Je M’Appelle Franjo (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Meta-sode 120.5)

J’habite à Auxerre

< Episode 120

Bonjour mes amis,

I don’t know if it’s just me but this year seems to have taken such a long time to go through. Maybe it was because of the International breaks or maybe it was the fact that I knew quite early on that I was off to Auxerre and couldn’t wait to get to that bit, but either way it’s been a long old year! I’m going to take a couple of weeks as per, and when I come back we’ll have a fresh season to play with AJ Auxerre in Ligue 2. It’s a big club so it’s going to be a big year I reckon.

I was saying the other day I hadn’t planned on coming to France quite yet, I fancied exploring a bit more before coming back to one of the “big” European countries, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to manage a fallen giant with such great history and insanely good training and youth facilities, so here we are. Nevertheless I still plan on exploring and I still plan on getting back outside Europe at some point, so don’t worry on that front.

Thanks a lot for reading still and thanks a lot to everyone who’s left feedback recently, it’s fantastic to know everyone’s thoughts on the story so far and landing the AJA job seemed to prompt a lot of people to get in touch, so cheers!

Anyone wanting to leave feedback, feel free to leave a comment in wordpress or whichever forum you find me on, or by emailing franjofm23@gmail.com!

There’ll be the usual round-up style mini-sodes and an actual proper introduction to the club over the next couple of weeks, but until then…

…Adieu…

…Is that the one that means “Until next time” or “Goodbye forever”? I can never remember. That’s another good point actually, any French writing you see will be from a mixture of Google Translate and the D grade I got at AS level French almost a decade ago, so allow for error…

Au revoir, bon voyage et bon appetit.

Cheers,

Franjo

Mini-sode 120.5.5 >

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Don’t Panic (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep120)

Losing this final away match just isn’t even worth thinking about.

< Episode 119

Don’t panic. Nobody panic. Deep breaths. Yes, we’ve lost ground in our quest for survival. Yes, Godspower Tower will be missing for our crucial away match against RC Strasbourg Alsace after suffering a tear to his knee ligaments. Yes, Abdoulaye Sissako and Loïc “The Deep Fried Demon” Goujon are both suspended and will also miss our final match. Yes, if we fail to better Groupe Sportif Consolat’s and La Berrichonne’s results we’ll drop into the relegation play off spot. Yes, the pressure is absolutely back on. But… I’ve forgotten where I was going with that.

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RC Strasbourg are 13th in Ligue 2 and we could really do with beating them today, as that’s the only way our League status will be in our own hands. We’re on 41 points, so a draw would leave us open to the unlikely but possible scenario of one or both of the teams directly below us, who are both on 40 points, dropping us into the shit by winning their own games. Losing this final away match just isn’t even worth thinking about.

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Most of my changes are forced, as I’ve mentioned. I’m keeping the system the same but I’ll be bringing in Cameroonian centre back Harvey Ndicka to replace Godspower Tower. Ndicka is in a similar mould to the injured Nigerian, a defensive centre back that’s fairly uncomfortable on the ball but has a hell of an aerial reach and great strength and leadership. He doesn’t have Tower’s sense of positioning though, which combined with his lack of any real pace is concerning, as in the likely event that he’s caught out of position he won’t be fast enough to chase down the opposition player and recover the ball.

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Coming in at defensive midfield for the suspended Goujon is Albert Rafetraniaina, who I’ll be addressing as Raf, because otherwise I’ll use up a whole season’s worth of vowels by the time we get to October. Replacing Sissako in the middle will be Lamine Fomba, who would’ve probably started both of my matches so far in Sissako’s place had he not been suspended. Fomba both excites me and concerns me as on paper he’s probably one of our best players: A technically proficient, mentally mature and physically dominating box to box midfielder with a never say die attitude. His form this season however has been abysmal, which I’m willing to overlook on a one time only basis for this match because I need him and hope he turns up. His contract runs out next month though so this is really his only chance to impress me enough to give him a new one.

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Finally, I’m giving senior wing back Mombris a start at left back ahead of young Hikem due to his poor form, and rapid winger Zoun will get the chance to impress me from the start in place of Ibrahim Sangaré.

