The Franjo Show (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep216)

I’ve got some demons to exercise.

The State of Franjo (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Meta-sode 216.5)

My Experience With Game Development (So Far)

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 215

I feel powerful since our victory over Monaco. It’s an odd feeling for me to be honest. I’ve made my career for the most part by improving relegation scrappers or lower-midtable teams and trying to secure their futures. Even until now as Paris Saint-Germain manager, I’ve seen us as the underdogs in the title race. It’s Monaco who are the reigning Champions. It’s Monaco who have had a stranglehold on Ligue 1 for the last few years. But suddenly it’s as if a switch has flipped. We’re 6 points clear at the top, we’ve defeated our rivals and the title is now clearly ours to lose. We’re the favourites to win the bloody thing.

I’ve won two domestic league titles in my career: When Sport Clube Angrense romped to the Portuguese Championship undefeated and when Auxerre fought off Bourg-en-Bresse to win Ligue 2. In many ways though this is a completely different proposition to both. Nobody expected Angrense or Auxerre to even be in the conversation for promotion and we certainly didn’t have a team of international all-stars on our books. Everyone knows that Ligue 1 is a two horse race though. Paris Saint-Germain are no surprise package and there’ll be no pity if we lose the advantage we’ve earned so far. This is Paris Saint-Germain and we expect titles. We have 23 matches left to play and we have to keep this form going throughout every single one. We can’t let it slip.

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With that in mind, we need to keep our feet on the ground when we travel to Nice today. Although we’ve been picking up wins, our away performances have been far from convincing lately and underperforming Nice are due a win. With that being said though, I’m making alterations to the team sheet. Yes, we need to keep our league form going but in a few days we have an absolutely crucial Champions League tie against Roma and I want us in top knick for it. A loss in that one would drop us into second place in our group and most likely hand us a tough First Knockout Round and so should be avoided at all costs.

Only Gigi Donnarumma and Philipe Coutinho keep their places from the Monaco game as we make sweeping changes: Lucas and Triponez are in for Marquinhos and Ibarra in defence, Renan and Dobby replace Bologna and Lato as wingbacks and Kovacic and Veiga replace Neves and Éder in central midfield. Young forward Christian Osséré makes his full league debut as Coman’s rested from the right wing, Orlando comes back from injury to replace Cvitanovic on the left and Moise Kean is in for Manuel Bueno. Yes, it’s a second string, but… What a bloody second string, eh?

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We fly out of the traps, winning ourselves a second minute corner that Kovacic takes. The ball’s cleared but given back to the Croatian, who swings another cross in towards the far post. Osséré’s there but the angle’s tight, so he heads it back across goal for Kean, who volleys us ahead. 5 minutes later we have another decent chance when Coutinho plays a nice reverse ball to Orlando, who cuts across the box but miscues his right footed shot, sending the ball trickling wide of the far post.

The action dies down for the majority of the quiet half, but does build momentarily when Nice come forward threateningly with a few minutes to play before the break. Ivanovic squares the ball to Testolini 25 yards out, who dribbles to the edge of the box but lashes his shot over Donnarumma’s goal.

On the hour I make a couple of changes to keep a couple of key players fresh: Coutinho and Kovacic are replaced by Hutka and Éder. Just 6 minutes later we have a good chance when Osséré passes it short to Hutka and the substitute launches a great pass into the left channel for Kean. With almost effortless quality, the Italian takes a single touch to take him free of the pair of chasing defenders into the box and then slots the ball beyond Cardinale into the far bottom corner. A couple of minutes after our second goal, Hutka plays another nice chipped ball towards the left wing and this time Orlando chests it down as he cuts inside. Kean cleverly draws both centre backs to the left side of the area, leaving Orlando with a clear pass to Osséré on the far side. The youngster has a free shot from 8 yards out but can only slam the ball against the post.

With just under 20 minutes to play we’re putting on a show with some nice zipped passes around the edge of the final third. Éder passes to Renan, who spots an opportunity and plays the ball around the Nice left back for Osséré, who puts a low first time cross into the 6 yard box for Kean, who sidefoots it home for his second hat trick in three games. I allow him his own ovation from the fans and give Manuel Bueno a 15 minute run out in which he really should score our fourth: Just minutes later, Orlando wriggles down the left and chips a cross in to the big man 4 yards out, but he heads it clean over. 3-0 it finishes.

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We get a couple of bits of pleasant news over the next couple of days. We draw either Rouais or Fleury, both of whom are lower league teams, at home in the 9th round of the French Cup and then we have a few players in the Team of the Week: Lucas, Silvio Cvitanovic, Moise Kean and pleasingly, Christian Osséré. It’s a shame the lad couldn’t bag a goal but he had a good game nonetheless.

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I’ve been looking forward to this match ever since the draw was made. I’m returning to Rome, the site of my last match as France manager. I’ve got some demons to exercise at the Stadio Olympico and defeating Roma to secure the top spot in Group C would, I think, be a fitting way to return.

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I’ve got a full strength squad to select from, so once again I’m picking a full strength line up. Donnarumma and Coutinho keep their places again and after his last few matches, I think it’d be silly to drop Moise Kean. Aside from those 3 though, it’s all change again. Marquinhos, Ibarra, Bologna, Neves, Lato, Éder, Coman and Cvitanovic all come back in. As he did against Monaco, Éder will take up a slightly more defensive role than usual, but apart from that it’s the classic Project: InSeine formula.

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Again, we start like a blue and red thunderbolt. 13 seconds into the game, Moise Kean chips the ball down the left, Coutinho crosses from the byline and Coman pops up 6 yards out to head us in front. What a start. Before the first 10 minutes are up, the same trio links again too when Kean draws Coly out of his centre back position and slips Coutinho through. Coly’s centre back partner Babic comes across to cover, but the Brazilian magician plays the ball into the space for Coman, who bursts in on goal and wellies it low, but Alisson pulls off a fantastic save to deny us a second. From the resulting corner the ball comes out to Coutinho 20 yards out and he passes to Neves, who lays it off for Kean. I’d back him to score from anywhere given his recent form but his 18 yard strike flashes just wide of the far post.

Then it’s finally Roma’s turn to attack in the 11th minute when Embolo finds Nnam in space just outside our box. He wriggles into a shooting position and drills a shot inches wide. 3 minutes later the end to end action continues. Cvitanovic passes to Kean just inside Roma’s half and the striker jinks through into the final third, but again shoots wide from 25 yards. 2 minutes after that, Salah turns superbly on the left wing, taking Neves and Bologna instantly out of the equation. He whips a cross in, Embolo cushions it down with his head for Muñoz 10 yards out, who places his shot against the foot of the post. It should be 1-1.

We get about 10 minutes to relax after an action packed first quarter of an hour, but then when Cvitanovic curls a cross into a messy penalty area from our corner, Salah unsubtly bats it clear with his hand. The referee points straight to the spot. The unflappable Rúben Neves steps up and places the ball perfectly into the top left corner from 12 yards, giving Alisson absolutely no chance. 2-0 and we’re looking good value to win the group.

Before the half hour a long ball from Ibarra is helped on by Cvitanovic for Kean, who touches it straight through into the box where Coutinho’s waiting in space. He should make it 3 but can only poke his effort against the near post. Straight from the goal kick Roma come back at us through Muñoz, who breaks quickly through our half leaving Neves for dead. He plays it inside for Nnam, who passes it on for Rajkovic but the midfielder is forced out wide by Marquinhos. He does manage to get a cross in from the left byline and Embolo rises at the far post with the goal at his mercy, but whether it’s a pass or a really poor shot, his header goes straight back to Rajkovic, who’s offside. That’s another let off to be fair.

Roma push us again a minute later but we win the ball and break with Cvitanovic. The German playmaker passes to Kean 35 yards from Roma’s goal and he spins past Coly with ease before bearing down on the penalty area, but again he fizzes a shot just wide. I’d really appreciate it if he could remember how to shoot at least until we’ve put this game to bed.

Half time has never been so welcome and I’m glad to put a nervy first half behind us. We hold a 2 goal lead but it’s been anything but convincing. It could be 4-4 if both sides were a bit more clinical. I’m tempted to drop back and try to kill the game, but decide against it. We go back out for the second half unchanged.

Within seconds of the restart, Roma waltz straight through us. Nnam gets the ball out onto the right wing, squares it for Muñoz inside the area and the striker shoots low but is denied by Éder’s outstretched leg. Call it knee-jerk, but fuck this. We immediately drop back to a counter attacking 4-2-3-1, featuring Éder and Neves as a deeper defensive midfield duo. The full backs will actually play as full backs instead of inverted wing backs and we’ll have our front 4 waiting to break down the flanks when possible.

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By the 54th minute, we’re under siege. Instead of making us more solid, all my changes seem to have done is invite Roma onto us. Pérez plays the ball out to Karsdorp on the right wing and the full back fizzes a vicious low cross diagonally into the box. Rajkovic, kept marginally onside by Toni Lato, arrives to blast the ball past our stranded goalkeeper. 5 minutes later, a Muñoz corner is flicked on by Nnam, left in acres of space by his marker Marquinhos at the near post. It drifts across the goalmouth and falls to Embolo, who nods his side level.

Bollocks. I may have made a mistake. We go hastily back to Project: InSeine and the fresh and pacy Darcílio comes on replacing Cvitanovic, with Coutinho moving to the number 10 position. I also bring on Manuel Bueno for the uncharacteristically wasteful Moise Kean and we’ll try and play a bit more direct up to him.

With 25 minutes to go, Haksabanovic plays a one-two with Rajkovic and then squares the ball to Muñoz, who has all the space in the world thanks to Ibarra’s lax marking. In torturous slow motion, he draws back his boot on the edge of the box and places a shot into the far bottom corner. Roma 3 – 2 PSG.

A few minutes later we finally come up for air after seemingly being trapped in our own half for over 20 minutes. Éder plays the ball over the top for Darcílio to run onto on the left and he tears to the byline before sliding a pass into the 6 yard box. Bueno arrives… BUENO SURELY… Blasts it against the underside of the bar and away. I think I see where this is going. For the last 17 minutes I bring off Lato, who’s had a disastrous match thanks to Roma’s ruthless attacking movement down the flanks. Lucas comes on to replace him and we go on the attack. We need at least a point because as it stands we’re finishing behind Roma.

In the final few minutes, Lucas is on the attack in the final third but is dispossessed by Karsdorp, who plays it straight down the line for Muñoz, who’s waiting on the halfway line. He sprints through our half, dodges Ibarra’s slide tackle, ghosts past Neves and reaches the right byline, where he plants a superb cross straight on Embolo’s forehead. We all know where the ball’s going. Sure enough, right into the top corner. After an even first half, we have been pulverised 2-4.

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Did you ever see The Truman Show? You know, the one where Jim Carrey is living in an artificial World, unknowingly the star of a Worldwide phenomenon television show based on his everyday life? At moments like this I wonder momentarily whether I’m the unwitting star of The Franjo Show. My players are all actors who have this week been given the brief of “Get a couple of goals, then crumble, so he gets all annoyed and goes one of those rants. Really crush his dreams, that’ll boost our ratings.” It’s a silly thought really because a day like today doesn’t need to be manufactured for a television show. It doesn’t need to be carefully crafted by Ed Harris as he broods himself silly in a studio somewhere wearing a stupid little beret, because sometimes, for no reason at all, life will just shit on you. Sometimes you can stem the tide. As powerful as I felt beforehand as much as it seemed like everything was falling into place for our season, my game management was poor today. By falling back too far too soon I allowed Roma the freedom of the pitch and let them build up a head of steam. I failed to stem the tide and that’s on me, but overall I still very much feel shat on.

So we’ve finished 2nd in our Champions League Group and we’ll take our medicine. We’ll almost certainly face a much stronger opponent in the next round than we would have as Champions, but we’ll pick ourselves up out of this shit, brush ourselves off… Probably hose ourselves down and give it everything. Good morning, Champions League Knockout Stage. And in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and goodnight.

Oh and seriously, fuck Rome.

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Meta-sode 216.5

Franjo v Enrique: Round 2 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep215)

Surely we won’t get a better chance to beat them all season.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 214

“Hey Boss,” Says Paris Saint-Germain captain and Brazilian international centre back Marquinhos, striding into my office with a cheeky grin, “How many AS Monaco footballers does it take to change a lightbulb?” I look up from my desk and eye him cautiously.

“Go on.”

“Five. Do you know why?”

“No.” I admit.

“Because AS Monaco footballers are idiots.” With that, Paris Saint-Germain captain and Brazilian international centre back Marquinhos throws his head back and howls with laughter. I watch him do so stoney-faced, simultaneously parsing his words in a desperate attempt to find some missed deeper meaning and wondering if I’d ever been this far away from wanting to laugh. After a moment, I come to the conclusions that A) there isn’t one and B) Maybe when I lost Meatloaf and Burnie, although it’s close.

“Right.” I say, as he wipes a tear from his eye.

“It’s good, yes? I have decided that I want to be the joker of the pack!” He stammers, still laughing.


“The joker of the pack.” He repeats, straightening up. “I want to make the team laugh with my funny jokes. For example, have you ever heard the one about the successful AS Monaco footballer?” He’s giggling before he even finishes the question.


“Me neither!” He roars, literally doubling up with a fresh wave of laughter.

“It’s better.” I begrudgingly concede. “Still not great though, is it? I mean Monaco have won Ligue 1 three years in-”

“Or here’s one! Here’s one!” Marquinhos steamrolls ahead with gusto. “Tell me knock knock.”

“You want… Ok. Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?” He grins.

“Well I don’t bloody know, do I?”

“Say ‘An AS Monaco footballer’.” He whispers.

“Ok. An AS Monac-”

“Eww go away, AS Monaco Footballer! I don’t want to see you!” He shouts, dramatically recoiling and plugging his nose before yet another baffling laughing fit.

“Good stuff,” I humour him with a kind smile. “And you’re going to be doing… This… A lot going forwards, are you?”

“Yes, I will be dropping by regularly with more funny jokes, I imagine.” He beams.

“Excellent.” I nod. “Unless I sell you first, eh?”

“Ah Boss, you would never sell me!” He heads for the door. “I just convinced Silvio Cvitanovic not to move to Chelsea! He and I and my funny, funny jokes are here to stay.” And with that, Paris Saint-Germain captain and Brazilian international centre back Marquinhos steps out of my office, letting the door swing shut behind him. Fantastic.

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Marquinhos does pop up a couple of times in the build up to our trip to Guingamp with more jokes, although I’ll spare you the details. All I’ll say is that his dislike of AS Monaco is intensifying as we get closer to what will be a crucial match in the title race. As I say though, before that match we’ve got one against Guingamp to think about.

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Marquinhos doesn’t travel for the Sunday tie, partially because he could do with a rest before the big game on Wednesday and partially because by this point I just need a fucking break, but the good news is that his compatriot Orlando has overcome his pesky calf strain and is fit enough for the bench. Guingamp are a poor side and are currently sat precariously above the relegation zone, but we can’t afford to rest too many players. As excellent a start to the season as we’ve had, I’m still not entirely convinced by our ability to kick down a door that’s been shut in our face. Guingamp, with their deep, compact 4-2-3-1, are a closed door. Éder is suspended, so the more attack-minded Kovacic replaces him, while Bologna returns to the starting line up ahead of Renan. Otherwise we’re unchanged.

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The closed door draws first blood just 4 minutes in when Serban crosses low from the left for Pavlovic, who isn’t marked tightly enough by Triponez and makes us pay for it by stroking the ball into the far corner of the net. Much of the half is played on the home side’s tight and scrappy terms, but we eventually draw level 5 minutes before the break when Bueno fires a pass down the left ahead of Coutinho, who keeps the ball from going out of play and floats a cross to the far post, where Coman volleys it in.

Our celebrations last under a minute however, because we switch off and are punished from kick off. Djuricic chips a quick pass into the right channel for Pavlovic, who bring the ball down well and half-volleys into the bottom corner to put Guingamp back in front. But still hellbent on not being behind at half time, PSG reply under 2 minutes later. This time Coman sprints down the right wing and curls cross from a deep position. It’s perfectly aimed towards Manuel Bueno on the edge of the 6 yard box and the big Spaniard tucks in another equaliser.

Rúben Neves comes off at the break because of his tired legs and the booking he’s picked up in the first half. Kovacic will drop back into the deep lying playmaker role while Cvitanovic comes on to play as a central midfield roamer. The Germany captain vindicates his inclusion within 5 minutes of the second half too, curling a 20 yard free kick into the top corner to put us into the league for the first time.

