“What part of ‘Not for sale’ do you not understand?” I ask, head once again in hands.
“But we will give you up to £550k for Xavier!” Argues Kasimpasa Manager Ender Tras, who’s only bothered to give me a ring himself because I blocked his agent’s number.
“You want to give Xavier Lenogue £550k? As a gift?” I ask, facetiously.
“No…” He sounds confused. “We want to buy Xavier!”
“But he’s not for bleeding sale, is he?! I can’t believe this is taking so long to sink in, it would’ve been easier for me to sell him and buy him back than try to explain this to you!” There’s a few seconds of silence from the other end of the phone.
“…You want to sell him?”
My phone suddenly and very mysteriously flies out of my open office window and onto the path outside, startling a couple of Auxerre staff members that are walking by.
As frustrating as Kasimpasa’s ongoing interest is, it’s nothing on the news I received from Mathieu Debain this morning. Fabian McCarthy, after an excellent first 3 games of the season, will be kept out for up to a month with the back strain he picked up against Marseille. I really feel for the lad. Whenever he starts to build up some good form something always gets in the way.
We’ll also be without Hicham Aidir for our next match. I half expected another broken leg after he bagged his first goal of the season, but it’s just a thigh strain and he’ll be back in a few days, as will the so far unused Alessandro Bassani, who’s strained his thigh in solidarity with the striker.
Hikem and Foden are our first entrants of the season in Ligue 1’s Team of the Week. Hikem has been extremely impressive with his work rate, overlapping and crossing so far, although like a few others we need to get him to tighten up at the back. Foden’s inclusion is well deserved too. That hat trick against Nantes has got me optimistic that he’ll be well amongst the goals this year, but his set pieces and link up play have been good too. It seems strange to criticise his finishing after such a good start but he probably should’ve won us the Marseille game.
Monaco are our next opponents. It’s a shame that they couldn’t have come later and preserved our run of games without defeat, but saying that I did say I wanted a win out of one of these matches, so now seems like as good… Hang on, my phone’s going…
“725k for Xavier!”
“No! Not for sale, for fucks sake.”
Erm, where was I? Oh right. Now seems as good a time as any.
We’re going with Project: Sword again but this time we’ll start with 2 up front as I think a false 9 role suits Phil more than a trequartista one. McCarthy and Aidir miss out so Goujon, fresh back from his suspension, comes in with Nathan Andre.
My hopes take a knock within the first 2 minute when Tolisso’s whipped cross us missed by Issa Samba, leaving Kylien Mbappé with a tap in at the far side. Monaco should double their lead on 20 minutes, but another good Tolisso cross is spurned by Bernardo Silva, who pokes the ball wide of the near post.
At half time we’re lucky to only be 1 goal down as Monaco have been all over us, but we’ve also failed to create any chances of note, so it’s time to bring out the Meatloaf. I do consider trying to grind out a 1-1 but we’ll struggle to do that if our second half performance is anything like our first. Gaizka Basauri is sacrificed for the sysyem, with Ferhat coming onto the left wing. In the 53rd minute, Chiesa chips a cross in from the right wing and Mbappé’s free at the far post again to stroke the ball home. Well fuck me for trying.
With half an hour to play, target man Florian Ayé comes on replacing Andre to try and make our more direct passes stick up front, but realistically when you’re 0-2 down against Monaco there’s no way back. Within 5 minutes, Bernardo Silva plays a magnificent pass through for Chiesa, who places the ball past Lenogue and puts the cherry on top of a routine win for the visitors. Ayé does get a chance to grab a consolation late on when Foden hoofs the ball upfield for him to run after, but his close range shot is straight into Rico’s gloves. 0-3 it finishes.
Allegri accuses me after the match of sending my teams out to injure people, which makes me chuckle. I mean we’ve covered all this, haven’t we? My teams foul a lot because they’re aggressive and determined, not malicious. He even says it’ll get me the sack, but it never has before, so I doubt it.
“Hello?… PISS OFF. I blocked your… I told Tras the same as… Listen… Please, please listen… Goodbye.” Fucking hell.
Without getting into the nitty gritty just yet, our next match is our last before the first international break of the season, where France will face Liechtenstein and Georgia. I’ve opted for a couple of surprises, 2 of which I’ve already mentioned as potential debutants for the national side: Abdoulaye Sissako and Lamine Fomba both get the nod. I want to get in before the cries of “Bias!” so at my press conference, I give my reasons for their selection: Namely, other midfielders have started the season in poor form, Sissako and Fomba are in good form and they could be a part of the “Next generation” that I keep banging on about. They’re in my squad because I know them well and I genuinely believe that they could be good squad players for France. I hope they prove me right.
Joining the Frenchmen on International duty are Celsiney with the French U19’s, Hikem for Algeria, Lenogue for Martinique, Aidir wins a recall for Morocco alongside Billy, Kakuba joins up with Uganda and young keeper Hassan Derhem gets his first call up for Morocco U20’s. Also, the already injured midfielder McCarthy gets called up by his national side, who would bizarrely rather risk making his injury worse by calling him up than leave him at home to heal up. For some reason this makes me think of Martin O’Neill but for the life of me I can’t remember why.