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There’s early action somewhere, but it isn’t in our match. Over at the Stade de l’Aube our local rivals ESTAC Troyes have taken the lead over our relegation rivals La Berrichonne after just 3 minutes through Petar Tanasic. My assistant Raphaël Guerreiro’s keeping an eye on the scores for us and that is very welcome news.

A quarter of an hour later we win a corner after Tirard’s shot is deflected behind. Tirard’s initial corner is cleared but is passed back to him on the right wing. He drills the ball into the box and Ayé blasts it in at near post to put us ahead. He sprints over to the travelling support and slides on his knees in front of them as I allow myself a hopeful smile. That’s Aye’s 50th goal for us and what a time to get it.

5 minutes later Raphaël brings more good news from elsewhere: Théophile Lallemand has given Bourg-en-Bresse Péronnas 01 the lead over our fellow relegation candidates Group Sportif Consolat. This could not be going better for us.

The rest of the half plays out in similar fashion to my first match here; Tight, scrappy, nothing to write home about. Just what I wanted. The second half is much of the same. At the Stade de l’Aube Troyes go 2-0 up over La Berrichonne, who claw it back to 2-1 late on. Here in Strasbourg, we stay strong and continue to fight. I don’t want to rock the boat, so I do nothing. And the boat stays afloat.

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As a neutral I probably would’ve wanted the relegation fight to be closer on the final day, but as Groupe Sportif Consolat had vastly inferior goal difference to La Berrichonne, they were always claiming the play off spot if they lost. After all of my final day nerves, we finish 4 points above them both in 16th place. I rolled the dice joining Auxerre, knowing full well that it could all go wrong inside the first few matches. For now though my gamble’s paid off. Auxerre will play Ligue 2 football next season and with that realisation, another hits me. Now, for the first time in my career, I’ve won more relegation battles than I’ve lost. What a feeling. What a year.

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Meta-sode 120.5 >

Healthy Competition (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep119)

Apparently we’re popular in Aldershot.

< Episode 118

“Une photo pour le site du club?” Asks one of the club’s photographers.

“I heard ‘Photo’, big smiles lads”, I mutter to Auxerre’s 2 newest signings. I put my left arm around Joël Soumahoro and my right around Hicham Aidir and we grin our cheesiest grins as the 2 of them put pen to paper.

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“Merci”, mutters the cameraman as he lowers his camera.

“I wish we had you 2 for the run in”, I whisper to Joël and Hicham with a smirk. Joël laughs, but Hicham looks more serious. “We played OK in the last match”, he says, “Florian is a good striker I think.”

“Nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition though is there?” I laugh, “You’d best bring your A-game for next season mate!”

He’s right to be fair. I don’t know whether it was because of some kind of “new manager bounce”, or going back to basics, or our system or our selection, or a combination of all of the above, but after all my fretting and frantic plotting, we put in a good solid performance against ESTAC Troyes and deserved our win.

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So what’s next then? Well I get a surprising phone call the day after the double signing. The board want L’AJA to go on a pre-season tour of England in the Summer because of the club’s apparent popularity back in my homeland. I put this mainly down to my theory that my name has recently been growing in popularity amongst English hipsters, all of whom have obviously been watching my career since the Höllviken days. I accept the tour. Once we’re finished in the League we’ll be able to look forward to 3 intriguing away ties against Leicester City, Manchester City U23’s and erm… Aldershot. Apparently we’re popular in Aldershot.

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With 2 matches left we’re 4 points above the relegation play off spot, so another win would see us over the line with our Ligue 2 status secure. Today is my first match at my new home and we’ll welcome mid-table Nimes Olympique to Stade de l’Abbé Deschamps, named after AJ Auxerre’s founder. There’ll be no changes in personnel for this one. You know me; on the rare occasions that I’m in my right mind, I never change a winning team. The only tweak I make from our win over ESTAC Troyes is to not make us so narrow, as it could make us vulnerable on the flanks against a team playing with actual width.