The rest of the match is a bit quiet, with Guingamp reluctant to leave their defensive shape and chase the lead. I bring Orlando on for Veiga for the last half hour to attempt to stretch their defence, but to no avail. They actually nearly level the scores in the 91st minute, but when Himeno chips a cross in from the right wing, Lefeuvre can only head the ball against the foot of the near post. It’s an uncomfortable 3 points, but it’s 3 points that really piles the pressure onto our next opponents and that’ll do for me.

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Before our midweek showdown though, we do get a bit of distracting news. After beating Spain and qualifying from our EIL group, England have drawn European Champions Portugal in the Semi-Finals in June. It’ll be a tough ask to take on Gelson and co, but I have to fancy our chances of an upset.

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But there’ll be time for that. For now it’s Paris Saint-Germain v AS Monaco. 1st v 2nd. Franjo v Enrique: Round 2. Monaco can move level on points with us if they win and they can move top if they win by 5 goals or more. Obviously I’d really rather that doesn’t happen. If we win, we can go 6 entire points clear at the top. I know it’s still early days as far as the title’s concerned, but that’d be a hell of a boost to our chances.

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I’m going full strength for obvious reasons. Out comes Kovacic for the more defensive Éder, out comes Veiga for the more influential Cvitanovic and out come Triponez and Lucas for Ibarra and Marquinhos, who got shouted down by his teammates mid-doctor-doctor-joke during training this morning. Ibarra’s given strict instructions to stay tight to Vinícius Júnior as the lone striker is one of Monaco’s main threats. Bernardo Silva will also need to be watched but the good news is that again, Kylian Mbappé misses out through injury. Surely we won’t get a better chance to beat them all season.

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10 minutes in, we break down the right hand side, creating the first good chance of the match. Coman races down the line from our third to Monaco’s byline leaving Chiesa and Theo Hernández choking on dust in his wake. He chips a cross in, Fabinho heads it clear to the edge of the box where Cvitanovic lurks. He catches it perfectly with his laces on the half volley and bloody leathers it into the top corner of Audero’s net. It’s definitely too early to celebrate, but fuck it. I allow myself a fistpump. Before my hand even returns to my side though, we win possession from kick off, Bologna plays the ball out to Coman, the superb Frenchman swings a cross to the far post and Bueno heads the ball back across goal and in. I half-laugh as my players sprint to congratulate the target man in the corner of the pitch. Ever since I joined PSG, my every other thought has been of Monaco. That we’d need to play them, beat them in matches and over the course of the campaign. I’ve had one eye on this match for nearly 4 months and within 11 minutes we’re 2-0 up and cruising.

5 minutes later it should be 3. Cvitanovic this time chips the ball over the top of the defence, commencing a race between Bueno and Fabinho which the former wins at a canter. Bueno takes a touch inside the box and shoots from a narrow angle, but Audero stretches out a hand to claw the ball behind. Just before the break we’re pegged back when Tolisso chips the ball forwards for Silva, who chests it down and shoots low. Gigi beats it back into danger and Marquinhos gets to the loose ball first, but his clearance is mishit and only goes as far as Chiesa, who slots it into the bottom corner.

The second half is low quality, but I’m fine with that. Orlando comes on for Coutinho to give us more pace on the break and Bernardo has a 35 yard potshot caught by Gigi on the hour, but as the half goes on we grow more and more comfortable. With 20 minutes to play I decide to shut up shop. We drop to a defensive 4-1-4-1 with the energetic Moise Kean replacing the tiring Manuel Bueno.

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Kean has a potshot of his own in the dying moments of the match, but as I say, the half is really poor quality. Neither side has a clear cut chance or even a decent one. We see the match out at 2-1 and open up a 6 point lead at the top of Ligue 1. I said after our last encounter with Enrique’s men that the league is my priority and I stand right by that. We’ve not lost a league match yet and if we can beat the reigning champions, why on Earth should we lose one all season? Hand me my trusty grey coat and get a message to the boys in Hero Creek: Fuck Monaco and Fuck the title. Old Franjo’s going for a second invincible season.

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Episode 216 >

Allez Paris! (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep214)

It’s hypnotic, it’s mesmerising, it’s beautiful and fucking hell it might be my favourite goal ever.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 213

It’s really obscene, some of the things you start to take for granted as manager of Paris Saint-Germain, you know. International players for example. I’ve already spoken about how far we’ve come from the days of getting overly excited about Lassina Touré nearly playing for Burkina Faso to now having a squad full of World-renowned talent, but over the break Alon Keren made his debut for Israel. When the news broke, I had what I’m sure is the same question you have: Who the fuck is Alon Keren?

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Well I’m telling a bit of a porky really, because of course I know Alon. He was in our first team when I arrived in Paris but was quickly moved to the reserves and I’ve barely heard his name since. My point still stands though, which is that even Paris Saint-Germain’s reserve players, who are quite frankly nowhere near the first team, are considered sufficient quality to play international football. To be fair, Alon’s only so far away because we have so many attacking midfielders, which I’m not sure if I’ve already mentioned. I almost feel ashamed to have such depth at my disposal though, as if I’m hoarding an army of wasted talent from the rest of the world. And you know that somewhere in the Israeli leagues there’s a Yossi Benayoun-esque journeyman midfielder playing 40 first team matches per season and fuming his tits off that he’s been beaten to a cap by a lad playing for a big club’s reserves. Anyway I suppose my point is… Good job, Alon.

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In other international break related news, Boris Triponez came back nursing a broken nose that he picked up during Switzerland’s match against Sweden and will be out for a couple of weeks, while Orlando, who was very stubbornly not selected for the Brazil squad by Argel Fucks, picked up a calf strain in training and is also out for a short spell.

Orlando made the last Team of the Week after we beat Stade Rennais 4-3, along with Matteo Kovacic, whose Croatia side gave me a headache and Silvio Cvitanovic, who’s come back from Germany absolutely knackered. We’ve also drawn Guingamp in what should hopefully be a straightforward Coupe de la Ligue fourth round tie.

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So with a crucial Champions League match against København just days away, what do we do about Ajaccio? On paper it’s another straightforward tie: We should sweep a probable relegation battling team aside, especially with home advantage, but with Orlando and Triponez out, Ricardo Ibarra suspended and Cvitanovic blowimg out of his arse, we’re going to have to make some decisions. I want a full strength side at full fitness against the Danes as we could qualify from our group with a win. You could even say that I’d be willing to play a second string against Ajaccio and risk sacrificing 3 points in the league to achieve that. Just to add an extra spice though, Monaco have just lost their first Ligue 1 match of the season against Lyon and so the top spot is ours for the taking. I’d take a scrappy win.

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Although we’re resting some players, we’ve still got a strong lineup: Donnarumma starts in net with Marquinhos and Lucas in defence, Renan and Lato are our wingbacks, Neves and Éder are in central midfield and Coman, Veiga, Coutinho and Bueno are our front 4. Ajaccio look like they’re set up to frustrate and to grind out a clean sheet. Allez, Paris.

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13 minutes in, Éder plays the ball to Veiga and sets off sprinting towards the box, but the Spanish playmaker spins and attempts to loft a ball over the top for Coman to run onto. Padovano rises to head the ball clear but only as far as Éder, who brings the ball down expertly just outside the box and drills it into the bottom corner to open his PSG account. Good lad.

Almost quarter of an hour later, Renan breaks up a rare Ajaccio foray into our half by winning the ball from Vasseur and hoofing it down the line for Coman to chase. Coman leaves Padovano in his dust, sprints to the byline, pulls the ball across and Bueno slides in to knock in our second.

Before the match, I said that a scrappy win would do. Well, at half time I bring on Dobby, Hutka and Osséré so that Lato, Neves and Coman can have a bit of a rest, after which… Fuck all happens. The match makes for grim viewing, but all that matters is that another 3 points lifts us clear at the top of Ligue 1.

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Quite annoyingly, Rodolfo Chao goes and picks up a bruised shin in the buildup to the København match. Seeing as he’s not actually registered for Ligue 1 it would be handy to have him available for our Champions League ties, but to be fair we do have a lot of other options available ahead of him. Elsewhere, our unbeaten streak in Ligue 1 stretches to 20 matches and Éder makes Team of the Week alongside Auxerre’s Amine Reynier. My two biggest signings have had a good week.

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The ideal scenario for our next match is that we win and Roma lose. Currently we’re tied for first place in the group on 7 points apiece and I’d rather we put ourselves firmly in the driving seat at the top before we have to face them in the final game of the group stage.

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For København’s visit we’re making just 2 changes: Marquinhos is short on fitness and so makes way for Triponez, while Silvio Cvitanovic replaces Veiga. I was also going to bring Kovacic in for Éder, but as the Brazilian picked up a booking against Ajaccio he’s now banned for our next match against Guingamp, so I may as well swap Kovacic in for that one instead. Ibarra and Darcílio both join the bench.

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The first 20 minutes of the match is disappointing. We’re having a lot of possession but our passes into the final third are woefully inaccurate. We need to pass to feet to work the ball through the visitors’ half more effectively. 7 minutes from half time however we get our first chance and in blatant disregard for my tactical instructions, Cvitanovic chips the ball down the left for Coutinho to run onto. Coutinho crosses for Manuel Bueno, who volleys the ball low and hard into the net to open the scoring.

Here’s a strange one: When I get into the changing room at half time, the team’s in good spirits. They’re relieved and happy and Bueno’s getting pats on his big balding head from everyone in reach. However despite the fact that he’s put us in front, I feel like he’s holding us back. Yes he got on the end of a cross, but during our build up play he’s being absolutely dominated and is losing the ball every time it’s played to him. Ignoring his look of dismay, I tell Manuel he won’t be going back onto the pitch for the second half. Moise Kean will be coming on instead as a deep lying forward. The opposition centre backs looked quite comfortable marking our static target man, but Kean will be dropping into space, moving into channels and giving them a bit more to think about.

We restart for the second half and Kean instantly makes a difference, giving the rest of the team a more mobile target who they can spring into space. Approaching the hour, a particularly good ball from Kingsley Coman is fired into the right channel and Kean beats the offside trap, latches onto the pass, sprints into the box and drills our second under Radu’s flailing body. God, I’m good. Kean’s not bad either.

A shot’s soon fired across the bows of my ego though when the Danes put together a good move: Thomsen passes to Kishna, who slips the ball into the channel for Benali, who shoots just inches wide of the near post. I make a few subs shortly afterwards, with Kovacic and Darcílio replacing Neves and Cvitanovic. Kovacic moves into Éder’s role while the Brazilian drops back to protect the defence and Darcílio goes out onto the left wing, allowing Coutinho to move behind the striker.

With 15 minutes to go we’re looking good value for the win and nearly get a third goal when Kovacic’s corner is cleared and given back to him by Darcílio. Kovacic crosses again, Varela tries to head the ball clear but only succeeds in flicking it on across goal and Moise Kean arrives to head it low against the foot of the post.

5 minutes later we put together a really fantastic move. It starts when Éder slides in perfectly on Benali to win us possession and Lucas takes over, passing to Triponez who then plays it to Lato on the left. The Spanish left back dribbles to the halfway line and passes it to Darcílio, who cuts in from the byline, surges past 2 København players and gives the ball to Coutinho. Coutinho plays it straight to Kovacic, who carries it into the final third and plays a one-two with Coman before digging his foot under the ball and chipping it into the box. Moise Kean chests it down on the turn, jinks past the outrushing Radu and rolls the ball into the empty net. It’s hypnotic, it’s mesmerising, it’s beautiful and fucking hell it might be my favourite goal ever. 3-0.

The visitors continue to offer very little going forwards. 7 minutes from time, Benali tries a really optimistic potshot from the right wing and hits the side netting. From the goal kick, we build another attack: Lato winds up with the ball in a deep position on the left wing, swings a cross in, Kean leaps to beat Radu in the air and guides his header into the net. The substitute’s hat trick is completed. Game over.

A couple of minutes later, Strand’s hoofed ball bounces over our back line and Gigi Donnarumma rushes out of his area to meet it, but Benali beats him to it, takes a touch to go round our keeper and slots in a consolation goal. It would’ve been nice to come away from such an impressive win with a clean sheet, but it doesn’t really matter. We’ve turned up in the second half playing attractive and effective football and we’ve largely got Moise Kean to thank. What a performance.

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Elsewhere, Roma drew with Sevilla. This means that we’re out of reach of third placed Sevilla and have qualified from our group. Obviously that was expected and not doing so would’ve been seen as a complete failure, but I’m happy nonetheless that we’ve managed it with a game to spare. It also means that a draw from our final match against Roma will clinch us the top spot and a more favourable First Knockout Round matchup. Allez Paris!

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Episode 215 >

The Nuevo Mestalla Showdown (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep213)

I fear that I may have brought this on myself.

Side note: I’m off on holiday so won’t be posting. See you in a couple of weeks!

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“Franjo?” A reporter near the front raises her hand and I nod for her to continue. “What would you say to the claims that you’re slowly eroding the quality of this England side?” I blink, momentarily taken aback, but quickly put on a composed facade.

“I’ve not really heard those claims.” I reply slowly. “Could you elaborate?”

“Well,” She continues, “Some are pointing towards the fact that you seem to be building around a core of Championship and lower Premier League players, players not proven at the top level and players like Phil Jones whose better days are behind them. You’re also playing an awful lot of them out of their natural positions.” I pause for a moment, parsing the criticism.

“Phil Jones has won 2 Serie A titles in the last 3 seasons.” I say coldly.

“As a centre back.” Another journalist pipes up. “And he’s 32, shouldn’t we be looking towards the future?”

“We are!” I laugh in disbelief. “But they’re apparently too young, so I’m not sure what you want.” I force myself to remain calm, but the dam that holds back the dyke of my 3 decades of international frustration is bulging and straining with the effort of it. “Was Teddy Sheringham too old at 36 when he scored against Greece and got us to the World Cup in 2002? Was Wayne Rooney too young when he broke into the England team at 17? Was he too immature and inexperienced when he was running rings around international defenders in 04 and 06?”

“Probably.” Says the first journalist bluntly. “He stamped on Ricardo Carvalho.”

“Look, there’s no magic formula for this, you know. I’ve been England manager for 3 months and I’m casting a wide net. Yes, that includes some Championship footballers that have impressed me. Yes, that includes some young players who I think can lead us into the future and yes that includes Phil Jones. In Midfield. Any more questions?” The first journalist smiles as she begins scribbling away in her notepad, but nobody speaks. “Right. Cheers.”

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Jordan Pickford (Sunderland), Jack Butland (Arsenal), Will Mannion (Norwich City)

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John Stones (Liverpool), Michael Keane (Real Madrid), Juddy Lokando (Manchester City), Louis Winterton (Southampton), Harry Winks (West Bromwich Albion), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Real Sociedad on loan from Liverpool), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Charlie Taylor (Swansea City)

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Eric Dier, Dele Alli (Both Tottenham Hotspur), Reece Oxford (Watford), Jordan O’Halloran (Stoke City), Jack Willis (Arsenal), Stuart Coleman (Manchester United), Phil Jones (AC Milan), Adam Bell (Leicester City)

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Oliver Webb (Chelsea), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Marcus Rashford (Real Madrid), Frank Udeh (Middlesborough) 

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I’ve made a few changes for England’s matches against Croatia and Spain and if I’m honest, they’ve been met with some bemusement. The first is in defence, where I’ve chosen to swap out Mason Holgate for his uncapped Southampton teammate Louis Winterton. Holgate’s a fine player and like Winterton he’s in good form, but the way I reason it, there isn’t much difference in ability between the two, Louis has actually been playing at centre back as oppose to Mason, who plays right back for his club and Louis is 7 years younger. It’s really a no brainer. Louis can also play in midfield, which you might think I would utilise given my recent trend of playing centre backs as ball winners, but for me he’s a back liner. He’s not tenacious or aggressive enough to play the midfield role I want.

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My second change is the inclusion of Arsenal’s Jack Willis ahead of Bournemouth’s Ed Salmon in the box-to-box role. I like Ed and I have absolutely no doubt that he’ll be back in the England team in time, but his form’s been sliding in the Championship and Jack deserves a chance to impress having had a decent start to the season. He’ll be celebrating the second anniversary of his first and only cap under Eddie Howe in two days time and although he doesn’t exactly scream “World Class” to me, he’s a good player, a good worker and I reckon he’ll fit in fine.

