“So,” I begin, “To what do I owe the pleasure?” I lift my mug and take a sip of coffee, before replacing it on the gingham tablecloth.
“Thank you for meeting with me, Monsieur Franjo.” Says Sylvania through her thick accent, smiling nervously. “I thought you would think me insane to ask.”
I could definitely respond to that sentiment, but I bite my tongue and wait for her to continue. Sylvania looks like she’s had a rough year. The swagger that she exhibited when we first met in this very café is missing, as is her smart business suit, replaced by a scruffy sweatshirt and jeans. Her once rounded face looks fairly gaunt and there’s bags under her bespectacled brown eyes.
“What if I told you, Monsieur Franjo, that I’ve been discussing your future with the finest clubs in the World?” She smiles again, but meekly. It’s somehow unsettling to see her so devoid of her usual over-confidence.
“I would find that… Interesting…” … As you don’t represent me anymore. Actually I’m not entirely you sure you ever did. Sylvania’s watching me intently. “Are you feeling OK, Sylvania?”
She ignores the question. “Who in your opinion is the finest club? The very finest?”
“I suppose… I don’t know, Bayern Munich? Man United?” Her smile fades. “… But you know, there’s a lot of really great clubs.” It comes back a little bit. This is not how I expected this meeting to go. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells.
“I got you an interview…” She lowers her voice and leans in over the table, before looking back over each shoulder for dramatic effect. “…With Stade Rennais.” Sylvania’s smile widens slightly but is still nowhere near cheshire cat territory.
“Wow, that’s… Great.” I reply, trying and probably failing to sound enthusiastic. Stade Rennais are 15th in Ligue 1 and don’t represent much of a step up.
“Je connais!” She whispers excitedly. “But that isn’t all, Monsieur. You may also interview with…” She leans in further still, so that her face is hovering above my coffee mug. Again, she checks over each shoulder in case anyone in the empty Perk de L’Abre Sec is eavesdropping on this highly confidential conversation. As she does, I lean back slightly to maintain a more comfortable distance. “… Lille Olympique!” She hisses, her smile growing wider still.
I raise my eyebrows and exhale to make an impressed Pwwwwww noise. Lille are below Auxerre in 18th place. “Just one thing… You know before when you asked who I considered to be the finest team in the World?”
“Oui, you accidentally forgot to name any teams from France!”
I nod. “Bayern, United, Rennais, Lille…” I grin as I list them off.
“Much better.” She chuckles. I laugh too.
“Anyway,” I say, checking the clock on the wall. “I’m afraid that for now I’m going to have to give you my standard Manager drivel: I’m not thinking about the end of the season or the end of my contract yet. I just want to keep Auxerre in Ligue 1.” I finish my coffee and stand to leave. “It was good to see you though, Sylvania.” I smile. “Take care.”
I collect my trusty grey coat from the back of my chair, stride over to the door and pull it open with a “Ding-a-ling” of the old shopkeeper’s bell. As I go to step out though, I hear a shaky voice from behind me.
“Je suis désolé.” Says Sylvania.
I turn to face her and see the tears welling up in her eyes. For a moment I just stand there, frozen on the spot. I have no idea what to say, but I’m fairly sure it’s my turn to say something. Anything will do really. Anything at all.
I smile as genuinely as I can back at Sylvania and nod, before stepping out onto Rue des Carrières and letting the door swing shut behind me.