“As you probably know, Monsieur Franjo, Rapid Wien manager Franz Maresch was at Auxerre’s match in Bordeaux, watching Philip if our sources are to be believed.”
“OK.” I reply, trying to choose my next words carefully. “Before we go into that any further, just let me ask: Where’s Phil’s actual agent?”
“I am Philip’s actual agent, Monsieur Franjo!” Giggles Sylvania.
“But… You’re not though.” I turn to Foden for confirmation, who’s sat on the opposite side of my desk with Sylvania, while Bechkoura watches on silently from beside me. Phil shrugs. “His agent’s name is Steve Leacock. I talked with him when we bought Phil from City, I talked to him when he signed his last contract…”
“You have caught me!” She squeaks. “I am standing in for Monsieur Leacock. He is… Off sick today”. Sylvania winks at me. Not subtly.
“OK… Just know that the only reason that I’m not going to challenge you on that is because I actually fear that by giving me more information, you’ll make me an accomplice to whatever heinous act it sounds like you’ve committed here.” I reply. Sylvania giggles again. “Phil, you’re happy for Sylvania to deal with this, yeah?”
“I suppose.” Says Foden, who then turns to Sylvania. “Do you know when Steve will be back?”
“Mate, Steve’s best chance of a return might be reincarnation at this point, so I wouldn’t think about it too much.” I interject. “How many of my players are you currently ‘representing’ out of interest, Sylvania?” She leans in. Too close.
“Only the finest ones.” She whispers.
“Set you up for that one really, didn’t I?” I smile. She nods enthusiastically. “Anyway, you said something about Rapid Wien’s Manager?”
“YES!” Sylvania shrieks excitedly, making the other 3 of us jump. “So Rapid Wien are interested in purchasing Philip and he is having the finest start to the season, so we would like him to be given a new contr…”
“25 grand a week.” I interject again. Bechkoura, who’d chosen to take this opportunity to have a sip from his cup of coffee, splutters and turns towards me, eyes wide.
“Can I have a word, Boss?”
“No, it’s alright.” I turn back to Sylvania. “Obviously you can get into the nitty gritty of it with the legal team, but £25k should do it? Happy with that, Phil?”
“Boss”, hisses Bechkoura, leaning in to whisper into my ear. “Nobody’s earning 25 grand a week. Not even Vidal earned that much.” I turn to face him again.
“I know.” Back to Foden. “Well?”
Phil smiles nervously as his eyes dart between me and Bechkoura. “Yeah, sounds good.” Sylvania whips out a forefinger quick as a flash and holds it over the playmaker’s mouth.
“We will consider it.” She says, quietly.
“Sylvania, did you learn how to play hardball?” I grin. “Where was this attitude when you were breaking my door down with a bonus paddling pool?” She smiles that cheshire cat smile.
“I have learnt many things, Monsieur Franjo. We will consider it.” And with one last giggle she grabs Phil quite forcefully under the armpit and drags him out of my office.
“Like how to be an agent, apparently.” I laugh quietly to Bechkoura once she’s out of earshot. He turns to me with disbelief on his face.
“25 grand a week?”
“He’d be worth it.” I shrug. “But I know Sylvania, don’t worry. He’ll probably end up on less than he’s on now but with a trampoline thrown in or something.”
Quite a few things have happened since I came back from France duty actually. Captiste’s gone and strained his back, which isn’t ideal as he’ll miss a few weeks. Luckily though, Isaac Sohna and Mamadou Doucouré are both available and in pretty good form, so we should be alright.
Chancel Kasongo’s now officially a Congolese footballer after making his debut as a 64th minute substitute in DR Congo’s 4-0 win over Botswana, putting in a pretty anonymous performance. The top performers from the international break were Xavier Lenogue, who picked up 2 clean sheets in Martinique’s 2 1-0 wins over Trinidad & Tobago and Montserrat and Zoun, who in Burkina Faso’s 3-2 aggregate win over Angola scored a goal and played well in the first leg, before giving a decent showing in the second.