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The third change really pains me. Over the last year I’ve gawped at Eddie Howe’s ridiculous decision to overlook Jobel in his England squads while the Stoke City man topped all the Premier League goalscoring charts. 3 months into my England reign he’s managed 4 goals in 12 appearances and I just can’t justify his inclusion. His replacement is the uncapped Frank Udeh, who was unlucky to be kept out of my last squad by Jobel’s decent form and Harry Kane’s return from injury, but now I have space to give another striker a look and he’s next in the queue. Frank’s had a decent couple of seasons in the Championship on loan at Millwall and Wolves from Arsenal, in which time he made 93 appearances and scored 41 goals. After his £7M summer switch to Middlesborough though he’s been on fire, scoring 8 in his first 14 games and positioning the Boro in a relatively comfortable 2nd place.

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Just while we’re on strikers, David Crammond is the man who was left out of my last squad to facilitate Harry Kane’s inclusion but he’s nowhere near breaking back in after a horrible few months. The striker somewhat justifiably feels that he’s outgrown West Ham but made the eyerollingly poor decision to throw his toys out of the pram and demand a move that never came. Now he’s found himself in what I like to call “The Berahino Zone”, where he’s unhappy with the club, the club are unhappy with him and his form is reflecting it. 2 goals in 10 is not good enough, Davey boy. Also he’s sprained his ankle, just to pile on the misery. And speaking of players nowhere near this squad, Lewis Cook is still not playing for City. The pair of them are really good players and I wish I had a reason to include them, but between them they’re earning almost £300k per week, so maybe I’m the one making poor life decisions.

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To warm us up for our final EIL match away at Pep’s place, we’re travelling to Zagreb to take on one of Euro 24’s most laughably poor sides, Croatia. After watching them over the Summer I do expect us to win, but we can’t overlook Mateo Kovacic, who’s been excellent for my PSG side. As it’s a friendly I’ll also be experimenting a bit with personnel, giving some of my “first choice” side a bit of a rest before the Spain game.

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Let’s talk about keepers for a second, actually. Jordan Pickford’s starting this match and unless he cocks up monumentally, he’ll start against Spain too as he’s my first choice. To be perfectly honest though, I’m not happy with any of the goalkeepers in my squad. Pickford and Butland are both decent but prone to flappy hand syndrome, while Mannion seems fine but will never grow into an international starter. We need fresh blood but I just don’t know where it’s going to come from. There are a few good young keepers playing in the reserves of Premier League teams but until their clubs give them a chance I’m certainly not going to. We’ll keep an eye on that.

Ahead of Pickford, Louis Winterton makes his debut alongside our experienced vice-captain John Stones, Reece Oxford is ahead of them as the half back, while TAA and Shaw are going to be the wing backs. Jordan O’Halloran starts with Stu Coleman in midfield, with Abel playing just behind Oliver Webb and debutant Frank Udeh.

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We push Croatia back with some nice football in the opening minutes and our first chance comes when Webb spreads the ball out to the left wing, Shaw heads it into the box and Udeh gets a header on goal, but he can’t find enough power and the effort’s caught by Maric.

After quarter of an hour, Croatia have their first go when Damjanovic surges onto the left wing from a central position and drills what I think is a cross against the near post. To be fair, Pickford had it covered anyway. A minute later, Damjanovic cuts in from the right but is dispossessed by a perfect Coleman slide tackle, sending the ball sliding away across the turf towards our box. Krovinovic picks up the loose ball, finds a yard of space ahead of Stones and places a shot into the top left corner to give the Croatians the lead.

10 minutes on, Udeh tees a shot up perfectly for Stuart Coleman, who lashes the ball straight down the middle from the edge of the box, forcing Maric to push it behind for a corner, which comes to nothing. On the half hour, Croatian dangerman Vlasic runs at our defence and shoots low and hard towards the corner, but Pickford, in true Pickford style, pulls off an excellent fingertip save and parries the ball right back into danger in the 6 yard box. Luckily Winterton’s there to clear our lines.

Croatia frustrate us for the remainder of the first half and for the majority of the second. On the hour I bring Rashford on for Webb, in the 75th minute we go all out attack and with just 10 minutes to go, we make a rare formation change to a 4-2-3-1. Jack Willis and Harry Kane come on replacing Coleman and Oxford as we pile more and more players forward in search of the equaliser.

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We enter injury time still thoroughly frustrated and Harry Kane even picks up a gash on his head, which I hope won’t keep him out of the next match. For now, he’s bandaged up and plays on but it takes us until the 93rd minute to create our next good chance. John Stones plays a long ball forward into the right channel, it bounces over the defence, Rashford brings it down and powers it low past Maric to finally get us back onto level pegging.

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I’ll take that. Not exactly a vintage performance but a late goal is always a confidence booster and there were definitely some positives. Winterton for example had a really good debut… Actually no, that’s about it.

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Now this is a very interesting development.

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While we were busy playing out a forgettable draw against Croatia, Austria were doing us a hell of a favour in the European International League, beating Pep’s Spain 2-1. I assumed that Spain would win and would sit on top of our group on 9 points going into the final match and in doing so, I made an ass out of you and me. Weirdly the shock result doesn’t actually change the context of our match at all though. If Spain were on 9 points, we’d have to beat them in more convincing fashion than they beat us to go to the top of the league and qualify for the Semi-Finals in the Summer. Now though, we’re both on 6 points and we… Need to beat them anyway. If it came down to goal difference a draw would do as we’re doing 6 goals better, but it doesn’t, so it wouldn’t. I am hoping though that losing to the group’s whipping boys will put a dent in Spain’s confidence, which we can take advantage of.

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Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece Oxford and Abel are all coming out of the side to make way for Harry Winks, Eric Dier and Dele Alli, who quite frankly I just trust more. I’m also bringing Frank Udeh out and although Harry Kane’s gashed head has healed up quite nicely, I’m going to start Marcus Rashford ahead of him. Rashford’s been one of our better players under my regime and I think he and Webb are probably our best attacking configuration. The final change is at the back, where Louis Winterton is coming out to be hesitantly replaced by Juddy Lokando. Winterton had a good debut and Lokando made a couple of mistakes in the home tie against the Spaniards that really cost us, but I can’t hold it against him. He’s probably our best defensive prospect going forwards so I have to just trust that he’s learned from that match and put it behind him. Tactically I’m making a little tweak in midfield, with Coleman given a more defensive ball winning role so that Spain can’t break on us through the space we often granted them in the middle last time.

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As I step out onto the Nuevo Mestalla touchline, Guardiola appears by my side and claps a hand around my shoulders. “Good luck, my friend and may the best team win.” He smiles. I don’t. It’s time to take your medicine, Josep.

The action begins immediately as Spain barrel through our half and win a corner. Isco swings it in but the ball’s cleared and we counter through Marcus Rashford, who surges dangerously through Spain’s half and lets fly from the edge of the box, sending his shot just wide of the far post. In the 5th minute Isco finds himself in space on the left wing and gets a cross in. Lokando and Pickford both come to claim it but the keeper misjudges the flight of the ball and it’s Lokando that gets to it, rising well to head it clear. The defender’s header gets as far as the edge of the box however and with Pickford still in no man’s land, Pérez takes the opportunity to smash a volley over his head and put Spain into the lead. The corner of my mouth twitches. That was so poor by our number 1. Change is needed.

In the 13th minute we put a lovely move together. Alli sprays the ball out to Winks on the right wing, who holds it up for a second before playing it around the corner to meet the run of Ollie Webb. Webb takes a touch, fizzes a low cross towards the 6 yard box and Dele Alli Arrives to tuck in the equaliser. This is more like it.

2 minutes later we win a corner and Webb goes across to take it. He swings the ball in, it’s headed back out and Alli nods it back out to Webb, who whips a cross in towards the near post… Where Juddy Lokando glances a header across goal and in. I punch the air fiercely as Juddy wheels away to celebrate his first international goal, but then I have to move quickly to restrain Rui Faria, who’s shouting unwritable things towards the home dugout. 2-1 England.

Just a minute after we take the lead however, Spain put together a good move of their own. Isco squares the ball inside from the right and Ramos has all the time in the World to slide it into the path of Pérez inside the box. Pérez cuts it back for Grimaldo, who also has acres of space to send a shot pinballing through the crowd of bodies and into the net. 2-2. The breathless start to the match continues when Rashford slips Alli through straight from kick off, but De Gea keeps the Spurs man’s shot out at his near post. We round off the first half with another chance when Rashford cuts in from the right wing while we counter a failed Spanish attack. Rashford plays it into the channel for Webb, who blasts it left footed and just misses the near post.

The second half starts in a similar vein to the first, with Ramos speeding down the left wing just 5 minutes in and hanging a cross up at the far post for Isco, who heads against the post from point blank range. It’s probably just as well for the sake of mine and Pep’s health that the match calms down a bit after that chance though. The next big chance doesn’t come until the 68th minute when Stuart Coleman wins possession in our box with another perfect slide tackle and Alli punts the ball forward to start a counter attack. Ollie Webb takes it down near the centre circle and curls a great pass over Spain’s defence for Rashford to run onto. The Madrid man has the beating of the defenders and runs through on goal as De Gea rushes out to meet him. Rashford dinks it low… AND IN AT THE FAR POST.

“Come on!” I scream, as my mind races to think of something slightly more constructive to do. “Charlie, Michael…” I gesture over to Taylor and Keane on the bench and signal for them to warm up. We’ll try to soak up pressure for the remaining 20 minutes, with Taylor coming on as a winger capable of tracking back and Keane coming on as a more defensive alternative to winks on the right of defence. We still have plenty of pace that we can use to hit them on the break, so we shouldn’t invite too much pressure onto ourselves.

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2 minutes later, Alli fires a weak shot at De Gea, who catches the ball and begins a period of immense Spanish pressure in our half. First Pablo lifts the ball over our defence for Villalibre, who lets it bounce and then half-volleys towards Pickford’s top corner, but the keeper uses his black-cat-like reflexes to tip the ball behind at full stretch. From the corner, the ball’s worked around our box and ends up with Pedro Javier, who drives a low shot which Pickford also turns behind with an excellent diving save. Good lad, Jordan.

5 minutes later, Pablo plays a beautiful, flat diagonal ahead of Lirola on the right wing. Lirola crosses it towards the penalty spot and Villalibre executes a perfect volley, rifling the ball into the back of the net before Pickford can even move. I fear that I may have brought this on myself, but not to worry. We hastily backpedal to the original plan of Project: Pride and introduce TAA in place of Luke Shaw. We now have Trent at right wing back, Taylor at left wing back and Michael Keane in central midfield, making him the 4th centre back I’ve subjected to this mad but fairly successful experiment in the space of 3 months.

With 7 minutes to play and with Spain back at the top of the EIL Division A Group 3 table, Isco finds space on the edge of our box and tries his luck from 25 yards, but it’s easy for Jordan Pickford to catch and he launches the ball up field as he so often does. Webb nods the ball on and Rashford brings it down, then fires it back in front of Webb on the right wing as the travelling fans roar encouragement for the striking pair. Red and white bodies are tearing through the Spanish half in equal measure, determined to either halt or help the developing attack, but they’re all ignored as Webb surges down the right, reaches the byline and pulls it back into the box for RASHFORD!

Pandemonium. Absolute fucking pandemonium as Marcus Rashford nearly takes the net off from 6 yards. People are jumping up on their seats, bottles are being thrown, shirts are coming off… And that’s just in our dugout. Not yet ready to join in the celebrations, I glance over to Pep, who’s stood on the touchline with his half on his chin, blankly staring over towards the Spanish goal. We pull back to our defensive 4-1-4-1 and eventually, after each remaining minute drags on for at least half an hour, we see the game out. We’ve bloody done it. We’ve won the pivotal game in a complete reversal of our previous match up.

My winless record against Josep Guardiola has been ended, Saint George’s cross has been flying throughout, the three lions have been thumped and kissed, Lokando has been vindicated, Rashford has been ruthless and Oliver Webb has just earned himself a mention in my fucking will. The inexperienced players, the out-of-position players, the Championship players, the players past their prime; They’ve all played their part in one way or another in this Group Stage.

So for the love of God, somebody hand me my vindication blanket afore I freeze amidst the icy glares of the tabloid press and while you’re it, hand Mr Guardiola a notebook and a pen, for he must be reminded and he must take note: That, sir, is how you win a fucking league.

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Episode 214 >

F*cks Off, Franjo! (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep212)

It’s taxing on the brain, you know; Being a man of the World.

Sidenote: Friday’s episode will be coming out Saturday instead. I think I’ve finally figured out what I want to write when this series eventually ends so excitedly researching and planning for that has eaten most of my week! Back on schedule next week.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 211

Bechkoura chortles over the morning paper. “You’re in here again. Have you seen the headline Le Monde’s gone with?” He asks, pushing the publication towards me. I glance down.

F*cks Off, Franjo!

“Charming.” I grin. I start to read the article aloud. “Argel F*cks has hit out aggressively at Paris Saint-Germain boss WT Franjo after he urged Brazil’s head coach to… What’s this word? Rec… Reconnaître-”

“Recognise. How long have you been in France now?”

“To recognise Orlando’s recent form and call him up to his latest squad. F*cks reportedly said that Franjo’s hands were full enough already and he should concentrate on picking his own teams. Blimey. Do they really have to censor his na-”

“I’m serious.” Bechkoura cuts in with a smirk. “You’ve been here for over 3 years and you’re not exactly fluent in French, are you?”

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“Well give me a break, will you? I’ve got all sorts rattling around up there nowadays! It gets confusing! Swedish, Portuguese-”

“Oh, learned a lot of Swedish in those 6 weeks did you?” His smirk grows wider.

Portuguese,” I reiterate, “Polish… Even a bit of German from the Liechtenstein days. It’s taxing on the brain, you know; Being a man of the World. You wouldn’t understand. How come you speak such good English?”

“Because I had to learn! You and Crouch were in at Auxerre and I had to learn to keep up. I had to pander to you English like the rest of the World always does.”

“Pander’s a good word. Good vocab.” I give him a thumbs up. He scowls back at me as if I’ve missed his point.

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You know what I’d love today? A bit of bloody payback for the thumping we received from Sevilla a few weeks ago. We’re in decent form now with 2 wins on the bounce and Dobby, Kovacic and Orlando are all deservedly included in Ligue 1’s Team of the Week. Kovacic and Orlando especially have had a magnificent couple of matches and if they recreate that form in the Champions League, we should be laughing.

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In other news, Rodolfo Borrell has finally caught up with me after watching Brahim Ferhat for what gelt like a full 6 months in Auxerre. He was in the crowd for our win over Rennes and is apparently interested in Marquinhos, our club captain who’s only just starting his season. If I have to say this any more the words are going to start lose meaning, so please Rodolfo, take the hint and jog the fuck on.

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We’ve pretty much got a full squad to pick from now. The only man that won’t be fit for this one is Manuel Bueno, who twisted his knee in the dying moments of the Rennes match and is out for about a week. He comes out of the side, as do Renan, Dobby and Coutinho who I want to rest. Bologna, Lato, Cvitanovic and Kean are all in.

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Our 2 in-form midfielders combine to create a chance in the 14th minute when our cleared corner leaves the ball with Orlando on the right hand side of the box. The winger, who we’ll assume will not be winning his first cap over the upcoming break, floats a cross to the back stick and Kovacic has to leap to stop the ball going out for a goal kick, instead sending it looping off his head, back across goal and clipping the top of the bar. 5 minutes later, Moise Kean holds the ball up 25 yards out and spins to slip Orlando through on the left. Orlando looks up from the byline and fizzes a low cross into the 6 yard box, where Dani Bologna of all people arrives to bundle home his first goal of the season.

A few minutes after the opener and with blood in the water, my Parisian sharks are circling. This time Cvitanovic switches the ball expertly to the left wing, where Orlando drives for the byline like he does and crosses for Kean, who turns a header over the bar from inside the 6 yard box. A disappointing end to a good move. In the 26th minute a patient bit of Sevilla play ends with a bit of a whimper as Youri Tielemans chips a pass into our left channel and Bologna easily beats García to it. The goalscorer’s touch takes him into our box though and in a breakdown of communication, fellow Italian Gigi Donnarumma comes charging out to boot the ball clear. Bologna does it first, leaving our keeper in no mans land and when Dani’s poor clearance is volleyed straight back into danger by Pozo, Abba merely has to wriggle free of Ibarra and nod the ball into the empty net to equalise. Excellent.