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2 minutes in we concede a free kick, which Buzaglo chips in from the right byline. Tchimbembe cushions the ball down for Métanire brilliantly and the right back shoots on the volley, but Sissako deflects it out for a corner, which comes to nothing. Nimes stay on top of the first half and we go on the counter after 25 minutes, but the match is goalless at the break.

I don’t know what Nimes manager Bernard Blanquart says to his lads at half time but it certainly works. Less than 3 minutes after the restart, Tchimbembe drives powerfully through the middle of the pitch and passes to Savanier. The midfielder shoots from 30 yards and the ball arrows into the far corner of the net. It’s a great goal, but now isn’t really the time to admire it. We try to control the game after that but things aren’t made any easier for us in the 54th minute when Godspower Tower picks up a knee injury and has to be stretchered off. Goujon drops back alongside Captiste and I bring on pacy Malagasy midfielder Albert Rafetraniaina, the answer to the age old question “Who ate all the vowels?”, to be our holding man. Zoun also comes on for Sangaré on the right wing.

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With 20 minutes to go Buzaglo sends in another free kick, this time from deep on the right wing. He arcs the ball over to the far post and Aguilar jumps to head it clear but misses it. Briançon places it past Lenogue to double the visitors’ lead. 5 minutes later I bring on Jérôme Mombris, our slow but savvy veteran wing back, for Faouzi Hikem, who has not lived up to his “Best young player at the club” billing in my first 2 games. We go on the attack.

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In the dying minutes, Chancel Kasongo plays a good pass through for Zoun to chase but Gaspar slides in to knock the ball away. The loose ball rolls to Tirard 12 yards out though and he curls it out of the keeper’s reach to pull one back for us, but it’s too little too late.

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That… Is not ideal at all. FC Chambly-Oise and Havre Athletic Club have now guaranteed themselves the 2 relegation places, but Groupe Sportif Consolat, the team currently occupying the relegation play off spot, have won their penultimate match and are now only 1 point below us, equal with La Berrichonne. 2 of us are going to stay in the division without need of a play off, but one of us isn’t. Once again, and I feel like this happens far too often for me, it’s all going to come down to the last game.

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Baptism of Fire (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep118)

I’ve got my work cut out for me here.

< Episode 117

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My first morning in Le Centre de Formation, Auxerre’s training ground, is madness. I’m watching the players train and trying to work out which of them are my kind of footballers. I need to know which of them are willing to dig in and fight to keep us afloat. The task is made extra difficult by Auxerre’s massively bloated squad. Seriously, I’m not surprised that we’ve gotten ourselves into this situation. We have far too many players and plenty more in the youth teams that are ready for first team football, which means that a lot of players are going to be annoyed that they aren’t playing, which means that there’s no squad harmony, which means no cohesive team.

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In a way I probably shouldn’t have delayed my relocation to Auxerre. I probably could’ve used that week to sort out who I actually want playing for me out of this rabble, but instead I’ve left myself with 2 days to get a plan together and a team identified. The quality throughout the squad is lower than I’d like too. Benoît Cheyrou once trained here! Laurent Blanc! Djibril Cissé! Eric fucking Cantona!

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I don’t have time to go on and on about Auxerre’s history, their prestige or their background. I barely have time to meet everyone. There’ll be time for all of that later. The next few weeks are all about survival and early signs are that I’ve got my work cut out for me here.

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After training I grab a coffee and retreat to my office to start studying videos of recent Auxerre performances. They make for grim viewing. I’m interrupted by backup full back Issa Samba and winger Jerson Cabral, who aren’t exactly coming in to welcome me to the club. They both make it clear that they want first team football and I tell them that they’d better impress me along with everyone else to earn their places. Samba promises to rise to my challenge, but Cabral thinks he should have already done enough to prove his quality. So congratulations Jerson Cabral for winning the “First arrogant dickhead to seal his future away from Auxerre award”, you’ve won a permanent holiday somewhere fucking else.

After extensive research on my players’ recent performances, strengths, weaknesses, mindsets and after consulting with my backroom team, I have a first team in mind for our first match: Away at our local rivals ESTAC Troyes.

