“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” I sing, walking along the aisle towards Bechkoura as he shuffles uncomfortably in his seat, high up in the Stade l’Abbé-Deschamps. “…When the youth all come through and the best get accrued while the rest disappeeeeeear…” I sound fantastic. “…It’s the most -“
“Been rehearsing have we, Boss?”
“No Bechkoura.” Yes Bechkoura. “I just have a natural affinity with music.” It took me until 3 in the morning to think of the word ‘accrued’. Not my finest hour. My assistant eyes me sceptically.
“Who have we got then?” He asks. I open the folder that our head of youth development Boguslaw Pietrzak’s given to me and show him the best and brightest of this year’s crop of Auxerre graduates.
Solomon Nuhu may be the answer to my prayers. Well, not my prayers as I’m still pretty sure that I won’t be here beyond the Summer, but the prayers of Auxerre in general. We’ve lacked a truly promising young goalkeeper for quite some time but the Ghanaian is definitely that. Great handling and reflexes as well as a brave and determined character despite being just 14 will see him do well in my opinion.
Another Solomon is one to watch on the right of defence – Nigerian 14 year old Solomon Akinade, who puts me in mind of when Celsiney broke through. I actually think Celsiney might be pretty special and admittedly Akinade might not be at the same level, but he’s pretty quick, and fits my mould of determined, hard working team players, so he should do alright if he can pick up the technical side of his game.
On the other side of defence is 15 year old Frenchman Jonas Perrier, who… Hmm. I mean I trust Boguslaw’s opinion that he has potential, but I’m not convinced. He’s very limited technically, quick-ish and very brave and well balanced, but I don’t know. He needs to make sure he puts in the work as he’s looked pretty casual in the academy by all accounts.
Serigne Mboup on the other hand… My first impression is that he could be bloody brilliant. Originally Senegalese, the ball winning midfielder is 6’3″ at 14 years old, rounded technically, mentally and physically and also pretty much fits my mould. Serigne’s the one to watch for me.
Seeing both sides lining up with Auxerre’s Project: Meatloaf, I brace myself for a match chock full of goals and action and early signs are that I won’t be disappointed. The grads go ahead in the 9th minute when central midfielder Jérémy Guillou’s corner is headed in at the near post by right winger and fellow 15 year old Georges Martins.
Before the half hour, young Martins turns provider too and I’m very impressed. It’s his corner this time that’s swung perfectly to the edge of the 6 yard box, leaving Serigne Mboup with an easy header for 2-0 to the kids.
A few minutes later it’s turning into a real thumping, which I don’t think I’ve seen from a group of grads before. This time 15 year old left winger Robin Fevre breaks down the left and squares for the academy’s 14 year old striker and obvious winner of my new “Best Academy Graduate Name of the Year”, or “BAGNY”, award. Vowel enthusiast Yaovi Ouro-Koura slots in his side’s third goal from 8 yards.
It takes until almost an hour in before the Under 18’s respond, but it’s a very good goal. Under pressure, the ball’s cleared to 16 year old striker Sylvain Magnin, who was recently the subject of bids from Anderlecht and Manchester City. Sylvain collects it in his own half and carries it upfield on the counter with an absolutely electric run. He finishes his contribution with an excellent cross from the left byline, Texan striker Lance Osborn cushions the ball down and attacking midfielder Jérémy Barthelemy half volleys it in for 1-3.
The thoughts of any kind of comeback are short lived though as the grads continue to be in full control. They put the cherry on top in injury time when U18 centre back Alain Chaput misses an interception and Ouro-Koura runs through on goal before bending the ball with the outside of his foot out of 15 year old keeper Alex Guerin’s reach. Those of you with an absurdly good memory for detail will remember that Alex had a similar last year when he was in the grad team. Poor lad.
Well that was a demolition, pure and simple. Very impressive stuff by the grads. Ouro-Koura picks up the Player of the Match award for his brace, while Brian Maire, Serigne Mboup and Georges Martins also particularly impressed. There’s certain players in the U18 squad though and I’m looking at the likes of Jordan Leroux, Sylvain Magnin and especially Lance Osborn, that have disappointed me, although the latter 2 did combine to score a very good goal.