Just after the half hour, Toni Lato makes the exact same mistake, winning the ball from Pozo and playing a really awful clearance straight to García on the opposite wing, midway into our half. García passes inside to Tielemans, who plays it forward to Óliver and a quick round-the-corner pass later, Abba should put Sevilla ahead but thankfully blazes his shot wide of the near post. What’s happened to my sharks? Why is it suddenly our blood in the water and why are Sevilla so pissing frustrating to play against? I call Marquinhos over to take instructions to the rest of the team: Keep it on the floor, lower the tempo, stop giving them the bloody ball 30 yards out.

1-1 is still the scoreline when we get the second half underway. Orlando shows another little flash of brilliance in the 52nd minute, jinking across the width of Sevilla’s box and doing well to create a pocket of space, but then shooting with his weaker right foot straight into Zoet’s arms. A few minutes later though the action’s back down at our end: Óliver swings a corner to the far side of the box and Kurt Zouma rises above both Ibarra and Marquinhos to head the ball back across, where Abba chests it down and Pozo lashes it in on the volley from 6 yards, completing the Spaniards’ turnaround.

We nearly find the equaliser straight from kick off when Kean latches onto a zipped Kovacic pass, but he drags his effort well wide from inside the box. I’ve seen quite enough of our ineffectiveness for one day so decide to shake things up: Éder comes on for Orlando and we go to a narrow, attacking 2-3-2-1-2. Essentially a midfield diamond with overlapping wingbacks. We’ll focus down the middle, trying to overwhelm the visitors with high tempo, direct football. Coman plays as a second striker, joining Kean, who I think will be glad of a striking partner after a quiet few games on his own.

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So close! 5 minutes after the changes, Toni Lato hooks a cross in from the left wing, Kean brings it down coolly at the near post and squares for Coman just outside the 6 yard box. The winger shoots but is denied by a tremendous last ditch tackle from Popescu that deflects the ball wide. With 13 minutes to go and time running out to even salvage a point from what was meant to be Sevilla’s brutal retribution, I throw massive winger Rodolfo Chao on in place of Moise Kean as a makeshift target man. I already really miss Bueno.

We enter the final 10 minutes playing the ball patiently around Sevilla’s half but don’t look too threatening, that is until Neves plays the ball to Germany captain Silvio Cvitanovic, who spins on the spot 35 yards out and fires a pass out ahead of Bologna, who has space to move into. Bologna brings the ball down and into the box with his first touch and strokes it into the far corner of the net with his second, sending a wave of relief rippling over me. Dani Bologna is just about the unlikeliest hero we could have had today. Well played, you brilliant bastard.

We drop off slightly after equalising as at this point I’m ready to take the draw, but we go oh so close to a winner when Coman releases fellow makeshift striker Chao in the left channel. The Argentinian charges into the box and shoots from a tight angle, but can only hit the near post.

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I’ll be honest, that’s really annoying. What could have been a nice straightforward win very nearly turned into a loss because of a couple of mistakes. Bologna redeemed himself pretty well but there’s no doubt that his poor clearance directly lead to Sevilla’s first goal, while Kurt Zouma beating both of my centre backs in the air from a set piece is downright unforgivable. We’ll be doing extra set piece training this week.

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Our match against Dijon comes just a few days later and if one thing was made perfectly clear during the Sevilla match other than our trouble with individual mistakes, it’s that we need reinforcements up front. In the space of a week we’ve gone from being pretty well stocked to having one striker out of sorts and another injured. The fact that we had to be bailed out by our right back speaks for itself and even Rodolfo Chao can’t play league matches as we have too many foreign players, so he hasn’t been registered. We need another option and although I’ve got my scouts out looking for players to bring in in January, for now we need to look closer to home. Meet Christian Osséré:

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Christian’s caught my eye at exactly the right time. Just as I need an extra striker he’s set the reserves league on fire, racking up an incredible 14 goals and 3 assists in just 9 matches. He signed from Red Star for a nominal fee as a youngster and now at 20 he’s made just 2 league appearances for PSG’s first team, which is exactly the problem with the way this club has been doing our transfer business by the way, but let’s not get into that right now. Christian’s a quick, hardworking and dedicated striker who can also play in the hole or out on the right. He can take on a defender and he definitely knows where the net is. Rúben Neves misses this one with suspension so Éder comes into midfield. Other than that we’re unchanged, but with young Osséré on the bench.

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We get off to a scorcher, which is a welcome relief. 5 minutes in, Marquinhos picks up the loose ball and plays a pinpoint pass out to Orlando on the left and the pacy wideman gets it out of his feet before firing the ball low across the 6 yard box. Cvitanovic arrives to turn the ball under Bartolelli and get us off on the right foot. By the 20th minute we look unstoppable, playing short sharp passes and making tidy runs so quick that Dijon can’t even get close to us. Cvitanovic plays a one-two with Orlando and then dribbles out onto our favourite left flank himself, floats a cross in to the far post but it’s just behind Coman, who barely manages to cushion it down for Kean before ending up tumbling into Dijon’s net himself. Kean shoots from 6 yards but it’s straight at Bartolelli, who parries it. Coman gets on the follow up but his shot ricochets off Calvo. The linesman’s flag is raised against the Frenchman anyway.

And then the gut punch: Just after half an hour’s been played, Surac swings a corner in, Assombalonga heads it on and Esposito’s unmarked at the far post to head the hosts level. So easy.  7 minutes later we have a crack at a similar move ourselves when Cvitanovic whips a free kick in from the left wing, Marquinhos flicks it on and Ibarra’s header goes straight into the arms of the goalkeeper. Just before half time Dijon win another corner. This time Guenouche takes it, floating the ball straight over to the far post, where Esposito is alone again to nod his side in front. At half time the score is 1-2 despite our 12 shots to their… 2.

I don’t conceal my rage at half time. We’re developing a very worrying habit of conceding easy goals. Even my France side didn’t concede from this sort of dross, they just got torn apart by anyone who had the gaul to play a forward pass. I tell Kingsley Coman to come back for set pieces and man mark the hell out of Esposito and kick them all back down the tunnel, their ears still ringing.

With 32 minutes to go we go all-out-attack. With 29 minutes to go we equalise, but it comes from a moment of magic rather than an improvement in our football, which leaves me still feeling uneasy. Cvitanovic curls a 20 yard free kick so far into the top corner that I’m surprised it didn’t get stuck between post and bar, bagging his brace. The goal does however seem to give us a kick up the collective arse and we put together a good move just moments later. The ball winds up with Orlando, who squares it for Kovacic 25 yards out. The Croatian lays it off to Coman, who toe pokes it into the bottom corner from the edge of the box. Not the prettiest goal you’ll see, but we have at least turned it around. Moise Kean is rapidly dropping in my estimations though and after another quiet 70 minutes, he’s hauled off to make way for young Osséré

Inside the final 15 minutes, Cvitanovic plays a good ball onto the left wing and Orlando runs onto it, which is fast becoming our bread and butter. Orlando crosses from the byline, Coman cushions the ball down at the far post and Cvitanovic lashes a volley goalwards, but it’s blocked by Esposito, who throws his body in the way. I do wish he’d fuck off. A minute later Cvitanovic lobs another perfect pass over the Dijon defence and Orlando brings it down inside the 6 yard box, before slotting in our 4th from a narrow angle. Finally a bit of breathing room.

Éder makes way for the final 10 minutes and Hutka comes on to replace him as I’m still not too sure about the young playmaker and want to give him a run out. Within a couple of minutes though, the hosts peg us back when Arrieta spins Ibarra and releases Jonathan Leko on the right wing. Leko draws Gigi off his line and then aims a low cross at the far post, where Assombalonga bundles it over the line for 4-3.

We have a few decent chances before full time, with Bologna shooting wildly after a short free kick and Osséré having 2 shots well saved by Bartolelli, but the final score stays at 4-3 and we take the win. Just.

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I was really hoping that these matches would cement in my mind the fact that we’d turned that blip around, but if anything it’s made me even less confident. We have problems at the back, problems with set pieces and a problem named Moise Kean who’s forgotten how to shoot. Some positives though are that Osséré looked busy after coming on, Cvitanovic is finally showing me that he can be the player he promised to be and Orlando just will not stop being fantastic. Oh and we’re top of our Champions League group still and also Ligue 1, albeit having played a match more than Monaco. Swings and roundabouts, eh?

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The Little Hangover (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep211)

As long as we keep our heads we can get straight back to business.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 210

Let’s get back on track here, can we? We’ve had our first real bump of the season, drawing with Lille and getting mullered by Sevilla, but as long as we keep our heads we can get straight back to business. Onward to Nancy!

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AS Nancy Lorraine are still on single points as they’ve lost 4 of their 9 matches so far and as we need a win to cure our little hangover, I’m going as close to full strength as I can today in the hopes that we’ll blast them to smithereens. Marquinhos slides the armband on for his first start since coming back from injury and replaces Boris Triponez, Dobby comes in for Lucas on the left, Kovacic comes back into midfield replacing Neves, while Éder slides back to provide the solidity and Brazilian duo Coutinho and Orlando replace Veiga and Cvitanovic in our attacking line.

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Oh dear. Within 4 minutes of the match, Éder loses track of Vincent, can’t get close enough to block his chipped ball through for Zeneli and the winger gets himself goal-side of Marquinhos and boots the ball past Gigi from 8 yards. We’re behind for the 3rd time in 3 games. The first 20 minutes or so are very scrappy on the whole though and Zeneli resorts to frustrated 35 yard potshots that are closer to the corner flag than the goal, which is fine by me.

Just after the half hour we manage to hit back when Kovacic’s corner is only cleared as far as Coutinho, nods it down for Éder, who completes the Brazilian trifecta by laying it off for Orlando. The winger strokes the ball firmly into the bottom corner from the edge of the box to bring us level.

Before the break, Coutinho spins on the ball inside the centre circle and then sprays a perfect pass onto the right flank for Coman. The French International dribbles down the right wing, whips a cross into the 6 yard box and Orlando arrives again to knock it over the line and complete the turnaround.

We take our lead into the second half and with an hour to go I freshen things up with the introductions of Manuel Bueno and Rúben Neves in place of Kean and Éder. 7 minutes later Coutinho countinhues… Never mind… He continues to impress by bringing a loose ball down with his shoulder and dinking a pass into the central channel for Bueno. The mighty Spaniard barrels into the box and shoots, but Martín does his job well in rushing out and blocking the shot.

Both sides go close in the last 15 minutes, first when a well worked PSG free kick is drifted in from right wing by Coutinho, flicked on by Ibarra and headed over from close range by Coman and then when Zeneli chips the ball through our defence for Torin, who drags a shot just wide of the far post. Thankfully, we manage to scrape through to claim the 3 points.

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It’s a funny thing, momentum in football. Until now, a scraped 2-1 victory over a side like Nancy would be ringing alarm bells, but after our worrying week, the 3 points were all that mattered there. Now with that admittedly small monkey off our backs, hopefully we can get back to expecting more dominance in our wins. I’m very thankful to Orlando for his brace and I’m more than happy to see almost £5M shipped off to Santos (Brazil) after he reached 10 league goals for us. He also makes it into the Ligue 1 Team of the Week and rightly so.

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PSG are the top club in France for producing Ligue 1 footballers as 22 of our graduates are currently plying their trade in France’s top tier. Auxerre are in 2nd with 17, which obviously makes me smug as fuck.

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And speaking of our youth graduates, we’ve just announced an affiliation with FC Utrecht which could see some talented young Dutch players emerge from our academy in years to come.

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Struggling Stade Rennais are in the unfortunate position of being the team that we face at home right after we’ve gotten back to winning ways. I want us to prove how over the Sevilla result we are by hammering the poor bastards into the ground like a big red and black tent peg.

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I also want captain Marquinhos to show how over his injury he is by leading us to victory from the back. He plays his 350th league match for PSG today and is rapidly closing in on the club record. Toni Lato’s back from injury now too and will be on the bench. Meanwhile, Neves, Renan, Cvitanovic and Bueno all come in as Éder, Bologna, Coutinho and Kean are rested.

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Again we start shakily much to my annoyance. To make matters worse it’s Marquinhos that brings instant pressure to our door, giving away a free kick almost straight from kick off. Diallo smashes the free kick over the bar. Before even 5 minutes have passed, they come at us again and again it’s Diallo leading the charge. He sprints down the left wing, sends a low cross spinning away off Bologna’s outstretched leg and Rennais work the ball around the edge of our box. It ends up at the feet of Joel Campbell, who lays it off for Alexis Blin to fire low past Gigi. Behind again. For fucks sake.

Our fortunes change again around the half hour and it’s Kovacic that’s the catalyst. Coman drives down the right and drills in a cross that Jovanovic swipes clear as far as the Croatian, who plays Orlando through on the left wing. Orlando squares it to Bueno on the penalty spot and the target man slides the ball into the bottom corner. A minute later Kovacic plays a beautiful flat lofted ball through the centre that takes 4 Rennais players out of the game and leaves Bueno with a clear run at goal. He shoots from the edge of the box but Chandarov bats it wide for our corner.

That one comes to nothing but we win another corner in the 33rd minute. Cvitanovic crosses it in, Mukiele nods it away but Kovacic is there again, cushioning the ball down for Rúben Neves, who brings it down on the penalty spot and drills into the bottom corner for 2-1. We see the half out with relative comfort and finally open up a cushion in the 53rd minute when Kovacic lays the ball off for Dobby, who slams it to the keeper’s right from the edge of the box. The box to box midfielder then dribbles into the Rennais area just before the hour and squares for Bueno, but his shot deflects off Mukiele’s legs and falls to Orlando, who slots in our 4th goal from 10 yards.

I’m pretty content now that the game’s won, so off come Neves, Kovacic and Coman for half an hour of rest. Seeing as we’re hosting Sevilla midweek I want them fresh for the utter bollocking we’ll be dishing out. Éder, Veiga and Coutinho all come on. With a few minutes to play, Bueno comes off injured and we go down to 10 men, but it’s not going to affect us now. In fact we get another chance in the dying minutes when Coutinho finds a pocket of space on the right and floats a cross in to the far post. Cvitanovic heads at goal from close range but Chandarov manages to hold onto it. 4-1 it finishes.

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While I’m a bit annoyed that we need to keep coming back from a goal down, I wanted a couple of decent wins to wash away the taste of that Sevilla loss and we’ve got them. What would be really handy is if we can give Sevilla a hiding at the Parc des Princes to well and truly put that demon to bed. For now, at least until Monaco play their game in hand, we’re back on top of the league and feeling good.

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Episode 212 >

Happy (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep210)

I feel like a room without a fucking roof, boys.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 209

I’m very happy. Everyone’s very happy today. Why in the name of Timothy Filiga Cahill and his two storey vertical leap would anyone be anything other than happy today? I won both of my England matches, PSG are unbeaten in 15 league games and Bayern boss Massimiliano Allegri was spotted in the crowd at PSG’s last match watching Ibarra and Orlando. If he wants to make an official approach for either player, I’ll happily tell him to keep jogging on until he falls in the Seine. Happy, happy, happy.

As Bayern are no longer interested in Yûsuke Abe, he’s now happy to stay. Renan Henrique wants a new contract and I’m happy to offer it, while he’s even happier to sign it. I feel like a room without a fucking roof, boys.

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Moise Kean picked up a concussion in Italy’s match against Romania, but he’ll be fit enough to feature in some capacity in our next match and guess who else is back? Mateo Kovacic and Marquinhos! Both are fit enough for our next match day squad. You couldn’t remove my smile with a picture of Liverpool lifting the Premier League trophy, stood on a podium made of severed puppy heads, lads. Toni Lato’s picked up a groin strain in training over the break even though he was left out of the latest Spain squad, but we won’t dwell on that for fear of bringing the mood down. We’re all just so fucking happy.

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Lille are not as happy as us. Not by a long shot. While we have a close-to-fully-fit squad packed full of World class talent, Lille are in the relegation zone having shipped an average of 2 goals per game. They’re the antithesis of happy. They’re distinctly unhappy and I want them to stay that way beyond their visit to the Parc des Princes today.

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As I say though, we do have a few fitness issues at the minute and with one eye on our trip to Sevilla midweek for our third Champions League Group match, I’m fielding a slightly weakened side. Donnarumma, Ibarra and Lucas start in defence and incidentally I’ve been impressed with Lucas this season so far. A few really solid performances have put him right back into my good graces following our falling out when I dropped him from my France squad and I now actually wonder whether Marquinhos deserves to walk back into the side ahead of him. Renan Henrique, Éder and the Dobster start ahead of them, while Kovacic returns to his box-to-box role. Kingsley Coman gets a rare rest and I’m trying young Michal Hutka out on the right wing in his place. With Moise Kean still recovering from his concussion though the last 3 spots are as we’ve come to expect: Coutinho in the hole behind Bueno with Orlando out on the left.

