“You want to…?”
“Join Bayern Munich, yes.” He replies. I nod slowly, waiting for Faouzi Hikem to crack a smile or break into hysterical laughter. This is a wind up. It must be.
“You want to join Bayern Munich.” I clarify.
“I want to join Bayern Munich.” He reiterates.
“It’s interesting, Faouzi, that you want to join Bayern Munich.” I’m still waiting for him to give the game away. This must be a wind up. He frowns.
“Boss, have we established that I want to join Bayern Munich?”
“We have, Faouzi. We have. We have established that you actually want to join Bundesliga serial champions Bayern Munich, regardless of the absence of interest on their part.”
“My agent says they’re interested. She says they’re ready to make an offer in January.” He says indignantly. I smile back at him. I will eat my fucking hat if Bayern Munich make a bid for Faouzi Hikem. I’d need to buy a hat first, but I will if needed. “So I want your word that when they do, you’ll let me go.”
“Absolutely, Faouzi! If Bayern Munich make a bid…”
“When.” He corrects me.
“Sorry. When Bayern Munich make a bid that matches our asking price, I will not stand in your way. You have my word.” He eyes me cautiously.
“And what is my asking price?”
“£15 Million.” Faouzi’s draw drops.
“You can’t be serious. £15M is insane!” Yep, that’s the insane part of this conversation.
“Not for Bayern.” I wink. With an exasperated shake of the head, he stands and walks out of my office. I will eat my fucking hypothetical future hat.
Anyway, my future’s still up in the air as well. Excited at the prospect of moving up in the footballing world, I’ve thrown my hat into a second ring – The vacant Napoli job. My interest’s been leaked to the Italian press since I sent in my CV, but by the sounds of it they’re giving their caretaker manager Marco Ianni a chance to impress anyway before making any decisions.
Our next match brings Claude Makélélé and his Saint-Étienne side to Stade l’Abbé-Deschamps. They too are enjoying the season so far and sit comfortably in the top half, having accrued 22 points from 16 matches.
In the ever-revolving door of Auxerrois suspensions, Doucouré and Sissako will sit this one out, but we do welcome back Hikem, Billy and Fomba after they missed the Nice game. Billy and Fomba come straight back into the team so that Hikem can have a bit of time to work on his vision board and are joined in our starting XI by Mathis Roux and Zoun. Andre and Ferhat drop out. We’re making a couple of tweaks to our system to try and exploit St Étienne’s defensive 1-2-2-3-2 formation too. We’ll bypass the packed central area by focussing down the wings and Loïc Goujon, who usually plays the role of a sitting midfielder, will be far more aggressive and press their central midfield trio with Fomba.
What I didn’t expect before the match is for St Étienne, with their shape looking as defensive as it does, to come flying out at us like they do. Amang goes close in just the 3rd minute when his close range poked effort is caught by Lenogue, but then 5 minutes later a Selnæs corner is missed by our keeper and headed in by Lacroix, giving the visitors the lead.
It’s a rough start for Auxerre and it’s not looking like it’ll get any smoother for us. In the 13th minute pacy striker Amang sprints in from the right channel, skips past Sohna and thankfully shanks his shot well wide of the far post.
A few minutes later we do get our first decent chance though when Aidir gives the ball to Zoun, who drives infield and shoots towards the top corner, forcing Maisonnial to dive across goal to tip the ball behind.
In first half injury time, Foden swings a corner in to the near post. Isaac Sohna rises to nod it down and Mike Kakuba’s there to smash a half volley past the keeper and equalise. It’s been nearly 2 and a half years, but Kakuba’s off the mark for Auxerre.
On the hour, I make a triple substitution. It’s a rare move on my part and generally only happens when I’m particularly frustrated. Roux, Zoun and Aidir are brought off and McCarthy, Ferhat and Andre come on in their places.
A few minutes later we see the results. Goujon chests a lofted ball down beautifully 25 yards out and passes to Fomba. He plays it on to Foden, who squares it for Andre on the edge of the box. Spotting the dangerous run of his fellow substitute, Andre plays a pass towards the 6 yard box and Brahim Ferhat appears to stroke the ball into the net.
We revert to a more standard mentality from our usual “Attack, attack, attack!” And with 10 minutes to go, Saint-Étienne look done. They do have half a chance when Krsticevic cuts in from the right and has a pop, but it’s so far wide.
The ball quickly goes up the other end and Goujon plays it in to Andre’s feet. Again Andre looks to the left channel and plays a pass through for Ferhat, who cuts in and smashes one in off the bar. 3-1. Game over.
With another deserved 3 points in the bag, we power on. I am slightly disconcerted to learn that Hull City manager John Kennedy was in the stands for our win over Saint-Étienne though. He was apparently watching Mathis Roux, who he’s interested in purchasing. I dare him to make an offer. I fucking dare him.
