table in Ligue 2” Ibrahimovic. Anyway… Whatever.
Tactical whizkid (I know I’m one to talk, but shh) Zlatan still plays 4-4-2 like he did with his former club Valenciennes, so I’m tempted to go for Project: Burnie Mk III, but I’m going to stick with the newer Mk V despite our 0-4 loss against Marseille as I think we perform well with it. We’ll be without Arturo Vidal and Loïc Goujon as both are suspended, so Mike Kakuba and Raf are coming in, with Captiste moving forward into the base of midfield where he’s been training since the Summer. Lamine Fomba and Celsiney both make the bench, while Kakuba and Sohna line up alongside one another in defence for the first time in close to 18 months. We’ll play with a standard mentality but with a deeper defensive line to combat Lyon’s pacy front 2.
Just like in our last match, we’re behind early on. Juanpi nearly opens the scoring when he hits the post after 6 minutes, but the visitors only need to wait 3 minutes more for a low Luchkevych cross to be turned in at the near post by Ríos. We go more aggressive straight away.
Both teams go close within the first quarter of an hour, first when Samba’s cross is cleared as far as Raf, who stings Lopes’ palms with a shot from the edge of the box, and then when Juanpi tries to place the ball into the bottom corner, only to have his effort tipped around the post by an outstretched Xavier Lenogue. A minute later though, Bassani passes short from our free kick about 30 yards out. He finds Billy in space on the left wing, the full back squares it and Ferhat boots in the equaliser from 6 yards.
As always, as half time approaches I’m happy for us to go in level and regroup for the second half. As so often happens though, we’re denied that luxury in the 43rd minute when Dakoutros’ corner is nodded home by Zinchenko. We change tact at the break instead, going attacking and adopting the offside trap instead of the deep defensive line we’ve been using. Foden also comes on replacing Bassani on the right.
Heartbreak arrives just 3 minutes after the restart thanks to Ríos, who taps in a drilled Dakoutros cross from close range to give Zlatan’s men a 1-3 lead. 10 minutes later, Zinchenko latches onto a great through ball by Raí and blasts a 4th into the top corner.
Miraculously though, we react. A great Auxerre move less than 2 minutes after Lyon’s 4th goal sees the ball move from Raf to Andre, who has his back to goal. He lays it off for Sissako, who chips the ball into the path of Foden and the Stopfordian pokes the ball home. Andre’s looking tired though so Aidir comes on for the last half hour.
5 minutes later we’re still playing some good football. This time it’s the substitute Hicham Aidir who holds the ball up and flicks it through for Sissako, who strokes our 3rd past the keeper. The atmosphere in the Stade Abbé-Deschamps is bouncing. We’ve almost pulled it back. It’s bloody 3-4.
For the last 15 minutes or so, Joël comes on for Raf. He’s struggled for form and game time so far this season but he’s still got that magic. If he can get us that 4th goal, he could really take off. As we approach full time we throw the kitchen sink at Lyon but they hold fast, rejecting us at every turn. With a few minutes to go though, we get a chance. Hicham Aidir chips the ball onto the right wing for Foden, who beats his marker to the ball, cuts inside and lays it back off… Hicham Aidir runs onto it on the edge of the box, pulls back his left boot…
“YEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSS” The next thing I know I’m sprinting, absolutely euphoric, arms outstretched and screaming towards our Moroccan striker. Scorer of the goal that completes our comeback to 4-4 and officially off the mark for the 2022/23 season: Hicham Fucking Aidir.
The press praise me for keeping faith with Hicham in the papers the next day. I’ll never lose faith though, you magnificent bastard.
Speculation over Brahim Ferhat’s future doesn’t seem to want to go away: Paulo Fonseco of Benfica was in the stands watching that one, but I’m not interested in letting him go.
Roma don’t care what I want by the sounds of it, because the next day they lodge a bid of up to £1M for the Algerian-born forward. We negotiate but stay pretty far apart on our valuations, with Roma willing to go up to £2M while I want closer to £5M. I won’t be able to replace him if he goes for any less because of the club’s financial problems.
One player that is on the move though is Fabien Fonrose, who I’m selling out of pity more than anything as he’s never gotten near my team. £75k is enough to convince me to let him move to Boluspor. I hope they give you more football than I could, Fabien.
Lenogue’s new deal is signed next, ending the weird Southampton links. Just under £6k per week is an absolute snip in my opinion.
But Benfica aren’t as up for dropping the subject of Ferhat leaving as I am. Bizarrely they make the exact same bid that I rejected from Roma and aren’t up for negotiating. It’s a short phone call.
Back to the football side of football though. With Hicham finally off the mark after half an agonising season, a Coupe de la Ligue Semi Final to look forward to and after a dramatic comeback from a 3 goal deficit, confidence is suddenly through the roof in the Auxerre camp. AC Ajaccio will be our opponents for our 3rd game this week and I hope for their sake they’ve brought their A-Game.
I’m dropping the wing backs to full backs as the last time I used this system against a 4-2-3-1 we were torn apart by Marseille, so we’ve successfully come full circle to a 4-1-2-3. I also want the full backs to focus on defending after we’ve shipped 8 goals in 2 matches to see if we can stop leaking goals. Vidal, Foden and Aidir come into the first team to replace Kakuba, Bassani and Andre and we’ll play on the counter. Come on lads, let’s put this confidence to good use.
We do! We bloody do! We get off the mark 27 minutes in when Raf slides in with an absolutely superb tackle to win possession and knocks the ball to Aidir. The big Moroccan brings the ball forwards, lays it back off for Raf and the Madagascan strokes it past the keeper to open his account for the season. We’re having a great week for first goals.
Aside from the goal, the first half’s very even though and both sides manage just 1 shot on target before the break. This being the case, the next goal was always going to be crucial, so when Phil Foden curls a free kick into the top corner on 54 minutes, I’m in bloody dreamland.
He nearly sets up another goal from a free kick with 25 minutes to go, but Samba’s shot is blocked by a defender. I bring Fomba on in place of Sissako as he’s knackered and we need to rotate a bit.
With 20 minutes to play, Vasseur stoops to meet Vincent’s cross at the far post and nabs a goal back for the hosts, but any thoughts of a comeback are squashed by our change to a defensive 4-1-4-1, with Hikem and Goujon brought on for good measure and Billy deployed as a makeshift left midfielder.
We hold on. We hold on just like Lyon couldn’t. In what could have turned into an abysmal week, we’ve turned it around with 4 points from 2 games and in doing so, leapfrogged Stade Brestois to move into 18th place. We remain in the relegation play off spot but only below Nancy Lorraine on goal difference. This has been an extraordinarily good week.