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We try to come flying out of the traps but our attacks don’t click in the first few minutes. Credit to Lucas for getting stuck in, winning us the ball and launching those attacks, but he’s also at fault when Teixeira breaks past him in the 3rd minute and lashes a shot just wide of Donnarumma’s near post. I will admit that it very nearly wipes the smile from my face 15 minutes in when Benhalib breaks following a cleared Kovacic free kick, dribbles through our half unchallenged and sticks the opening goal in the bottom corner, but due to my unnaturally high current happiness levels, I manage to hold onto a slight smirk.

We go on the attack after the half hour as we’ve really struggled to break the visitors down so far, but our next patient passing move through the middle of the park is brought to an abrupt end when Kovacic’s pass is cut out on the edge of Lille’s box by Kapustka, who lumps it upfield. Teixeira takes possession on the halfway line and slices our defence open like a hot scalpel with a pass ahead of Benhalib, who runs through on goal but scuffs his shot wide. A minute later we manage to breathe a sigh of relief when Kovacic has a more successful pass find Manuel Bueno on the edge of the box and the big Spaniard blasts past Pattinama to equalise.

We’re nearly instantly behind again though as Benhalib passes into the box for Teixeira pretty much straight from kick off and Ibarra is nowhere near covering the striker’s run. Teixeira shoots, but hits Gigi’s right post to spare our blushes. If these could shoot, this match would be over.

After a calm half time exchange of ideas though, we manage to turn the tables on Lille just 2 minutes into the second half from a well worked right sided throw in. Renan throws to Hutka, who plays it into the box for Dobby, who lays it off for Coutinho and the Brazilian smashes one ruthlessly into the top corner for 2-1. After the hour we ease off a bit as Lille seem a broken team, with 10 minutes to go I decide to bring off Ibarra and Orlando and replace them with Marquinhos and Kean to get them 10 minutes fitter and with 3 minutes to go we drop back entirely into a defensive 4-1-4-1. This, as it turns out, is my mistake. In the 91st minute we’re so far back that Lille have got the run of our half and Sarabia surges down the left wing unchallenged, looking for options. He spies one in that nuisance Benhalib and lofts a cross towards him at the far post. Benhalib chests it down but Lucas charges courageously in and swings his boot at the ball in an attempt to clear our lines, but in doing so he smacks it against the striker and the ball ricochets back across our box in torturous slow motion. Sarabia arrives quite unmarked and prods Lille level from point blank range with barely a few seconds left to play.

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There’s certainly nothing like a late goal against you to dampen spirits, but in all fairness I think Lille deserved a point. We had the lion’s share of the chances, but they had the best ones. Also I refuse to get overly down over that result because of the fact that I’m still getting to know this squad! This was a side missing Marquinhos, Bologna, Lato, Neves, Coman and Kean, who I would say from my early impressions are some of our most important players. Today I’ve learned that I probably shouldn’t leave so many of them out of the squad at once, so lesson learned. The upside of that decision though is that we’ve now got the majority of them fighting fit for our Champions League trip to Spain.

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Sevilla actually shocked the World last time out by losing to FC København, who are seen as the weakest side in Group C by many including myself. They’ve also drawn against Roma, a result that gave both sides their only point so far. This bodes extremely well for us.

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I’m bringing a lot of the big guns back in for this one, although I’m also rotating a few players out because of ineligibility and fitness. Renan Henrique, Dobby, Kovacic, Hutka, Coutinho, Orlando and Bueno are all out as Triponez, Bologna, Neves, Coman, Veiga, Cvitanovic and Kean come in. Lucas gets a run out at left sided inverted wing back due to Dobby’s ineligibility and Lato’s injury and Éder pushes forward as a ball winning midfielder in front of Neves, who returns to his favourite role at the base of midfield.

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The game does not get off to a terrific start. It takes less than 2 minutes for Youri Tielemans, star of Belgium’s Euro 24 side, to poke the ball down the left for winger Fran García, who surges down the flank purposefully. He gets to the byline and squares the ball into the 6 yard box, where Triponez slides in but completely misses his interception, leaving attacking midfielder Óliver free to prod the ball into the net from point blank range. In the 19th minute, we’re playing some fairly nice football but Sevilla are pressing us mercilessly. We string together a particularly nice move through the middle of the park but eventually run out of steam under the hosts’ defensive pressure and they break forwards. This time Óliver turns Rúben Neves 25 yards from goal and flicks the ball past Triponez for Abba, who hits a sweetly struck volley beyond Donnarumma’s reach for 2-0. We go on the attack for the last 10 minutes of the half, but go in for the break 2 goals down.

As the half time whistle blows, a strange thing happens: It’s as if the sound shakes loose some old memories that I’d long since forgotten about. They flash across my mind’s eye in a brilliant montage and I grab Bechkoura’s arm as he makes to stand up and head for the tunnel. “Hang on.” I mutter. “We’ve done this before.” My assistant eyes me cautiously. “We’ve played this match before.” I insist.

“Are you alright, Boss?” He asks, wearing a look of genuine concern.

“I’m fucking fine, but I mean it, we’ve played this match before!” The memories start to swim back away into the back of my mind but I lock my eyes shut and try to force them back to the foreground. “Come on, come on… Coman crosses it…” I mutter.


“Kean heads it in! We’re winning!”

“I’m going to get the doc.” I tighten my grip on his tracksuit sleeve.

“And then time stands still.” I open my eyes and notice that I’m breathing slightly heavily. “Everything froze. Right as that half time whistle went. But don’t you see? We were winning!”

“Well lucky us.” Bechkoura replies, trying to shake his arm free of my grasp. “But in the real World we’re 2-0 down, so shall we…”

“It was real! It was here! We were winning! It was as if it was a… A different timeline, where we came into the half time break with a 1 goal lead.” He finally frees his arm and half-laughs.

“Wish we were in that timeline now.” He mutters. “A 1 goal lead away at Sevilla at half time. Wow. That would really be something.”

“It would, wouldn’t it, Bechkoura. A 1 goal lead away at Sevilla at half time would really be something that would give me confidence of bouncing back after our disappointing draw against Lille at the weekend. But here we are. Half time in our match away at Sevilla and we’re 2-0 down.”

“Almost feels like we’ve been cheated out of a result, the fact that we’re now here in this decidedly worse timeline, doesn’t it?” He asks, seriously.

“Almost.” We stare at each other. There’s a long, heavy silence between us that the jubilant noises coming from the majority of the stadium fail to penetrate.

“Shall we head in?”


I make a couple of changes at the break: Marquinhos comes on not only for extra leadership to sure us up, but also because I want him fully fit as soon as possible and every minute of football I can give him will hasten his recovery. Winger Darcílio also comes onto the left wing in place of Silvio Cvitanovic, who’s had another off day.

The last of my hope for this match doesn’t quite trickle away entirely until the 57th minute, when Moise Kean drives in from the left wing with the ball at his feet and slides it across the Sevilla box to Coman, who’s in acres of space. Coman shoots from the right hand side of the 6 yard box but Zoet parries it away as far as Darcílio, who turns the rebound against the outside of the left post. It just isn’t going to happen. Coutinho replaces Veiga, just in case the little Brazilian can work his magic.

With 10 minutes of the match to play, we go balls to the wall and hurl everything we have at the home side, but with 2 to play we’re punished for it when Sevilla break up our attack and break on us again. García drifts a cross in from the left, Óliver loops a header over Gigi into the far corner and my good mood of a few days ago is officially fucking ruined. 0-3.

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“It’s a real shame we weren’t in your other timeline, eh?” Grins Bechkoura as we step onto the team bus. “That Kean couldn’t put us ahead and give us a platform at half time.”

“It is a shame,” I concur, “But it’s not Kean’s fault that he couldn’t match his feat from the ‘other timeline’. He’s blameless.”

“Obviously Moise Kean is completely blameless.” Agrees Bechkoura.

“Obviously. To say otherwise would make you a stupid fucking ignorant dick, wouldn’t it. What a stupid fucking ignorant dick thing to say.”

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Episode 211 >

Too Faria (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep209)

Jesus, you’re really Mourinho’s man through and through, aren’t you.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 208

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“Alright Rui?” I smile as I run up alongside my England assistant in St George’s car park. “I caught a bit of United’s 4-0 win against Benfica the other-”

“I have a plan, Mr Franjo.” Growls Rui Faria.

“A plan?” I frown. “A plan for what?”

“A plan to take down Josep Guardiola once and for all.” He spits on the floor. “We cannot tolerate the ins-”

“We aren’t playing Spain this break, Rui.” My brow furrows further still. “How do you intend to take him down if we aren’t playing his side?”

“I know a man.” His voice lowers to a whisper and he turns to regard me seriously. “A problem solver of sorts.” I stare back at him silently. “A problem solver”, he continues, “in the sense that if you give him a name of a problem, for example Josep Guardiola…” He pauses to spit on the car park floor once again. “…He will solve the problem for you.” I continue to stare back at him silently. “By which I mean he and his associates will go around to-”

“I get it.” I cut him off, worried that by hearing more of this madness I’ll be somehow implicated in a serious crime by the end of the international break. “No, Rui, that’s fine. Let’s just… Focus on the matter at hand, shall we? Mexico and Austria for now, then next month we’ll get Pep – Stop spitting, you dirty bastard – We’ll get Pep back for beating us. Through our football. I can’t emphasise that enough.” Rui rolls his eyes.

“Suit yourself.” He mutters.

“Jesus, you’re really Mourinho’s man through and through, aren’t you.”

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Having sufficiently cooled off since my first match at Wembley and the heartbreaking 4th Spanish goal that beat us, I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve seen so far from England. If nothing else, we’re really excellent going forwards, but I’m hesitant to count on attacking ability alone after how that attitude fared for France. We do need to be more solid at the back, particularly against the top sides, but as much as I absolutely don’t want to throw young centre back Juddy Lokando under the bus, he made a couple of glaring individual errors in the Spain match that lead to goals. I do wonder how much better we’ll be defensively after we’ve played a few matches with Project: Pride and have gotten our mistakes out of the way. Here’s the latest squad for our 2 home games against Mexico and Austria.


Jack Butland (Arsenal), Jordan Pickford (Sunderland AFC), Will Mannion (Norwich City)

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John Stones (Liverpool), Mason Holgate (Southampton), Juddy Lokando (Manchester City), Michael Keane (Real Madrid), Harry Winks (West Bromwich Albion), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Real Sociedad on loan from Liverpool), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Charlie Taylor (Swansea City)

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Eric Dier, Dele Alli (Both Tottenham hotspur), Reece Oxford (Watford), Jordan O’Halloran (Stoke City), Ed Salmon (AFC Bournemouth), Stuart Coleman (Manchester United), Phil Jones (AC Milan), Adam Bell (Leicester City)

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Oliver Webb (Chelsea), Marcus Rashford (Real Madrid), Joe Bell (Stoke City), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)

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I want to walk a bit of a tightrope here, as I’m still trying to gage which players can cut it for England and which can’t, while simultaneously trying to build a team atmosphere. I do want to give more players a look and our Mexico friendly is a perfect opportunity to experiment, but I don’t want to make wholesale changes. In the end there are 3 differences in personnel in my second squad: Burnley’s Taylor Moore misses out after making his debut against Austria last time as he looked shaky in his first England appearance, understandably so. I’m not ruling him out of future squads though as he’s clearly a top quality defender. He’s even on my shortlist for Paris Saint-Germain as a possibility in case I’m forced to buy a centre back in January, as not only is he a good player but as a Lens youth footballer he’d also count towards our homegrown quota. For now though, Southampton’s Mason Holgate comes into the squad in his place.

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Another player to miss out is a surprising one, considering the impact he had against Spain. It really pains me to leave out Lewis Cook, but the midfielder’s decision to leave Bournemouth following their relegation and join Manchester City may stall his international career. Lewis has made a single start and 3 substitute appearances since joining the Citizens and has failed to impress whatsoever during his very limited playing time. In his place I’ve called up the in-form, uncapped Leicester playmaker Adam Bell, who’s already scored 2 goals and set up 6 more for the Foxes in his 9 appearances. As this might cause a bit of confusion, he’ll henceforth be referred to as Abel, while Stoke striker Joe Bell shall be Jobel.

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The final player to be dropped from the England squad is West Ham striker David Crammond, who has recently thrown his toys firmly out of the pram and demanded a move to a bigger side. Barcelona are circling so the move could well materialise, but as a result his club form is woeful this season. He’s scored a single goal in 7 starts for the Hammers and it’s an easy decision to leave him out and bring back England’s fit-again captain Harry Kane.

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When I said this match would be a prime opportunity to experiment I wasn’t kidding. Mexico are a good side and Javier Torrente has only lost 1 match since taking over in August 2023; A home friendly against Slovakia. Mind you, the majority of the matches his side have played and won have been North American World Cup Qualifiers against the likes of Panama, Costa Rica and Barbados, so they’ve not been given too stern a test.

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All of that being said however, I’m going to be dishing out quite a few rare international starts today as I continue to get to know my players. Norwich goalkeeper Will Mannion makes his debut in net and although he’s a championship player, the England no.1 shirt could be up for grabs after Jack Butland’s abhorrent display against Spain so I want him to impress me. Former Everton duo Mason Holgate and Michael Keane start in defence with Reece Oxford making his full debut just ahead of them in the holding man role, while Trent Alexander-Arnold and Charlie Taylor take the wingback spots. Another player making his first England start is Bournemouth’s Ed Salmon, who’ll doubtless have to move quickly across the pitch to avoid the daggers his former teammate Lewis Cook will be staring at him through his TV and Ed’s companion in midfield will be Phil Jones, whose defensive skillset and experience should compliment him quite nicely. Abel’s thrown straight in at the deep end in the number 10 role and plays behind a striking partnership of Marcus Rashford and captain Harry Kane. Although our front 2 are very experienced, I haven’t seen them very much in an England shirt as of yet and I’m hoping they’ll be able impress me, especially as they’re lining up against PSG centre back Ricardo Ibarra.

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Our first good move of the day is 20 minutes in and ends with Abel teeing up Marcus Rashford, who hits a looping volley towards the top corner but is denied at full stretch by Augusto Batalla, who tips the ball onto the bar. A few minutes later Rashford turns creator, holding the ball up 30 yards out and then playing a really clever through ball for Adam Bell, who surges into the right hand side of the box from a central position. The debutant has a pop from a tight angle and beats Batalla, but his effort hits the near post and rolls across the line, leaving Harry Kane with an almost insultingly easy finish to put us into the lead.

We’re pegged back in the 27th minute when Mexico pose their first real threat of the match and win a corner. Pineda takes it, swinging a cross into the 6 yard box and Zaraté gets above Reece Oxford to send a thumping header into the far corner. Unfortunately Abel takes a knock just before half time but I leave him on as he seems willing and… Erm… Able.

It’s worth noting that I’ve been very impressed by Ed Salmon so far, who’s not been as all-action as I expected but has been getting into excellent positions to receive the ball and pulling the strings well from the edge of the final third. 10 minutes after the break, he lays the ball to Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right wing and the Sociedad man swings a superb cross into the “corridor of uncertainty” behind the Mexican defence. Marcus Rashford pops up in between the two centre backs to volley us back into the lead from 6 yards.

A couple of minutes later, TAA gets away down the right again and sends another good cross in, this time right onto the head of Harry Kane, who turns it against the Mexican bar. A quick counter attack later, Mexico are threatening to cancel out our goal even quicker than they did the first time and a Figueroa cross pinballs through the box and reaches Alvarado on the far side. Alvarado shoots towards the near post but Mannion does well to tip it behind for a corner. The pressure stays on us and Pineda again delivers well from the corner. He swings it in, Calero beats Phil Jones at the near post to flick the ball on and Jordan Silva loses his marker Reece Oxford to poke in the equaliser. Oh dear, Reece.

I make a few changes on the hour, with Stones, O’Halloran, Coleman and Alli replacing Holgate, Salmon, Jones and Abel, but they fail to make an immediate impact. It takes us to find the 92nd minute to find the winner, which I’d like to say was a strategic decision so that the Mexicans wouldn’t have any time to instantly hit back for the third pissing time, but I can’t take any credit. Alli can though, as he plays a lovely ball straight through the defence and into the box, where Rashford latches on and leathers a shot in off the underside of the crossbar.