Goalkeeper – No 16 – Xavier Lenogue

Martinique International Xavier has actually been Auxerre’s second choice goalkeeper this season, but first choice Bingourou Kamara has been putting in sub par performances and I actually think Xavier looks like the better keeper. He’s 6’4″ and has brilliant aerial ability, as well as good handling, strength, concentration and reflexes. At 24 he’s also a baby in goalkeeping terms, so he should only get better.

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Right Back and Vice-Captain – No 12 – Ruben Aguilar

Ruben is a natural full back who can defend, go forwards, is solid technically and good mentally and physically. I pinch myself watching him train but I’m definitely awake and he’s definitely real. I have a rounded full back at my disposal for possibly the first time in my career. He’s 28, which should mean that he’s in or around his prime and he fits the Franjo mould of a determined, hard working team player. I’m over the bloody moon that he’s here.

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Centre Back and Captain – No 2 – Baptiste Aloé

Captiste, as he’ll obviously be referred to from now on, looks like a fantastic defender. He’s not the most technical of centre backs but he’s not woefully inept either, though it’s his strength, aerial presence and fantastic mental strength that are his main assets. At 26 he too is yet to reach his prime, so he may even improve.

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Defensive Centre Back – No 4 – Godspower Tower

So it turns out that we’ve got the centre back with the best name in the entire bloody world. A rhyming name, no less! Godspower Tower is a good old fashioned defensive centre back. He’s pretty awful on the ball and is not at all quick, but at 6’6″ he should dominate anyone in the air, and his terrific positioning and decision making as well as good tackling, marking, heading and bravery should make up for his lack of pace. At 24 he’s another young one, although I’m not sure whether I’ll want him in my first team long term as I prefer more rounded players, as if you didn’t know.

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Defensive Left Back – No 3 – Faouzi Hikem

Touted by many as AJ Auxerre’s most promising young footballer, Faouzi is certainly an intriguing player. He’s not great technically although he’s pretty assured when tackling, but his physicality and mental strength is off the bloody charts! At 19! He’s got what I call “The Sohna Factor”. Technical ability can be coached up to a point but if you’re born with the right brain and frame you’ve got potential.

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Defensive Midfielder – No 15 – Loïc Goujon

The deep-fried demon is in the building, ladies and gents. Loïc is one of quite a few versatile central defensive players that we have, although he’s the best one from what I’ve seen. He’s best in a holding man role or as a ball winner, but for me he’ll play as the former for now. He’s another man heading towards his prime at 25 and is 6’0″, a solid height for a defensive midfielder. He’s very physically fit, strong, and fits the Franjo mould.

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Box to Box Midfielder – No 27 – Abdoulaye Sissako

Truth be told, Abdoulaye isn’t my first choice for this position, but you’ll meet my first choice once he’s finished his suspension and is actually eligible to play. That being said, I like Abdoulaye. He’s a young lad at 22 and is my kind of player; he’s 6’1″, he looks like he’ll run around aggressively all day, and is pretty good technically, mentally and physically. He’s also chipped in with 5 goals in 31 appearances, most of which have been from the bench, so that’s a good sign.

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Deep Lying Playmaker – No 40 – Chancel Kasongo

18 year old Chancel’s a bit of a wildcard decision on my part as he’s not actually played a professional match yet. I want a playmaker though and at the minute he’s the one that fits the bill. He’s got a good passing range on him and is a very determined lad, as well as being a decent runner. At 5’4″ though he’s a little short for a stormtrooper. In fact he’s probably a little short for R2D2. I obviously have faith in him as he’s in my preliminary 11, but he’ll need to turn in good performances to stay there.

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Right Winger – No 35 – Ibrahim Sangaré

I’ve got a plan. A system doesn’t necessarily need to have all your best players in from the first minute… No offence, Ibrahim… A system needs to be a plan to win a match, not to start it, and that’s why you’ll meet our best right winger soon enough, but not now. Ibrahim is, in a good way, a nice average winger. He’s almost an anti-winger actually, at 6’2″ his best qualities are his pretty good pace and strength, while his technical and mental capabilities are quite average. He is a good leader though.