As promising as Auxerre’s future looks, we’re having a pretty annoying time at the moment in terms of our first team. Not only are we still unable to get any sort of foothold in 2024, but now injuries are starting to creep in too. Hicham Aidir’s damaged his foot and will miss up to 2 weeks, Mike Kakuba’s celebrating shaking off his recent double hernia by suffering from a double hernia and Alessandro Bassani has come down with food poisoning. What sort of self-respecting French-Italian gives himself food poisoning?! He should be the finest chef the world’s ever seen!
I also hear from OGC Nice Chairman Constantin Sima about a possible interview but it’s a no from me. I’m still setting my sights higher and although Nice are more established in Ligue 1 than Auxerre, they don’t represent much of a step up in my opinion.
Stade Brestois are the next side to pay us a visit in the league and I know I’ve said this a fair bit recently, but we need to win this. They’re bottom of the league and the last time we played a team in that position, they beat us. Not again. This is a must-win. In fact I’d go as far as to say that if we don’t win this match, we can kiss our already ridiculously slim chances of European football goodbye.
Project: Meatloaf is reinstated and I’m making a few changes to the lineup, including an entirely different back 5 from the one that shipped 5 goals against Lorient: Vladimir is back in net, Celsiney comes back in for Samba after completing his suspension, Sissako, Doucouré and Billy come in for Captiste, Sohna and Rogério who were probably our 3 worst players in the last match, with Goujon dropping back alongside Doucouré in defence and Sissako joining the midfield. The only other change is Nathan Andre, who replaces the injured Hicham Aidir and takes the captain’s armband. Hicham’s injury doesn’t exactly leave us light up front as I know Ferhat and Foden can both do a job if needed, but I want an option on the bench too so 16 year old striker Loïc Maire makes a first appearance in the matchday squad.
I remember learning about something in school once called ‘Pathetic Fallacy’, which is where characters’ emotions in stories and films are reflected by nature and most commonly, by the weather. You know, if someone’s cheerful the sun’ll be out and the birds’ll be singing, but if someone’s dying or hatching an evil scheme you’ll see a storm raging and lightning flash across the background. I’m reminded of this literary concept when I step out from the tunnel to be greeted by a downpour of biblical proportions. The kind of rain that’s only enjoyable when it drums on the windows while you’re tucked cosily into bed… Or when you’re just generally inside and out of its way, I suppose. The kind of rain that pathetic fallacy dictates will be accompanied by sadness, by failure, or to give a more specific example, by a defeat. I’ll be keeping a close eye on our football and ready to make changes if the sodden pitch affects us, because pathetic fallacy can rear it’s head all it wants, but we are not losing this fucking match.
We start well and it’s the lesser spotted Fabien McCarthy in the thick of the action, receiving the ball from Phil Foden and moving across the sodden turf into the acres of room that Brestois have left. He shoots with power but Strakosha holds onto it well. 10 minutes later though, a patient passing move ends with a low cross from Big Phil and and a Nathan Andre volley into the bottom corner.
Before the half hour we double our advantage: Lamine Fomba pings a good ball out to Celsiney on the right, who dinks a cross to McCarthy on the edge of the box. McCarthy drills it at goal, Strakosha saves but the ball squirms out of his grasp and hits the post, after which Brahim Ferhat reacts quickest and tucks in the rebound. 2-0 to l’AJA.
Shortly into the second half we put the game to bed and again McCarthy’s heavily involved. The playmaker swings a great pass out to Billy on the left, who gets to the byline and drills in a cross that deflects into the net off Ahec’s foot. 3-0.
A few minutes after that, it’s 4. Bloody hell, I didn’t expect it to be this easy to be honest. This time we play some great build up football with Andre, McCarthy and Fomba playing the ball about in little triangles through the midfield. Fomba then finds Foden on the edge of the area, who drops the shoulder, gets the ball onto his left foot and swings his boot at it, sending it arcing into the far top corner. Beautiful.