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It’s a difficult one, this. Again I’m in the situation where I’m not exactly happy about conceding 2 goals, but again the source of the goals was a couple of individual errors from one player, namely Oxford. I should stress as well that other than the 2 mistakes, Reece had a pretty decent game. Maybe we just need to work more on corners. Anyway, there were definite positives to take from this one: Real Madrid striker Marcus Rashford is fantastic, although that’s not exactly a revelation, Abel played very well and set up a goal on his debut, inadvertent as it may have been and Trent Alexander-Arnold really, really impressed me, particularly with those 2 crosses in the second half. After he left me quite sceptical of his ability in the Spain match, that’s great news.

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Some pretty disappointing news out of the England camp however is that the Under 21s have been knocked out of their European Championship Qualifying Group and that Aidy Boothroyd has been sacked as a result. To be fair to them, they lost out in their group to Portugal, whose senior side just won the competition months ago, so there’s clearly a really high level of quality running throughout the Portuguese set-up, but it’s still sad to see Aidy go after he’s spent 10 years working his way through the English youth levels.

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The final match of the senior team’s international break is against Austria, who we thumped 6-2 at their place in my first match as England manager and who are now making the return journey to Wembley. They’ve just lost to Spain too, so Pep’s side are at the top of Division A Group 3 with maximum points and we really need another win here if we’re to have any hope of keeping up.

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So leaving nothing to chance, I’m playing what I currently consider to be my maximum strength team… And Jordan Pickford, who has not played for me so far, but like Mannion is now fighting for the no.1 shirt. Stones and Lokando are in defence, Harry Winks and Luke Shaw are our bombing wingbacks, Dier reaches his century of caps as the holding man, O’Halloran and Coleman are in midfield and Alli plays behind Webb and Jobel.

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If there’s one man who’s impressed me more than anyone else since I accepted the FA’s offer… In fact, he actually started impressing me a few months earlier in the first match of Euro 24, it’s Chelsea’s Ollie Webb. He never stops running, never gives up and is a team player in the truest sense of the word. Coming into this match he’d scored 2 goals and set up another 4 in the 2 appearances he’d made for me and it takes him just 69 seconds here to make it 3 goals in 3. Stood 20 yards out, he runs up and curls a free kick over the Austrian defensive wall and into the top corner of the net. This lad can do fucking everything. When I joined PSG I promised myself that I wouldn’t splash the cash for the sake of it and would only sign a player if a position needed strengthening. I’m happy with my striking options back in Paris, but if Webb keeps playing like this he’s going to seriously test my resolve.

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Early goals often promise an oncoming glut that never materialises and indeed the next half hour is quite disappointingly quiet. 10 minutes from the break however we do get another good chance when Jordan O’Halloran plays a lovely backheel pass to Winks on the right wing. Winks drills a low cross in for Webb, whose first shot is saved by Stankovic’s fingertips, but whose second is drilled into the back of the net. I force myself to think of all the goals that Moise Kean and Manuel Bueno have scored so far this season.

Half time comes and goes and we’re soon threatening again. 5 minutes into the second half, O’Halloran lays the ball off for Dele Alli, who drives a first time shot low into the far corner from the edge of the Austrian box. Austria do not have any kind of response as of yet. On the hour I bring on Harry Kane for Jobel, who’s had a quiet match. Despite his goal in the Mexico game, Kane has yet to show me that he deserves a place in our strongest XI, so this is his chance.

In the 83rd minute, Juddy Lokando lofts a cross into the box from the right wing and Webb rises at the near post to head it across goal for Alli, but the Spurs midfielder can only turn it against the post from close range. It’s disappointing from a player of his calibre, but he soon makes amends. As we enter the final 5 minutes and as we continue to hammer on the door for our 4th goal, Captain Kane slips a pass into the box for his Tottenham Teammate, who blasts in his second goal of the day.

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Well that was… Thorough. To be fair, Austria were always going to be the “whipping boy” of the group but I doubt we’ll have a match that easy for quite some time. Still, you can only beat what’s put in front of you and what was put in front of us today was really fucking poor, but it does move us up to 6 points and level with Spain. We stay 2nd in the group because the first thing used to differentiate in the EIL after points is results between teams and they do have a game in hand over us, but in the next break we get to play them again and challenge for the top spot. Let’s just hope we’re ready. And that Rui Faria doesn’t put whatever heinous plan he has into action before I can get my revenge on Pep the old fashioned way.

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209 3 1 league

Episode 210 >

Franjo’s Heroes (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep208)

Bechkoura’s Bottle Boys are taking a thumping!

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 207

“The ball rolls to a stop in front of Kevin on the left wing. What does Kevin do…?” My heart thumps against my ribcage. “He puts in a low cross and the ball falls for Aidir! Aidir surely!” I draw back my trusty forefinger and flick it forwards against the little plastic player, who lurches forward and knocks the ball into the net. “AIDIR SCORES! Franjo’s Heroes FC make it 3-0 and Bechkoura’s Bottle Boys are taking a thumping! Hicham Ai-“

“Can we do it without the commentary?” Asks Bechkoura flatly, picking up his footballers and placing them back into position ready for kick off.

“Yeah absolutely.” I scowl. “And then we can have bacon butties without brown sauce. You idiot.”

“I’m more of a ketchup man.”

“Well then you’re wrong.” I pick up the tiny representation of Hicham Aidir and admire the figure, which is decked out in the PSG 2024/25 home kit. “Did I ever tell you that one of my first ever football shirts was a PSG one?”

“No?” Bechkoura replies. “Which one?”

“95/96 I think. The Opel one with the white collar and the shitty holograms all over it. It might even have been the very first… That or the 95 Everton home shirt.” He nods thoughtfully.

“90’s kits were very… Hit and miss.”

I nod in agreement. “But you could power your house for a year with the static.”

Bechkoura chuckles. “I always liked France’s 97/98 home shirt.” He says wistfully.

“Well I wonder why.” I grin. “I’d like the entire Liverpool catalogue if England won the World Cup wearing it. I’m making a sub by the way: Bart’s coming on for Big Phil. He’s going to slot in between Hurley and Sinbad and add a bit more bite to-“

“They’re all identical.” Growls Bechkoura, struggling to keep the annoyance out of his voice as he cuts me off.

“Oh where’s your fucking sense of whimsey? Come on, it’s your kick off. Again.”

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Subbuteo aside, I do have a bit of real football to oversee this week. As we’re welcoming Roma for a midweek Champions League Group Stage game in a few days, I’m resting pretty much my entire first team for today’s visit from Bastia. Only Kingsley Coman, the man on fire, plays today having also started in our last match. Abe comes in between the sticks, Triponez is in defence with Damir Mijatovic, who’s making his first appearance for me and the pair have Neves just ahead of them. Our wingbacks are Renan and Dobby, Veiga’s in central midfield and Coman, Hutka and Cvitanovic play behind Manuel Bueno.

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Our first chance follows some calm Bastian build up play as Renan Henrique wins the ball from Mehmedi deep in our half. He goes direct to Bueno on the half way line, who in turn releases Coman into the space on the right wing. Coman sprints to the byline as bodies get up in support and whip a cross onto the boot of Cvitanovic, who volleys us into the lead.

A few minutes later we win a left sided throw in level with Bastia’s penalty box. Dobby gives it to Cvitanovic, who cushions the ball down for Michal Hutka. Hutka chips it across to Renan, who’s got himself central and into space just outside the box. The ball bounces just once before our Brazilian international puts his laces through it, sending a vicious half volley screaming into the bottom corner for 2-0.

Not content with our 13 minute cushion, we keep pushing for a third over the next few minutes. First we play the ball out from the back and Cvitanovic chips a pass into the left channel for Bueno, who brings it into the box and forces a good near post save from Michaelsen and then another well worked move sees Bueno play a one-two with Cvitanovic to get behind the defence and then toe poke the ball powerfully beyond the Danish keeper to make it 3-0. 17 minutes in, the game’s as good as over and to say this is practically a second string side, I’m pretty bloody impressed.

Coman gets a rest for the second half and I bring on Coutinho in his place, but it’s Miguel Veiga who bags the next goal. 10 minutes after the break, he picks up the ball in our half and surges purposefully across the half way line and towards Bastia’s box. Veiga passes to Bueno, who has his back to goal 20 yards out and he then lays it off for Cvitanovic, who squares for Veiga, who slides a delicate shot into the bottom corner. Éder gets half an hour in place of Neves, but at the end of 90 minutes it’s PSG 4-0 Bastia.

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It’s nice to know that our whole squad is of sufficient quality that I can play the fringe players in situations like this and be confident that they’ll pick up all 3 points. Silvio Cvitanovic, who I’ve been pretty openly unimpressed with thus far, was absolutely excellent but then so was the entire team. I’m completely, utterly, totally pleased with that performance. Donnarumma is the only player that makes the Team of the Week and didn’t feature, while Renan, Mijatovic, Triponez, Coman, Veiga, Cvitanovic and Burno are also included.

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Kingsley Coman also receives his 2nd Player of the Month award in his 2nd month back at PSG after a quite staggering run of performances. Don’t get me wrong, I’d always rated him for France, but bloody hell he’s gone up to a whole new level this season. Renan Henrique wins Goal of the Month for his scorcher in the Bastia game.

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We have a bit of potentially bad news in the run up to the Roma match: Mateo Kovacic picks up an ab strain and will miss a couple of weeks. On the upside though, captain Marquinhos should be back at some point this month.

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The new stats on the French National team are out and PSG are joint 2nd with Metz on the list of leading producers of France players with 10. The two of us are just behind Lyon, who’ve produced 12 of Denis Renaud’s current crop. Auxerre are still well represented and are joint 5th with 6 players produced, which is more than Monaco. This makes me happy.

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Roma’s arrival in Paris sparks fierce excitement among myself and the players. The thing about managing Paris Saint-Germain that I’ve found so far is that it’s difficult to gage exactly how good you are, as the overall quality of the league isn’t all that good. Of course we’ve already lost against Monaco, but I don’t really count that as I didn’t know the players and we didn’t have a proper system. We will meet them again in what will certainly be difficult encounters, but apart from that we’re not going to meet much stern opposition in the league. The Champions League gives us an opportunity to test ourselves against Europe’s elite and I’m eager to find out how we stack up.

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I’m making 9 changes from the side that thumped Bastia: Donnarumma is back in net, as are Ibarra and Lucas in defence. Neves keeps his place at the base of midfield, but Bologna, Lato and Éder are brought in around him. Coman also keeps his place on the right wing, while Coutinho, Orlando and Kean are restored to the forward line.

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The first shots are fired by Roma and there’s a particularly heart-stopping moment 8 minutes in, when Mo Salah swings a nasty cross in from the left. Lucas manages to head it clear but only as far as Embolo, who heads the ball down for Muñoz. The striker turns, places a shot against the base of the post and we can breathe easy. A few minutes later, we have a chance of our own when Orlando crosses from a corner. Again Lucas is there and the Frenchman flicks the ball on at the near post for Ibarra, who nips in between Legrand and Embolo to volley… Straight at Alisson from 6 yards and the keeper parries it clear.

With a quarter of an hour gone we come forward again. This time our Brazilian contingent link when Éder lays the ball off for Coutinho, who slides a wonderful pass down the right for Coman to chase. The winger leaves Legrand for dead and crosses it first time into the 6 yard box, where Kean arrives and smacks a header against the bar.

Before the half hour we go close yet again. Neves wins the ball from Haksabanovic on the edge of our box and gives it to Éder, who plays a long ball forward to Kean. The Italian striker strides forward on the counter as Roma’s defence back-pedal furiously but he arrives at the edge of their box still in possession and drives a low shot inches wide of the far post. How this match is still goalless is beyond me.

When the breakthrough does come, it’s a lovely goal. In the 2nd minute of first half injury time, we win a free kick 35 yards out. Neves takes it, passing short to Ibarra, who plays it straight on for Éder. Éder hands it off to Lato, who chips it straight past Karsdorp on the left wing and Orlando latches on. Orlando squares it into the centre of Roma’s box, Coutinho touches it on for Kean and Moise Kean places it into the bottom corner from 10 yards. Beautiful football.

We head in for the break having scored at the perfect time. Our confidence is suddenly sky high while the atmosphere in the away dressing room will surely have taken a hit. We come back out for the 2nd half with our chests puffed out and soon capitalise on our newfound momentum. 8 minutes after kick off, Éder has possession in our penalty area and is under pressure, but he coolly makes himself some space and arcs a perfect pass up to Kean on the halfway line. The goalscorer chips the ball down the right and Legrand beats Coman to it for once, but severely underhits his header back towards Alisson. As the ball trickles back towards the Roma box, Coman turns on the thrusters, takes possession, jinks past the outrushing Alisson and passes the ball into the empty net.

A few minutes later, Orlando volleys a chipped pass behind the defence for Kean to run onto in the left channel. Kean takes the ball in his stride and sprints into the box but whiffs his shot, dragging it disappointingly wide of the near post. With just over 20 minutes to play, Manuel Veiga replaces Neves and Éder drops into the deeper position, freeing Veiga up to be the box to box man. I liked the look of Veiga against Bastia and want to give him more chances to show me what he can do.

Only a minute later we have yet another chance when Coutinho plays another nice pass down the right wing. Coman leaves poor Legrand in his dust and dribbles into the box before squaring for Kean, who rifles a shot into the top corner from 10 yards to give the scoreline the gloss it deserves. With respect to København this was our first real challenge in the Champions League and we’ve bloody smashed it.

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But as Cage The Elephant once said, “there ain’t no rest for the wicked”. Although they also said that “money don’t grow on trees” and I recently threw £85M at a 20 year old defensive midfielder, so take those lads’ words with a pinch of salt… Where was I? Oh right, no rest for the wicked. The matches keep coming thick and fast and before we know it the weekend is upon us, as is our trip to Sochaux.

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We’ve now scored 15 goals without reply in our last 4 outings and I want us to carry on both our run of goalscoring and of clean sheets today. My changes for this one aren’t quite as radical as the previous games, with just the 3 personnel changes from the Roma match: Renan, Dobby and young Veiga are all brought in so I can get to know them a little better at the expense of Bologna, Lato and Coutinho.

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The match doesn’t begin like I expected it to, with Sochaux actually having the best of the first 25 minutes. When I finally decide we need to change something we’ve managed exactly 0 shots against Sochaux’s compact 4-1-4-1 while they’ve had 5. We go on the counter to try and lure them out of their defensive positions so they we can use our pace to exploit any gaps that form. At half time, although we have managed a couple of shots, the score remains 0-0 and Im not happy. I decide to make a change: Moise Kean’s been pretty ineffective so I bring on our big Spanish bully in his place. Manuel Bueno will be a target man that we’ll be able to use as a foothold in Sochaux’s half, giving the rest of the team a chance to get up in support while he holds the ball up.

Just under 4 minutes into the 2nd half, a well worked move through the centre of the pitch ends with Veiga threading a pass through to Bueno, who steps away from his marker Bianchi and slams the ball past Leo Gauthier. Somebody bring me my vindication blanket. With 25 minutes to play, Bueno has a potshot from 25 yards sail harmlessly over the bar and the fact that that is “of note” really is a damning inditement of this cagey, frustrating game of football. Neves is replaced by Triponez a few minutes later, Lucas shifts into the hole and then Bueno goes close again with 5 minutes to go, denied a brace only by a last ditch slide tackle from Gnagnon that deflects his shot wide after Éder heads a Coman cross down into a dangerous position.

Bueno’s tally ends at 1 however, as does ours. He improved us in that second half and I’ll take some comfort from that, but otherwise this is a fairly worrying performance and I really need to work out what went wrong. At the end of the day though, 3 points is 3 points and this win both continues our good form and keeps us above Monaco at the top of Ligue 1 on goal difference. That’ll do.

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Episode 209 >

Back to Auxerre (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep207)

We venture South East to a little old City in Burgundy and a little old stadium called the Stade l’Abbé-Deschamps.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 206

“If you like Claude Makélélé”, I sing, to the tune of Rupert Holmes’ Escape, “And playing Saint-Étienne…” I signal to Bechkoura to continue the melody but he just shrugs.

“I’ve got nothing.” He says apologetically.

“Me neither after that bit.” I admit. “It’s got the makings of a good Saint-Étienne song though, hasn’t it. There’s potential there.” Bechkoura nods.

“Is that the song where the lyrics are about a man trying to cheat on his wife?” He asks.

“Yeah. It’s one of those things that people think are ‘fun facts’ but are actually just common knowledge at this point. He meets up with a woman from the advert and it turns out to be his wife, doesn’t it.” Bechkoura looks puzzled.

“Whose wife?”