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Left Winger – No 18 – Corentin Tirard

Corentin looks like a good solid winger. He has no outstanding strengths and no big glowing weak spots. He’s just pretty solid across the board. He’s not as quick as I’d like a 25 year old winger to be but he has chipped in with 7 goals this season so he must be doing something right.

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Advanced Forward – No 11 – Florian Ayé

Florian is crucial to this team. He’s our top goalscorer with 13 in 31 appearances, but he’s not what I’d describe as a natural goalscorer. He’s a determined and hard working target man and is physically quite outstanding: Decent pace, good jumping reach, excellent physical fitness and good strength. It doesn’t look like we have an abundance of goalscorers in this team so Florian’s going to lead the line as an advanced forward.

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There are plenty of contracts expiring at the end of the Season, which will go some way to sorting out the bloated squad problem, so I decide to get some early transfer business done. The targets won’t surprise you I don’t think. I definitely need to look at a natural goalscorer and a playmaker, so I lodge bids with my former club Santos of £450k for Hicham Aidir and £250k for Joël Soumahoro. I also need at least 1 quality defender, so a bid of £400k for Mike Kakuba follows, and I’m not ready to stop developing Isaac Sohna yet, so I bid £375k for his services. Goolam accepts all of them and I offer the players contracts, with Isaac Sohna and Mike Kakuba instantly agreeing to rejoin me in the Summer. We’ll have to wait until after the match to lock down the other 2.

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For now though it’s time to turn our attention to the League match against ESTAC Troyes. As if an away match at a local rival wasn’t enough of a baptism of fire for me, Troyes seem to be 11 places and 17 points above us in the League, so they’ll be tricky opposition.

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L’AJA, as my new team are known, have lost 5 matches in a row and haven’t recorded a win in our last 8. Morale is understandably on the floor. The only time I can remember being in this much of a slump was during my short stint in Katowice, at which time I tried everything under the sun to turn us around and nothing worked. I very very nearly got us relegated. I have a massive advantage now though as I’m not carrying any of the baggage or frustration from Auxerre’s previous matches. I’m not overthinking it. I get to come in as an outsider and look at the club’s situation objectively, and for me there’s only 1 thing for it – Back to basics.

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I’ve enjoyed very basic systems this year in particular as they allow your players to play their natural games so that they’ll be more comfortable, while still having a structure to work around. I won’t be bogging the players down with a load of instructions, we’ll use Project: Meatloaf Mk II just like I’ve been using in Lansdowne. We will however play ultra narrow, which is becoming my usual solution against narrow formations like Troyes’ flat 4-3-3, as having the players packed together restricts space in the centre where the opposition are trying to focus their play.

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12 minutes in we’re holding our own and even putting together some passes. Striker Florian Ayé cuts in from the left wing and passes to Tirard on the edge of the box. A defender sticks a boot in and dispossesses Tirard but Ayé’s quickest to react, putting his foot through the ball, which flies goalwards – And bounces in off the post. The hosts stick religiously to their 4-3-3 even long after it’s become clear that we’re not going to allow it to work. The rest of the first half and much of the second is scrappy, with both teams cancelling each other out.

With 20 minutes to play in the match, I bring on arguably our best winger – Roland Zoungrana, who I nickname Zoun. Ibrahim Sangaré comes off. The reason I started with Ibrahim is that he looked solid and looked like he’d do a job for us, and then I could bring on Zoun, our lightning fast Burkinabe secret weapon. I’m going to use him as an impact substitute at first because the difference in speed between him and a tired left back is just glorious. He’s not the finished article though. He’s 21 years old and has not yet mastered the technical side of the game. If I can get this lad better at his crossing and his dribbling for a start, he’ll be fantastic.

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Zoun doesn’t make any sort of impact from the bench, but to be fair he doesn’t need to. The match stays tight, scrappy and frustrating until the final whistle blows. We pick up our first victory in 8 matches in our local rivals’ back yard.

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I’m delighted. Absolutely ecstatic. We’ve even leapfrogged La Berrichonne into 16th place. Just like that, we’ve got a chance to build confidence and momentum. The monkey’s off our back and we’re 3 points clear of the relegation play off spot. L’AJA aren’t safe yet, but what a fucking start.

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Episode 119 >