My latest short story is The Driving Instructor. I like it.
Jesus, year 8. It’s certainly been a season with highs and lows, as eye-rollingly clichéd a sentiment as that is. The Euros are obviously still a fresh wound but lest ye forget, AJ Auxerre will be playing Europa League football next season! I’m keen to leave them to it and move on to pastures new, but let’s stick a pin in that particular conversation for now, because we’ve got some reviewing to do.
Record: W11 D1 L2
Key Players: Djibril Sidibé, Raphaël Varane, Aymeric Laporte, Lucas Digne, Adrien Rabiot, Tiémoué Bakayoko, Kingsley Coman, Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappé, Thomas Lemar
Highlight: Our 6-2 Euro 24 2nd Round win over Spain.
Lowlight: Our 4-5 Euro 24 Semi-Final loss to Belgium, which cost me my job.
It was always going to be a tough gig. Not tough in the conventional sense, like Höllviken or Katowice, but in the sense that my predecessor Arsene Wenger had given me a hell of an act to follow. He’d won the bloody World Cup and just to put the icing on top of the gâteau, so had his predecessor Didier Deschamps. I sat at the top table of World football for 2 years, laying waste to lesser sides as my France team tore through the European International League and the European Championship Qualifiers alike. I leapt and punched the air as we punished Italy and Portugal in the EIL Semi-Final and Final in 2023, beating the Euro 24 hosts 5-4 in extra time and the now European Champions 5-1. I leapt with glee as we came back from a 2 goal deficit to draw with England at Euro 24, I hid behind my hands as we crept past Denmark and Georgia and a little bit of wee came out as we decimated both Spain and Ukraine on the road to the Semi-Final. But then along came Belgium. And the rest, as they say, is history.
If Rabiot’s piledriver hadn’t pinged off the bar, if Digne’s shot hadn’t crashed off the post or if Varane hadn’t committed the terrible, horrible offence against Dendoncker that we all saw and that resulted in a penalty, maybe things would’ve been different. Similarly, if I had been more pragmatic, focussing on a defence-first approach to nullify our opposition and catch them on the counter, maybe things would’ve been different. In fact, if I had the chance to do it all again, do you know what I’d change?
Fuck all. Je ne regrette fucking rien.
Franjo’s Self-Assessment Score for France 2023/24
6.5/10 – If we’d scraped past Belgium, this could easily have turned into a 9 or maybe a 10, but we didn’t. For the most part I did what I set out to do: We scored goals upon goals upon goals during the qualifiers and tournament proper, playing attractive and exciting football. But it just wasn’t enough.
Association de la Jeunesse Auxerroise
Final Position: 6th
Record: W21 D6 L15
Key Players: Xavier “LeGod” Lenogue, Celsiney Andre, Mamadou Doucouré, Loïc Goujon, Lamine Fomba, Abdoulaye Sissako, Phil Foden, Brahim Ferhat, Nathan Andre, Hicham Aidir
Highlight: Our 6th place finish, which earns Auxerre a spot in the Europa League qualifiers for 2024/25
Lowlight: Our 3-6 thrashing away at Nantes
It’s a bit jarring after the last month or so to be reminded of how remarkable and excellent this season has been on the whole. After an uneasy first year back in Ligue 1, Hicham Aidir and Nathan Andre rediscovered their goalscoring form, Celsiney grew into a first team player who looked like he’d been one for years, Foden and Ferhat cemented themselves as Ligue 1 footballers and players like Fomba, Goujon and Captiste were as excellent and as reliable as ever. For the most part. After an excellent first half of the season, we did struggle slightly after Christmas to pick up any sort of momentum, but we came through in the end. A late season flurry of goals from Andre, combined with performances from players like Foden, Fomba and Ferhat saw us over the line in the race for Europe for the first time in 14 years. Or to put it another way; For the first time since Celsiney was 4 years old.
Auxerre fans’ Player of the Season and Young Player of the Season was Big Phil Foden and it’s difficult to argue otherwise. Few players stayed consistent throughout the entire season but Phil proved himself as a goal and assist machine, hitting the back of the net 12 times and setting his team mates up on 10 other occasions. Nathan Andre’s end of season heroics are clearly still fresh in the fans’ minds as he scoops 2nd place, with another academy lad, Brahim Ferhat, placing 3rd in a season where none other than Real Madrid have been monitoring him with extreme interest. Loïc Goujon, an often understated presence in Auxerre’s midfield/defence, won the Goal of the Season award for his cracking effort against Marseille, while Signing of the Season, almost by default, is Mamadou Doucouré. I didn’t exactly outdo myself in terms of incoming transfers this year, with loanee goalkeeper Vladimir used rotationally, loanee left back Rogério used extremely sparingly, goalkeeper Ibrahima Gaye a prospect for the fairly distant future and winger Amine Reynier in need of quite a lot of development. Nevertheless though, my first transfer was hands down my best. Mamadou Doucouré enjoyed a tremendous season on loan with us in 2022/23 and signing him on a free was not only good business, but pivotal to our excellent season.