“Rupert Holmes; The bloke who wrote the song. Or probably not his wife, but you know… The person whose point of view the lyrics were written from.”

“Claude Makélélé’s?”

“Well no, it’s not originally about Claude bloody Makélélé, is it?” I laugh. “I don’t even know if he’s married.”

“So how did he cheat with Rupert Holmes’ wife?”

“He didn’t!” I stare exasperatedly at my assistant. “Are you alright? Did you fall asleep midway through this conversation or something?” Bechkoura opens his mouth to speak, but closes it again without a sound. He looks like he’s struggling. “Forget it.” I sigh.

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Makélélé’s men pay us a visit today and it’s fair to say I’ve had a sketchy record against him and his infuriatingly defensive formations during my time in France. We’ve been knocked off our perch and down to 3rd by Monaco and Bordeaux but I’m determined to use our game in hand to thump some goals in and get back to the top of the league.

Our recent extremely disappointing draw against Stade de Reims is still ringing in my ears somewhat, but despite the fact that Claude parks the same 1-2-2-3-2-shaped bus as Reims, I’m not going overboard with changes. After my experimental second string played København midweek, I’m bringing back what I still believe to be my first choice XI for this one and it’s the same side that struggled against Reims, except with Lucas and Éder coming in to replace suspended duo Boris Triponez and Rúben Neves. Manuel Bueno and Silvio Cvitanovic both make the bench despite having picked up knocks in training since my Champions League debut.

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Any illusions on the part of Saint-Étienne that they’d be able to keep us at bay and erode our confidence for the first hour like Stade de Reims did last week are quickly blown to smithereens in the 12th minute, when a nice right sided, in-swinging corner from Coman connects with Lucas on the right hand side of the 6 yard box. The centre back does his claims to the first team no harm at all by powering a header past Posavec and giving us a 1-0 lead. Another Coman corner from the other side causes problems 10 minutes later too, this time when Toni Lato jumps to reach the ball but is shoved by Guibert, winning us a penalty. Mateo Kovacic steps up to the spot, gives the keeper the eyes and clips the ball firmly into the bottom left corner for 2-0.

It could be 3-0 just a minute later when we win a free kick just inside Saint-Étienne’s half. Kovacic steps up again and lofts the ball towards the box, Coman flicks it on and Lato’s in the thick of the action once again. The wing back heads the ball goalwards at the near post but this one’s easy for Posavec to catch. Instead, we get our 3rd goal just before the half hour when Éder brings the ball forwards and gives it to Lato, who chips it down the line for Orlando, who picks out who else but Kingsley Coman at the far post with a whipped cross. Coman does what Coman does, tapping us into a three goal cushion with two thirds of the game still to play.

Half time gives me a chance to congratulate the Paris Saint-Germain lads a collective pat on the back for a job well done, as it seems like the second half’s going to be a bit of a formality. Within 5 minutes of the restart though they let me know that we’re not done yet: A patient move around a Saint-Étienne half packed with bodies leads to Coutinho standing with the ball 25 yards out. The Brazilian’s almost instantly surrounded but he coolly squares for Kovacic, who plays a first time pass through the defence for Moise Kean. The Italian continues his fine form with a drilled shot under Posavec to make it 4-0.

“But surely we’ll take our foot off the pedal now”, I naively thought during the 2 minute interval before our next goal. I’ll say this about Saint-Étienne: They don’t seem to learn their lessons. Once again Coutinho’s surrounded, once again he squares for Kovacic, who once again plays the ball through for Kean. This time our striker plays a reverse ball for Orlando on the left, who crosses from the byline and then Philippe Coutinho arrives in the centre to tap in goal number 5.

With 25 minutes to play, Michal Hutka and Silvio Cvitanovic both come on replacing Kovacic and Coutinho, who’ve both had fine games and deserve a break. I’ve not seen that much of Hutka so far and I’ve been underwhelmed by Cvitanovic, so with the pressure well and truly off I want them to impress me. The former goes into the Neves role at the base of our midfield, while Éder steps into Kovacic’s shoes and the latter replaces Coutinho like-for-like.

5 minutes after the change, a bit of complacency might be sneaking in. Toni Lato tries to switch the play but it’s a clumsy attempt and he ends up blasting the ball straight against Éder’s back. The loose ball bobbles towards our box and Saint-Étienne substitute Iturbe takes the opportunity to have a snapshot from the edge of the area, but it’s a simple catch for Donnarumma, who’s had barely anything to do today.

The last action of the game comes from a corner from the visitors though, believe it or not. Initially anyway. Seinaes crosses the ball into our box, Ibarra heads it away and Éder runs it out towards the halfway line. The full Brazilian plays a great ball up the left wing for Kean to chase and he does so, before getting to the byline and floating a cross to the far post. Kingsley Coman arrives but can only hit the post from a narrow angle. That takes me back. 5-0 it finishes.

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That’s exactly what we needed after the Reims match: A clear, comfortable and unambiguous victory to clear our heads. Initially it does lift us back up to the top of the table, but by time Wednesday rolls around, Bordeaux have slapped us back down to 2nd in the early kick off. We’ll be looking to retake the top spot as we venture South East to a little old City in Burgundy and a little old stadium called the Stade l’Abbé-Deschamps.

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If we’d failed to take anything from the Saint-Étienne match, Auxerre would probably be coming into this one thinking we were here for the taking, but as it is they’ll probably be quaking in their boots. Lucas, Ibarra, Lato, Coman, Kovacic and Orlando are all selected for the Team of the Week and if any of them play like they did on Sunday, I’m in for quite a comfortable return.

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I really don’t want to be a backseat manager, but I’m wary of Jocelyn Gourvennec’s start to life in Auxerre. He can’t be blamed whatsoever for the club’s early exit from the Europa League Qualifying round as it was me who lead l’AJA to a goalless draw away at Hibernian before caretaker manager Juninho took over for the home leg and oversaw a 0-1 loss. It’s more Jocelyn’s approach to transfers that’s worrying me and here’s why: I like to think that after 3 years at the helm, I can say with some degree of insight that the club cannot compete in the transfer market. Their finances, while greatly improved from where they were a few years ago, are nowhere near strong enough to be able to bring in the type of quality that’s going to immediately improve their squad and they still aren’t of sufficient standing to bring in important quality players from other clubs. Think of my signings while I was there: The Santos 4, who I knew I could swipe from a club who were cash-strapped themselves, Phil Foden, who was frozen out of Manchester City’s reserves, Arturo Vidal and Mamadou Doucouré, who were released by Bayern and Mönchengladbach respectively and Fabien McCarthy and Amine Reynier, who we plucked from South Africa and Ligue 2. Auxerre are a club that need to be self-sufficient for the most part because in the transfer market, they’re feeding off scraps.

That’s why I very rarely actually made signings during my tenure, preferring to blood academy graduates while keeping a consistent core of the squad together. The first indicators for me that things were going to be different under Jocelyn were when he sold both Xavier Lenogue and Celsiney on deadline day. Xavier moved to Marseille as I previously mentioned and Celsiney left for Toulouse. Although I can absolutely sympathise with the club wanting to bring in potentially £7M for a player we spent no money purchasing (Although personally I wouldn’t have cashed in), I cannot for the life of me work out why Celsiney wanted to drop down into Ligue 2 after cementing himself as a Ligue 1 player last season. Seriously, before I left I was fending off interest from Tottenham and Liverpool for the right back and he’s ended up dropping down a division.

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But having said all that, fair enough. Celsiney was unsettled over the Summer and although I don’t agree with his choice of club, that’s nothing to do with Jocelyn. Lenogue’s moved to a bigger club, albeit with not much chance of playing, but fine. Here’s where I get wary: The quality of players that Auxerre ended up bringing in this Summer is just not good. Federico Viviani’s a fine centre midfielder, but he’s 32 and they’ll probably struggle to get 2 good seasons out of him in the position where the club is probably best stocked anyway. Young Iranian winger Hossain Joudaki is pretty much a downgrade on Zoun, Mirko Apollonio is an older definite downgrade on Celsiney, Christopher Jullien is a 31 year old Mike Kakuba and Ajibade Sunday is nowhere near Ligue 1 quality. Youn Czekanowicz, who Auxerre signed from us, is a poor goalkeeper but will be backup to be fair and this is where I have to give Jocelyn his dues. I reckon he’s struck gold with his first choice goalkeeper: 19 year old Iranian international Aziz Mehdizadeh. He might have what it takes to grow into a Ligue 1 player. The rest of them, not so much. Use your academy, Jocelyn.

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Anyway, that’s my two cents, but obviously Auxerre are no longer my club and their ridiculously frustrating transfer dealings are no longer my problem. As Paris Saint-Germain manager I’m duty-bound to try and rip through my old club like cheap loo roll.

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PSG will go unchanged into this one as I see no reason to tweak the side that just demolished Saint-Étienne. Ruben Neves and Boris Triponez are back from suspension but will have to make do with the bench for now. The side I left only 6 weeks ago are nearly unrecognisable already though, with Isaac Sohna, Mamadou Doucouré, Amine Reynier, Fabien McCarthy, Hicham Aidir and Nathan Andre the only starters from my regime lining up in a 4-4-2. With Captiste on the bench, the home side will be lead out by their big Moroccon centre forward and vice-captain, but Hicham isn’t Auxerre’s main threat. He’s scored just once so far this season while Andre’s bagged 5 goals in 6 appearances. Only Kingsley Coman goes into this match having scored more (6 in 6).

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The first action of the match comes a quarter of an hour in when Éder passes to Kovacic, who plays it on to Kean, who picks out Coman cutting in off the right flank. Our winger holds off the challenge of Mamadou Doucouré, takes the ball into the box and casually strokes it into the far top corner beyond Mehdizadeh’s reach. Coman v Doucouré did strike me before kickoff as a bit of a mismatch as I never got the impression that the defender was comfortable out wide. Apparently Jocelyn needs to learn that lesson for himself though and just to hammer the point home, we bag a second goal in the 23rd minute. Kovacic spins away from McCarthy and finds Coutinho in space 30 yards from goal. Coutinho plays it inside for Kean, who lays it off for Coman, who loses Doucouré again and buries his 20 yard shot into the same top left corner.

Before the half hour we get another chance when Toni Lato throws the ball in from the left wing level with the Auxerre penalty area. Orlando controls it, holding off Viviani and plays the ball to Kovacic just outside the box. The Croatian chips a lovely first time cross into the 6 yard box and Moise Kean loses his marker Jullien, earning himself a free header… Which he puts just over from 6 yards. 5 minutes later Hicham Aidir’s clattered firmly but fairly by Éder, who launches another PSG attack. There’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere if I think about it enough, but there’s no time. Éder finds his compatriot Orlando, who sprints away down the left, leaving Reynier and Apollonio in his dust. The Brazilian winger pulls the ball back from the byline for Kean, who blasts a shot at goal, but Mehdizadeh does well to tip it over the bar.

From the resulting corner, Kovacic swings a good cross in towards Kean. The Italian leaps for the ball but is dragged down by Apollonio, who… I’m sorry to harp on about it, but he just isn’t bloody good enough. If they had to sell Celsiney, fine, but Issa Samba should be in ahead of… Anyway… Apollonio gifts us a penalty and Kingsley Coman steps up to blast the spot kick into the top right corner, sealing a 37 minute hat trick. A couple of minutes on we’re caught short when Kovacic’s floated pass from a deep free kick is cleared and Auxerre counter through Andre and Aidir, who both stayed forward for the set piece. Andre picks the ball up and takes it past Éder to release Aidir, who times his run well to stay onside and then bursts through on goal completely alone. He reaches the edge of our box and is one-on-one with the outrushing Donnarumma, but his low driven shot is turned behind by the Italian goalkeeper.

We go close to a 4th goal before half time when Orlando’s cross deflects off Reynier and bounces to Coutinho 25 yards out, but the playmaker shoots just wide of the top right corner. At half time my team talk really gives itself but we come back out for the second half to the news that Hicham’s been sacrificed for the hosts and Goujon has come on to try and sure up their midfield, which to be fair seems like a good call but a tad late.

Goujon doesn’t exactly scream “Security” 15 minutes later though, winning the ball off Kean but then smashing his clearance against the striker’s legs, causing the ball to trickle over to Orlando on the edge of the box. The Brazilian shoots weakly with his unfavoured right foot however and it’s an easy catch for Mehdizadeh. A minute later Auxerre try and hit back when Reynier chips a good ball over to McCarthy, who’s in space 25 yards out. The South African slides a pass through for Andre but his shot too is weak and Donnarumma catches it comfortably. Rounding off an intense 5 minute spell, Coman gets the ball on the right wing shortly after and crosses for Moise Kean, who spins around on the edge of the box and shoots straight at Mehdizadeh. Not a fantastic half for quality shots, this.

As the half rumbles on, Gourvennec brings on big Phil Foden and Billy in the hopes that they’ll be able to bring about a comeback or more likely a consolation and I then bring off the booked and shattered Éder, replacing him with Rúben Neves. The last chance comes 5 minutes from time when Kean surges through the centre of the pitch and drives a shot low towards the corner of goal, but again Auxerre’s Iranian goalkeeper pulls off a good save to deny the striker a place on the scoresheet. Aside from a late Cvitanovic cameo, that’s our lot.

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I’m in high spirits after the match. A 5th win in 6 league games sends us back to the top of Ligue 1 and it’s nice to see the Auxerre players and staff, a few of whom I have a chat with before getting back on the bus to the airport. When I finally do retake my seat next to Bechkoura, I notice that he’s silently looking out of the window. I wonder if he’s still trying to work out who Claude Makélélé cheated on to inspire that fucking song.

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Episode 208 >

From Ouagadougou to København (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep206)

Here we are some 6 years later.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 205

As I scroll through Bechkoura’s latest email full of player reports, I almost laugh. I cast my mind back to Portugal all those years ago, when I jumped on a plane with Miguel Borba and watched excitedly from the stands as Lassina Touré sat glued to the bench for Burkina Faso for the first time, such was my pride that one of my players was in the squad for an international match. Lassina never had another contract after Angrense and retired from football aged just 27, but for me he stands out as a milestone player in my career.

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But here we are some 6 years later. Just look at this list Bechkoura’s sent me:

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Bloody hell, things like this really make it sink in for me sometimes. Look how far we’ve come from those days. I’m not about to go through the players and their international performances one by one, but I am happy to report that our young right back Renan Henrique made his international debut for Brazil last week, which is of course excellent. Moise Kean and Kingsley Coman also bagged goals for their countries, which I hope will mean that they’re ready to carry on with their good early season form.

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There may be a bit of a storm brewing here in Paris though and it’s been brewing since the moment the transfer deadline passed. Ricardo Ibarra’s unhappiness with my neglect to strengthen out squad with a centre forward is worrying, especially as I think he’s probably our best player, or there abouts.

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I haven’t exactly helped myself with the squad I’ve named for the Champions League, but I refuse to take all the blame for that. Champions League rules state that the squad needs to have a minimum of 4 players trained at PSG for 3 years between the ages of 15 and 21 and 8 players trained in France over the same period. Such is our squad, that has caused a bit of a problem. We only have 4 players who are close to the first team and who meet those criteria: Japanese goalie Yûsuke Abe, who’s been here since the age of 18, Angolan right back Eduardo Costa, who’s also been with us from the age of 18, Kingsley Coman, who came up through the ranks and left at 18 and Argentinian anti-winger Rodolfo Chao, who has also been with us from the age of 18. It speaks volumes about the transfer strategy here in Paris that apart from Kingsley, we only have 3 “home grown” players that are anywhere near the first team and they are all from different nations. Long story short, I had to leave somebody out of my Champions League squad. After inevitably ditching several young attacking midfielders I weighed up the amount of cover we have in different areas against the likelihood that certain players will actually play and Bulgarian left back Dobby was the man sacrificed. Like Ibarra, he isn’t too happy with me at the minute. Luckily unlike Ibarra, Marquinhos manages to talk him round for me.

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Anyway, we have a chance today to put that headache to one side by demolishing newly promoted Stade de Reims. I’ve not met them since our Ligue 2 days when I seem to remember them being extremely unlucky to miss out on promotion themselves, but without wanting to temp fate, they’ve lost their opening 3 matches against Metz, Lyon and Lorient and we should be sweeping them aside.