But then a spanner is thrown in the works. A spanner that could well scupper my plan not to go back to England before I’ve tasted true success overseas. Stefano Pioli is sacked by Everton, with the club languishing in 18th place in the Premier League. I’m shocked. Really, actually shocked. This side have been finishing in the top 6 or 7 the last few seasons and they just won the FA Cup in May. Former Toffee Mark Pembridge has taken the reigns while a new manager is found, but feeling almost duty bound to save my boyhood club, I send in my CV. I’ll be honest, I’d rather someone else saves them so that I can continue to postpone my homecoming, but if they say those 3 magic words, I’ll be back at Goodison in a flash.
Curiously, this seems to spur Napoli fans into action. The Italians apparently consider me a leading candidate for the vacant manager’s position. I don’t know if they’re speaking up now to tempt me away from applying for the Everton job or what, but it’s flattering either way.
Our next match sends us to face Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Olympique Lyonnais. I’ve struck up something of an unexpected rivalry with Zlatan since his first match in charge of Valenciennes. We’ve been neck and neck for the majority of the season so far, flitting between 3rd and 5th place with Lorient. Now we and Lorient are 2 points clear of Ibra’s men though and could open up a decent gap today with 3 more.
The last match this Lyon side lost was at home against Guingamp, who play the same attacking 4-2-3-1 that we do, so hesitantly I decide to stick with our attacking Project: Meatloaf away against a very tough side. Captiste’s back in full training ahead of this one, but stays out of the squad as he’s lacking fitness and our current centre back partnership is doing OK. Doucouré’s back from suspension and makes the bench. I am making a few changes though: Ferhat and Andre come in as they really shone in the last match and Sissako’s in too after serving his suspension. Zoun, Aidir and Roux miss out.
We’re granted a chance in the 13th minute, when Lyon’s veteran keeper Anthony Lopes underhits a short pass intended for Júnior César. Andre nips in to intercept and shoots first time, but squanders the opportunity by blasting the ball wide. After 20 minutes he gets a shot at redemption when Ferhat chips a cross into the middle, but Andre’s looping header lands on the roof of the net.
10 minutes from the break our striker plays a great ball ahead of Phil Foden on the right. Phil sprints clear of the defence and blasts a shot towards the near post, but Lopes parries it behind.
2 minutes later and as inevitably as the tide, Lyon go up the other end and Ríos plays a great reverse pass into the path of Brekalo, who gets goalside of Billy and slots the ball into the far bottom corner. 0-1.
Before the break, goalie Lopes goes across near the right touchline to take a free kick. Once again it’s a woeful kick that barely clears his defence and our number 10 Fomba heads it down for Nathan Andre. Andre turns 40 yards from goal as Lopes scrambles to get back in net. Andre pulls the trigger – Well wide.
I think it’s fair to say that over the last 75 minutes of football we’ve seen the 2 sides of Nathan Andre. Against Saint-Étienne he was electric, creative and dangerous. So far today, he’s been wasteful, wasteful and shit. He’s still young though so that consistency will come in time, but I’d love it if it’d hurry up a tad. I do single him out for encouragement during my half time team talk though. Come on, Nathan.
On the hour, Ríos creates another chance, squaring the ball for Zinchenko, who pokes it into the box for Blanchard, who tucks in his side’s second. Nathan Andre has his head in his hands as he walks off the pitch to be replaced by Hicham Aidir. It’s just not been his day. McCarthy also comes on to replace Fomba.
A few minutes later and with Lyon still in the ascendancy, the result should be put beyond doubt. First Memphis crosses for Blanchard, who hits the bar with a header from point blank range, then Brekalo whips another cross in and this time Blanchard volleys against the still rattling crossbar. We’re extremely lucky to be 0-2 down.
Zoun comes on to replace the anonymous Ferhat as I make my last roll of the dice, but in the 72nd minute Ríos helps on Russo’s pass and Blanchard buries it for 0-3. Game over. But in the bad way this time.
The opportunity for a cherry on top presents itself with a quarter of an hour to play when Sohna trips the excellent Ríos while he dribbles through our area. The referee doesn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot, but when Blanchard steps up looking for his hat trick and shoots low to the bottom right, LeGod steps in to spare our blushes, tipping the ball around the post.
So as good as this Auxerre team are (And they are good), I think I may have gone too far the other way compared to last season. On reflection, although it is possible to be too reserved in your playstyle, it probably isn’t wise to set up for an away match against a team full of very good players with an open, attacking mentality. Saying that, better finishing would have definitely helped us today. Message received. Lesson learned. Probably not though.