At 4-0 I think we can afford to experiment a bit, so I bring off Sissako and hand a debut to Loïc Maire, who’ll play alongside Nathan Andre in a 4-2-4. Brestois actually come into the game a bit after the change though, with Gori having a rare chance to shoot but sending the ball high and wide of Vlad’s goal. Reynier and Granger also come on shortly afterwards for Foden and Ferhat.
Brestois go even closer with 13 minutes to play when Gori again is released by Battocchio’s long ball over the top and this time he shoots against the bar, but after we drop back a bit in response he finally gets his consolation goal, rising above Billy to head in after Battocchio’s free kick is flicked on by own goal scorer Ahec.
As pleasing as today is though, there’s one man who surely won’t be happy. If Fabien McCarthy should’ve scored in the first half, he definitely should when his 20 yard free kick hits the inside of the post, bounces across the line and is cleared before the ball can sneak over the line. He looks gutted but I’m too pleased to share his disappointment. As the rain continues to poor, I glance up and aim a smug smile skywards. Pathetic Fallacy be damned.
Lamine Fomba and Phil Foden, arguably our top 2 performers in the Brestois win, are selected in the Team of the Week. That fourth goal on particular will stick in my mind. The build up play alone would’ve impressed me but combined with that sublime finish from Foden, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fans name it our goal of the season.
A trip to Sochaux is next for Auxerre. This is surely our best opportunity yet this calendar year to build some of that momentum that I keep banging on about. Sochaux are 5 points but admittedly just 1 place below us in 8th, but if we show the same level of quality we did against Brestois, we should be fine. The only changes I’m making are to play in a more cautious counter attacking style and to restore Hicham Aidir to the bench. Come on, lads.
It takes until the 53rd minute for anything of note to happen. It’s a tight, scrappy affair and neither side is keen to over commit in fear of being caught out on the break. When something does happen though, it’s troubling. Malele makes a run into the Auxerre penalty area and goes to ground with minimal encouragement from Billy. I even start to laugh at the poor attempt at a dive, but then I stop laughing when I see referee Lionel Jaffredo pointing to the penalty spot. Ianni despatches the spot kick beyond Vladimir but I am less than impressed. That was far too soft. Never a pen.
A few minutes later though a response looks inevitable: McCarthy receives the ball on the right wing, plays a low cross into the box for Foden, whose shot ricochets off Gnagnon’s shins and rolls to Ferhat at the far post, but he can only direct a shot into the side netting.
A minute later, Foden drives inside from the right and has a pop from 25 yards, but Leo Gauthier catches it comfortably. Reynier and Aidir come on for Ferhat and Andre to get some fresh legs in the final third and we go on the attack.
With 10 minutes to go we’re battering on the door but it just won’t open. And then something else happens: Fomba and Hvidt both jump for the same header, there is minimal contact again and Lionel Jaffredo shows Fomba his second yellow card of the day and his first red. OK. I think I see what we’re doing now, Lionel. Good one.
In the remaining ten minutes as Abi Sissako attempts to hold the midfield alone, we’re put to the sword by Sochaux’s numerical advantage. It’s twelve against ten. First Malele gets goal side of Goujon but is denied by a strong Vladimir save, but then he releases Facundo Ferreyra, who doubles the hosts’ advantage with a low, firm finish. To put the cherry on top in injury time, Ianni crosses from the left, Doucouré smashes a clearance against Ferreyra’s shins and the ball sneaks into the bottom corner of our net. 0-3. OK.
These may just be words of an angry man, a bitter man or a man who simply finds it difficult in this moment to graciously accept defeat, but fuck off Lionel Jaffredo, you attention starved dickhead. You pathetic little fallacy. You want the headlines? You want to be the talk of the tabloids in the morning? Well mission accomplished. Give this man a round of applause all to himself, everyone. Stop him in the street and ask for his shitty little autograph.
“There goes Lionel Jaffredo”, a starstruck passerby will say, “The only referee in WT Franjo’s 300-odd-match-long career that was so utterly incompetent, so laughably out of his depth and so desperate to have himself be the star name of his own little circus that he put himself on Franjo’s list, right alongside Miguel Borba, Ari Efstathiou, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Peter Crouch and that beardy twat Olof Mellberg.”