The draw for the 4th round of the Coupe de la Ligue is made too, with Auxerre given a fairly decent draw at home against Lorient, a fixture that we recently won 1-0. I’d fancy our chances.
Faouzi Hikem wants to discuss a move to a bigger club again, which I have to admit is starting to get on my nerves. A quick chat in the treatment room with Captiste sees him drop his concerns, but I’m really starting to come around to the idea of parting with Faouzi.
So a quite eventful couple of weeks all in all. With no France matches currently scheduled though, all eyes are now firmly on Auxerre’s league campaign as we get back into the action with a home match against mid-table Lille.
I’m making a few changes based on the Bordeaux match: Aside from Captiste obviously dropping out through injury, Issa Samba, Gaizka Basauri and Zoun all had poor games, so Mamadou Doucouré, Celsiney, Loïc Goujon and Brahim Ferhat all come in, with Celsiney making his first start of the season.
It’s great to be back. In the 18th minute Sissako picks out our speedy full back Celsiney on the right wing, who whips a cross onto the boot of Captain Hicham Aidir, who volleys us into the lead from just outside the 6 yard box. Good lad, Hicham. I’m over the moon that he appears to have found his scoring boots this season.
A few minutes later it could be 2. Auxerre’s new highest paid player Phil Foden swings a corner in from the left and Luca Zidane comes out but misses his punch, leaving Goujon with an open goal to aim at. Goujon heads it, but just misses the far post. In the 26th minute we go close again when Doucouré’s cross is cleared by Bertrand but only as far as big Phil, who squares the ball for Andre on the edge of the box. Andre plays a fantastic ball in to Aidir’s feet on the 6 yard box and the Moroccan goes for his 2nd, but shoots straight at Zidane, who manages to parry the ball behind.
The match continues in a similar vein as Lille continue to struggle to deal with a rejuvenated Auxerre team. Probably the most pleasing thing for me is just how good Celsiney looks and how comfortable. Just into the second half he receives the ball from Andre and floats a superb cross to the far post for Ferhat. He should score from close range, but heads against the bar. A minute later, Foden chips the ball to Aidir on the edge of the box and he absolutely whallops the ball against the crossbar as Lille miraculously keep the deficit at 1 goal. Luckily for us though, Phil Foden’s the fastest to react and with the crossbar still rattling he blasts the rebound past the keeper. Today is the 25th of November 2023 and Phil Foden has just scored his 6th league goal of the season, equalling his tally from the entire 2022/23 season.
That’s pretty much that for this match. Roux comes on for a run out replacing Goujon for 25 minutes and Teixeira actually goes close deep into injury time but Lenogue pulls off a good low save to keep our clean sheet intact. 2-0 and our 4 best players are Phil Foden, Isaac Sohna, Hicham Aidir and Player of the Match Celsiney. It’s a good day.
Our right back also gets in the Ligue 1 Team of the Week for the very first time. I’m absolutely delighted with him, so Issa Samba really needs to up his game, because he’s suddenly got serious competition.
Going all the way back to Rapid Wien for a second though, they aren’t the only club that have started to come sniffing around this over-performing Auxerre side’s brightest talents. Hicham Aidir is wanted by Freiburg, while Brahim Ferhat is being chased by… Erm… Real Madrid. I get Sylvania on the phone and quickly hammer out some new long term deals. I would offer one to Nathan Andre, but he’s still not bowled over by his playing time this season and so is unwilling to commit just yet. Aidir and Ferhat both sign though, as does Celsiney, because obviously.
It’s been a while since I mentioned my own future though. I’ve been patiently keeping an open mind this year and a potential destination has now emerged: Russian Premier Division leaders Zenit St Petersburg are currently without a manager after Alexandre Semenov left to take charge of Russia, who were knocked out of Euro 2024 qualifying by Macedonia. Couldn’t do both jobs simultaneously, eh? Part timer. I send in my CV. My objective in the Summer was to find a club that’d allow me to challenge for silverware and Zenit are certainly that.