Deadline day brings the promise of welcome refuge from the onslaught of phone calls, after the initial rush of course. Ed Bolton’s wanted on loan by GFC Ajaccio, Anderlecht chase after one of our most promising young strikers Lance Osborn and Hull want midfielder Sylvain Laurent, while the whole day is permeated by the threat of another fucking phone call about Lenogue. Everyone stays put though and I celebrate the end of the transfer window with a contented sigh and a glass of Alex Lundgren’s whiskey. I’ve earned it.
Phil Foden deservedly wins the Ligue 1 Player of the Month award for August. It goes to show how good he was in his first 2 games, as he’s won despite his 3rd and 4th being nothing special.
Toulouse away then. I do hope not to lose to Toulouse today too. Say that quickly 5 times, I dare you. Toulouse were officially the best of the rest last season and have started this year predictably well, despite the loss of key players such as Antonio Candreva and Martin Braithwaite, who were let go in the Summer when their contracts expired. Toulouse are one of five teams that are yet to be beaten in Ligue 1 and they’ve picked up 8 points out of 4, so this will be tough.
If there’s one thing I know about Stéphanopoli’s men it’s that they like to sit very deep in that infuriating 4-1-4-1 and they like clean sheets probably more than they like goals, so even as the away side I don’t want us sitting back today but equally I don’t want us venturing too far forwards and playing into their conniving little counter attacking hands. We’ll play a standard possession-based variant of Project: Meatloaf Mk II and we’ll patiently build attacks and work the ball into the opposition box. Ferhat and Aidir are back in replacing Basauri and Andre, while Captiste makes his 200th appearance for the club.
Ferhat goes close in the early stages, cutting in from the left and dragging a shot wide of the far post, but after that things start to go downhill really quickly. In the 18th minute, Saint-Maximin dribbles quite harmlessly forwards through Auxerre’s half and everything is just dandy. Enter Faouzi Hikem’s mystifyingly unnecessary 2 footed “challenge” from behind. Why can’t he ever just stay in my fucking good books? Just for a while. The absolute cretin deserves 2 red cards but rules are rules so he settles for the 1. I ignore him completely as he walks by me down the tunnel, shaking his head as if he can’t believe the decision. Absolute cretin.
I give Ferhat an apologetic look as he jogs off to be replaced by Billy. We go to Project Sword once again, with Aidir play as a lone deep lying forward up front and Foden dropping into central midfield to pick up McCarthy’s playmaker role. I know I said I didn’t want us dropping too deep but as we’ve got a numerical disadvantage, 1 of 2 things is about to happen: Either the 2 teams will bore each other to death or Toulouse will actually come out at us and try and make their extra man count.
For the majority of the game, the former is true, as until the 70th minute Toulouse have just a single decent chance, when Ivanovic dribbles into the box and shoots wildly into the stands. To be fair they do have plenty of shots, but most of them are speculative long rangers.
I bring Mathis Roux on for the last 20 minutes and Aidir comes off. Roux will take central midfield while Foden performs his false 9 role up top. 5 minutes later however, Toulouse have a 2nd good chance. Rousseau runs into our box, Billy tries to tackle – And trips him. A penalty. Maybe it’s just a bad day to be an Auxerre left back. Billy’s booked, as is Goujon, who the referee decides has used quite enough carefully chosen words about the decision.
Morales steps up from 12 yards, blasts the ball low to Lenogue’s right – SAVED! Xavier LeGod makes his 2023/24 debut! Never doubted you for a second, mate.
Ironic cheers come from the away fans 2 minutes from time when in a moment of some kind of poetic justice, Rousseau trips Billy back on the halfway line. The referee pulls out a 2nd yellow and a red for the young midfielder, I cynically suspect just to take the achievement of grabbing a point with 10 men away from us.
I’ve gotten ahead of myself though because we certainly haven’t grabbed a point quite yet. In the 90th minute, Acuña hoofs a free kick from the halfway line towards our box, where 18 players wait. Loïc Goujon gets to the ball first and heads it – But can only put it across goal and into the path of Assimaïdou. He heads it from 6 yards out – Into LeGod’s arms. Thank fuck for that.
I’ll certainly take a point from that one, as we could and should have lost. Toulouse were by far the better side and managed 22 shots to our 3, including a penalty.
It’s funny that I mentioned “knowing” Sissako and Fomba before the match. I know them well and that’s why they might make their French debuts next week. I know all of these players because they’re a close knit bunch and the majority of us have been together for quite a while. I know that Faouzi Hikem for example will always put in quality performances, he’ll always give us an option down the left and set up a few goals, but sooner or later I know the red mist’s going to descend and he’s going to let me down all over again.
I also know Xavier Lenogue. I know that sometimes he’ll give away a silly goal by flapping at a cross or not reacting quick enough. But I know out of the 2 players who I’d want with me when the going gets tough: I’d choose Lenogue every single day of the week. When the football Gods threaten to shit all over me, LeGod’s the one who’ll put them in a sleeper hold while I make a break for the car.
That’s why despite Ender Tras and his agent’s pleas, Xavier remains an Auxerre player. And that’s why, until my anger subsides at least, Faouzi is lucky the window’s already shut.