Auxerre’s Top Goalscorer is a two way tie this season, with Nathan Andre almost doubling his tally from last year and Hicham Aidir finding the magic touch that deserted him in that horrible, injury-plagued 2022/23 season. Both players scored 17 goals, with Nathan Andre rated the highest on average out of anyone in the squad to boot. Keep in mind that our Moroccan vice-captain is 23 years old and Nathan’s about to turn 21. These lads are going to be alright in Ligue 1. Foden’s 10 assists is the best in the squad, Raf as always was our tidiest retainer of the ball and Phil also split the most Player of the Match awards record for the year with Captiste. Both players picked up 4. Discipline-wise, Loïc Goujon still sticks out like a sore thumb with 2 red cards, but at least he has company this year in picking up 13 yellow cards, the same as his midfield partner Abi Sissako.
In our Ligue 2 season together, the Auxerre statistics were a joy to pour through. Last season, as we clawed ourselves clear of relegation, they were not. I’m intrigued to see how we measured up this year but it’s clear to me that some things never change with my teams. We’re strong in the air, evidenced by our finishing 2nd in the “Headers won” charts with 2121, and we… Well let’s be generous and say that we fight for the shirt, evidenced not only by our finishing 3rd in “Tackles won” (633), but also by our finishing 3rd in the yellow and red card tables (74 & 5) and the very top of the fouls table (529). Also in keeping with tradition, we had the 5th lowest salary bill in the league (£11.43M), but what is a pleasant surprise is that we also finished 5th in “Goals Scored” (65).
Franjo’s Self-Assessment Score for Auxerre 2023/24
9/10 – Europe and stability. I could’ve barely asked for more.
Santos Football Club
Do I expect too much from Santos? Possibly. It breaks my bloody heart though to see them right back where they were before our fantastic 5th place finish. In 3 Franjo-less years they’ve finished 12th, 11th and 11th again. Over that period, they’ve spent £275k of the £1.5M I invested in the Santos 4, which isn’t awful, but I just wish Boebie and Mr Allie would show a bit more ambition. I do notice that they’ve kept a lot of their team together this Summer though after last year’s mass exodus. The only player that’s left permanently is Mandla Masango, the tricky winger who was actually one of my favourite signings for Santos. He’s hung up his boots and is persueing a career as a scout. Good luck, Mandla.
The Principality of Liechtenstein
Liechtenstein are still very… Very Liechtenstein. In the last year they’ve lost 7 out of their 8 matches, but did manage a 1-1 draw against Macedonia in March. I will hold my hands up and admit that France’s 17-1 aggregate win in the Euro 24 qualifiers probably didn’t do Liechtenstein’s confidence much good though. Keep plugging away, Mario.
Górniczy Klub Sportowy Katowice
As much as their name still sends shivers down my spine, I’m pleased that Katowice are still holding their own in the Lotto Ekstraklasa. This season was probably actually a bit of a disappointment for GieKSa as they finished 10th in the league, going on to then finish 2nd in the Relegation Group. It’s not bad, but they’ve been in the Promotion Group more often than not since my departure so let’s hope they drag themselves back into the top half next year under Tomasz Mazurkiewicz. The sad news from this season is that Katowice actually finished a single place above my former assistant manager Dennis Lawrence’s Jagiellonia in the Relegation Group and Dennis has been sacked this Summer as a result, so far failing to secure another job.
Sport Clube Angrense
For good old SC Angrense it’s another 9th place finish in the Liga Pro, replicating their position from last season. I keep half hoping that I’ll find out in my research that Gonçalo Monteiro’s men have climbed into the Liga Nos, but as it stands they’re still a very secure mid-table side in the 2nd tier of Portuguese football and things could certainly be a lot worse. Maybe if Valadão’s coaching skills pick up a bit, they’ll be able to bring through a bit of a golden generation of academy graduates to win them promotion. I hope so.
How about freshening the squad up a bit, lads?
I’m off for an interview tomorrow, which if it goes well, will determine the next team to enter this list. Keep your fingers crossed.