While I wait to hear back from Zenit Chairman Alexandr Dyukov, I’ve still got a job to do in Auxerre. Nice are our next opponents in what is unbelievably my 300th game in management.
Nice are 9 points behind us currently but are not to be underestimated. I have my eye on one player of theirs in particular – Wylan Cyprien, who really impressed me for France, after which I naturally left him out of my next 2 squads. He’s got the potential to run the midfield for Nice and we need to be careful of him.
Left backs Faouzi Hikem and Billy are both suspended for this one, which is pretty annoying. Fomba is too, but I wasn’t planning on starting him anyway. Mike Kakuba’s the man who gets the nod to make his first league appearance of the season, replacing Hikem in an otherwise unchanged starting XI and joins Isaac Sohna in central defence, while Doucouré moves out to left back. I’m not sure if I’ve ever played Mamadou as a full back before but he’s accustomed to the position so he should be fine. Today’s not only my 300th match as a manager either, it’s also Loïc Goujon’s 200th appearance for his boyhood club. The 27 year old is exactly the type of player that lads like Celsiney and Roux should be looking towards for inspiration: Auxerre through and through.
I admit that I might have gotten carried away with the narrative before the match. Nice quickly let Loïc and I know that this is not going to be an easy game. In the 7th minute, Godefroy loops a cross in from the right, Kone cushions the ball down and Bonaventura volleys in from 6 yards out. Before the 10 minute mark, they double it too. An either extremely well practised or extremely fortunate corner routine sees Bonaventura cross the ball in, Abi head it down, Koziello volley it goalwards and Fathi make sure with another close range volley. 0-2 at 10 minutes.
We go close to pulling one back 10 minutes later when Foden’s corner is headed away by Koziello, but Kakuba heads the ball viciously towards the goal. With the keeper beaten, Vidal throws himself in the way and deflects it behind. After half an hour, Godefroy dribbles forward through the centre and chips a superb ball towards the 6 yard box for Bonaventura to run onto. He latches on and smacks the ball against the foot of the post before Celsiney hoofs it clear.
I have some stern words to say at half time and they seem to have an immediate impact – Straight after the restart we win a throw in on the left, close to the Nice penalty area. Doucouré throws to Andre, who gives it back and our makeshift left back launches a cross in towards the far post. Up leaps Phil bloody Foden to head us back into the game. Worth every penny.
Just before the hour, Kone plays a good ball into the box for Abi and the striker tests Lenogue with a powerful shot from 8 yards, but our keeper’s equal to it. I make a double substitution straight afterwards, with Mathis Roux and Zoun replacing Andre and Ferhat. The change works like a charm. With 20 minutes to play another Doucouré cross from the left is headed back into the fray by Vidal and tees up perfectly for Zoun, who drills it low. The ball pinballs through the 6 yard box off Souquet and Cardinale, before nestling in the back of the net. 2-fucking-2 and Zoun claims the goal. Good lad.
We tighten up towards the end as Nice throw everything at us in an attempt to take their lead back. 5 minutes from the whistle, Bosetti wriggles free of Sohna and manages a shot from the edge of the box, but it’s not much of a problem for Lenogue. A few minutes later though, Valente throws the ball in from the right wing for Toral. Toral turns, gets a yard on Goujon and fires one from 25 yards – Right into the far bottom corner. It’s a really, really good finish. But after our fight back, it’s so fucking cruel. 2-3.
I think we’ve built up enough good grace with fans and board alike not to let a defeat like this dishearten us. Lorient and Lyon have both sneaked above us, leaving us in 5th place, but considering where we thought we’d be before the season started, we’re still having a fucking whale of a time. With the club steadily creeping back onto solid financial ground, a new generation of youngsters prepped to come through and Auxerre flying high in the league, I think I could hypothetically leave l’AJA with my head held high should an offer come in for me. We’ll see.