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There’s extra incentive for us in this one because Monaco were held to a draw yesterday by Stade Rennais. A win for us would lift us 2 points clear at the top. We go unchanged from the side that beat Marseille: Donnarumma in net, Ibarra and Triponez at the back, Bologna, Nevez and Lato behind Kovacic in midfield and Coman, Coutinho and Orlando behind Kean. Stade de Reims are actually following in Marseille’s example by absolutely flooding the centre of the park in the hopes of keeping us at bay, so we’ll exploit the flanks where they’re lighter in personnel.

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If I’m honest, at the start of the match I don’t expect the first hour to be goalless or eventless, but that’s exactly what it is. Jakupovic has a potshot that flies over the bar, but other than that, Reims don’t threaten us and keep us at bay. Disappointed, I decide to mix things up with a triple substitution and a subtle formation change to a 2-3-3-2. Kovacic’s box to box position is the one to be sacrificed as Manuel Bueno comes on as a second striker in a target man role in his place. Cvitanovic comes on for Orlando on the left, while Éder replaces Neves in a supporting ball winner role to still give us energy in the middle.

We go close shortly after when Kingsley Coman’s left sided corner is cleared as far as Coutinho, who hits a dipping drive at goal from 25 yards, but Cucchietti does well to push the ball over the bar. With under 20 minutes to go we threaten again from the left, this time when Coutinho lays the ball off for Cvitanovic, who whips a diagonal cross into the box. Coman arrives at the far post to tap the ball over the line. It’s becoming a habit of his, which is absolutely fine with me.

With our new found dominance I’m confident of now seeing the game out, but when Manuel Bueno balloons a speculative 30 yard shot so high and wide that it could very easily wind up smashing one of the Grand Louvre Pyramids, it deflates us somewhat. Sure enough our confidence dissipates and within 5 minutes we’re pegged back when Callegari passes the ball around Ibarra and Cassetta powers an effort beyond Donnarumma from 6 yards out. The most frightening part for me though is watching helplessly as Reims win the ball back from kick off and attack again. Cassetta gives Éder the slip and lays it across for Maxime Lopez, the lad who I handed a debut for the National side while he was in Ligue 2 and who really impressed, but failed to ever get back into my squad. Max passes to Vale, who holds off Triponez as he turns and then drives a low shot from the edge of the box. The ball squeezes out of Donnarumma’s grasp at the near post and after leading in the 78th minute, we’re behind in the 80th. To newly promoted Stade de Reims.

We go on the attack for the last 10 minutes, but fail to find an equaliser. We do get one last chance deep into injury time though when Éder wins the ball from Vale and plays it forward. Cardoso fluffs his attempted clearance, allowing Coutinho to take possession on the left and the Brazilian swings the ball into the centre for Bueno, who volleys deftly past Cucchietti to get us a point. In another situation, this would be a cause for joyous celebration; A draw snatched from the jaws of defeat would’ve shook the foundations of the Stade l’Abbé-Deschamps. Here and now though, I’ve just dodged a bullet. Here in Paris, a defeat at the hands of Stade de Reims would have been unacceptable. A draw is probably unacceptable but given the context, I’ll take it. Improvement is needed though, that’s for sure.

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So call me crazy, as Bechkoura does on our flight over to København, but I reckon that my biggest problem here at the minute is that I don’t know my squad. I’m rapidly getting to know my “First choice XI”, but outside them I don’t know where everyone else stands in the pecking order. Maybe if I’d known my fringe players better by now, I would’ve made better decisions and better substitutes and would not have dropped points against Reims. I feel a little dirty for suggesting this, but I think my Champions League debut is as good a time as any to experiment. I’d rather it wasn’t, but consider my reasoning: The first Champions League match of the season is a big deal, so it’s not as if I’ll be looking over the lesser known players in a meaningless friendly match, but as the weakest side in our group, København should be beatable no matter which players I start, within reason. It’ll also do the lads who played against Reims good to have a midweek break, so everybody wins. Except for København. Hopefully.

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As I mentioned when the draw was made, Anders Lindegaard’s men will not be looking forward to another Group Stage with PSG. Their apparent danger man is 34 year old Paris old boy and København captain Grzegorz Krychowiak, so with that in mind, nothing but a win will do. I’m suddenly second guessing my decision to experiment.

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But experimenting is exactly what we’re doing today at the Telia Parken. Against a full strength, in-form side of Danish Champions, our starting line up is: In-demand Japanese giant Yûsuke Abe in net, Boris Triponez and Lucas in defence with Rúben Neves sitting in front of them, Renan Henrique and Toni Lato as the wing backs, Éder playing the box-to-box role and Rui Darcílio, Miguel Veiga and Silvio Cvitanovic behind Manuel Bueno. I should note that I’ve not rotated the squad fully as I want to give Lucas, the only other player that can play as a left wing back, a chance in defence, so Lato keeps his spot on the left. Also Triponez and Neves both picked up bookings in the Reims match and will be suspended for our league game against Saint-Étienne, so they may as well feature now before their enforced rest.

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My Champions League bow gets under way and nearly gets off to an awful start when Ricardo Kishna plays a pass into the left channel for Olaf de Vrij. De Vrij runs onto the pass and fizzes a shot just wide of our near post. A few minutes later the action’s down the other end of the pitch when Toni Lato plays the ball to Manuel Bueno on the edge of the København box. Bueno lays it off for Veiga to his left and the Spanish playmaker slots a lovely pass to the right for wing back Henrique to run onto. The Brazilian thumps a shot straight at Radu, but the keeper can only parry the ball into his own net. 10 minutes in and we’re ahead.

A few minutes after the opener, we double our advantage. Neves sprays a half-volleyed pass over to Darcílio on the right, who takes on Varela on the outside and whips a cross to the near post. Target man Bueno arrives to direct the ball across goal and into the far corner of the net. We’re nearly pegged back in the 18th minute as Kishna holds off Éder and dribbles down the left wing dangerously. He gets to the byline and crosses the ball into the 6 yard box for de Vrij, who forces an excellent parried save from Abe and then smashes the rebound against the far post.

As the game continues to go from end to end though, we nearly make it 3-0 a minute later when Cvitanovic threads a pass into the box for Bueno, but his shot is well blocked by Radu. In the 22nd minute, Gonçalves gets the ball on the right wing for the hosts following their corner and sends a low cross into the box. This time Baranek is the target and he shoots from 8 yards, but Lucas does well to get himself in the way of the defender’s effort and deflect the ball wide. The resulting corner is headed clear by Éder at the near post and we counter attack, with Cvitanovic taking the ball down the left and playing a long ball forwards for Bueno. Bueno turns Strand to get himself into space in the København penalty box and then fires a shot off, but Radu saves it. It’s pretty miraculous that there’s only been 2 goals in this match so far.

Obviously I spoke too soon. In the 26th minute, Cassingena plays a clever reversal through our defence for Kishna, who shoots against the near post from inside the box. With Donnarumma beaten, the ball bobbles across the mouth of the goal and Olaf de Vrij arrives to tap in the home side’s first goal. Just a few minutes later though we restore our 2 goal cushion when another København corner is cleared by Lato at the far post. This time Bueno brings the ball out of danger and into the opposition’s half before leaving Varela for dead and chipping a nice pass into the path of Veiga, who brings the ball down inside the box and slots it into the bottom corner.

On the half hour, Cassingena again causes us problems with a one-two with Gonçalves that gets him into space in our box, but the angle’s too narrow on the right hand side once he gets back on the ball and he can only shoot against the near post. The next 15 minutes are thankfully much quieter than the preceding 30 and neither side threatens again until injury time, when Bueno charges down the right, dances past Baranek’s slide tackle with surprising agility and plays the ball inside. Darcílio arrives 8 yards from goal and side-foots a shot against the near post. When the referee blows his whistle to signal the end of the first half, I almost collapse. I don’t know about the players but I already feel knackered.

I make a change at half time as Silvio Cvitanovic took a knock to the head just before the break and with our 3-1 advantage and so much quality on the bench, I see no reason to risk him. Argentinian anti-winger Rodolfo Chao replaces the German captain and moves onto the right wing, while Darcílio will swap to the left.

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I brace myself for another heart-stopping 45 minutes of football and it certainly looks like it’s going that way when only 15 seconds after the restart de Vrij powers a shot at goal, but Abe manages to tip it away. The second half isn’t actually nearly as hectic as the first and the next chance comes in the 63rd minute when Kishna skips outside Henrique on the left wing and whips a cross into the box. De Vrij beats Triponez in the air and heads the ball straight into the arms of Abe, but less than a minute later he gets on the end of yet another Kishna cross, this time getting ahead of Triponez and volleying the ball in for 3-2.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem like København have much left in the tank. In the 83rd minute, Bueno also takes a knock to the head and is replaced by Moise Kean and then with a few minutes to go Coutinho replaces Darcílio as we shuffle to a defensive 4-1-4-1. Gonçalves gets in a good position and drags a shot well wide just to jangle my nerves in the dying moments, but when the referee calls time on an extremely even but eventful match, our 3-2 lead is intact.

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Could it have been more comfortable? Of course. Should it have been? Well… Yes. But let’s look at it logically: While 6 years ago I sat in the Stade du 4 Août in Ouagadougou as a Portuguese Championship manager, watching my first international player warm the bench, today in København I am off the mark in the bloody Champions League and I’ve arrived with a win. I know my new Paris Saint-Germain squad a little more than I did yesterday and early as it is, we’re at the top of 2 leagues. I’m more than happy with all that for a day’s work.

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Episode 207 >

The Impossible Job (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep205)

All the while, I dreamt of this.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Mini-sode 204.5

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I haven’t stopped smiling this morning. From the moment I woke up and got out of bed, to the moment I stepped out of the hotel and onto the coach, right through to now: The moment I stand on the touchline of the Ernst-Happel Stadion, ready to oversee my first match as England manager. It made eating my breakfast a pain in the arse, but I don’t care. I’ve no reason to stop smiling today. I’ve dreamt of this. As a 7 year old lad, watching Michael Owen lift his shot over Carlos Roa, I dreamt of this. At 10 years old, watching David Beckham curl the perfect free kick out of the reach of Antonios Nikopolidis, I dreamt of this. As a lad of 11, as Ronaldinho’s free kick arced beautifully over David Seaman, at 12, as Sol Campbell’s bundled goal was ruled out against Portugal and at 18, as Frank Lampard’s thunder bastard crashed a long, long, long way over Manuel Neuer’s line, only to be chalked off. All the while, I dreamt of this: The chance to lead my country out onto the turf and have my shot at the impossible job.

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned down the years as an England fan, it’s that you need to be fair in this job. You can’t just pick the 11 most high profile players and cram them onto a pitch higgledy piggledy. No, only the most infuriatingly clueless of Italians would do that. You need to play the footballers who deserve the chance and you need to build a team. A proper one. A team that have chemistry and that can actually gel with each other. I’m not the first to cotton onto this idea either. Eddie Howe, despite his sacking a few months ago, had more success relatively than any England manager since Alf Ramsey and he did it by picking a team of good footballers that deserved their chance. Not necessarily the most flashy ones, but the ones that fitted best into the system and the team.

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With this in mind, I should mention that there is a teeny tiny snafu going into our first couple of European International League Division A matches and that is that some of the senior players that I’ve picked are worried that I’ve gone too far in the other direction. The likes of Eric Dier and John Stones have come to me for a private word about the fact that I’ve chosen a relatively inexperienced maiden squad and it’s a fair point. Will Mannion, Taylor Moore, Reece Oxford, Jordan O’Halloran and Ed Salmon are all uncapped, while the likes of Charlie Taylor, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Stuart Coleman, Harry Winks, Juddy Lokando, Jordan Pickford, Lewis Cook, David Crammond and Joe Bell all have 20 caps or under to their name. Mannion and Salmon both play in the Championship too and it’s generally frowned upon to select players from below the top tier. Let’s never forget Jay Bothroyd.

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But as you’ll hopefully have gleaned from my pretty in-depth talk about squad selection, this isn’t something I’ve taken lightly. I’ve chosen players based on their skillset, their form, their future international prospects and their ability to fit into a system that I believe will get the best out of our best players. Maybe the senior players are right to some extent. Maybe I’ve leaned slightly towards youth and potential more than I would have, having just been sacked from my position as French manager in which I really struggled to bring any youth through at all. Even so though, I genuinely reckon each of these players can play a part for these matches and going forwards.

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In our first match away at Austria and in the debut appearance of Project: Pride, Butland starts in net, Stones and Lokando are in defence with Dier in the hole, Winks and Shaw are the wing backs, O’Halloran makes his debut alongside Coleman in midfield and Alli plays just off Webb and Bell at the front. In the absence of Harry Kane, our injured captain, vice-captain John Stones has the armband.

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We start off looking pretty solid. 12 minutes in, Grillitsch comes forwards through the centre of the park but he runs into a brick wall named Stuart Coleman, so has to try to switch the ball out onto the left wing instead. His pass towards Sabitzer is decent, but Harry Winks cuts it out and passes to Ollie Webb on the half way line. Webb looks up and bends a great pass through the Austrian defence for Bell to run onto, which he does. Joe Bell runs through on goal on his first international appearance in over a year with the ball at his feet. Strebinger rushes out to great him… But Bell slips it under the keeper and into the net to give us the lead. Good lad, Joe.

Our lead doesn’t last too long though. Only 5 minutes after Bell’s opener, Schaub swings a corner into the centre of our box and Stones rises to meet it, heading it clear as far as Sabitzer 30 yards out. Sabitzer brings the ball down and plays it back out to Schaub, who whips another ball in from the byline. This time Seidel arrives at the near post to volley Austria level. We go close to retaking the lead before the break when Webb picks up the ball 35 yards out, dribbles to the edge of the box and shoots left footed, but he drags it just wide of the near post.

A few minutes after the break, Dele Alli gets the ball just inside Austria’s half and plays a give and go with Webb, who turns on the thrusters and sprints out to the right byline. Webb gets a low cross in and Alli arrives right on cue, stroking the ball past Strebinger from 10 yards out to make it 2-1. The goal settles us down a bit and we have a decent spell of possession over the next 7 or 8 minutes.

Coleman passes to Bell 25 yards out in the 54th minute and Bell plays a clever reverse ball through to Webb, who latches onto it 10 yards from goal but shoots straight at Strebinger, who parries it clear onto the right wing. Webb shows fantastic determination though and races straight over to collect the loose ball before laying it back for Harry Winks, who drifts a cross in towards the edge of the box. Coleman does well to rise above both Laimer and Arase to win the header, flicking it on for Alli inside the box, who nods the ball softly over the outrushing Strebinger, sending it bobbling slowly towards goal and over the line for 3-1.

Right after kick off we go close yet again when Stones plays the ball to Coleman just inside our half, who chips it forward for Joe Bell. Bell nods the ball on into the path of Webb, who turns Lienhart inside out with his quick footwork and then shoots left footed from the edge of the box, but it’s an easy catch for Strebinger.

Pretty confident that we’ll see this out, I make all 3 of my substitutes on the hour and bring on 3 debutants. Burnley centre back Taylor Moore comes on for Juddy Lokando, Watford defender Reece Oxford comes on for Eric Dier and Bournemouth’s Ed Salmon replaces Jordan O’Halloran; All like for like. 5 minutes later I’m delighted to see us put a great move together and 2 of the subs are involved too. Wimmer’s hoofed ball is cut out by Oxford, who cushions the ball down with his head for Alli, 35 yards from goal. Alli touches it off for Coleman, who squares to Salmon, who plays a great first time ball into Webb’s path, splitting the defence. Webb shoots first time and hits the near post, but the ball bounces across goal and with Strebinger already beaten, Joe Bell stabs our 4th goal into the empty net from 6 yards.

With 20 minutes to play, Arase attempts to dribble down the right wing but is dispossessed by Luke Shaw, who then plays an excellent pass into the left channel for Bell to chase. Bell just manages to win the footrace with Lienhart and controls the ball inside the box as Strebinger rushes out once again to narrow the angle. He could attempt his hat trick goal, but Bell unselfishly lays the ball off to his right, giving Ollie Webb an open goal to aim at from the penalty spot. Webb blasts it… Off the underside of the bar and Wimmer clears. He’s had a bad day with his shooting so far, Webb, but I’m not disheartened. We’ve looked excellent going forwards and he’s been a big part of that. Thomas Murg takes the ball down deep in his own half and initially leaves Winks in his dust, turning him and sprinting down the flank. In the space of only a few seconds though, Winks vindicates my decision to select him as a right wing back with an absolutely gut-busting run to catch up with Murg just as he’s about to be level with our box. Winks gets level and executes a perfect crunching slide tackle to knock the ball out for a throw. The travelling fans sound their appreciation for the West Brom man. We’re going to get on fine, Harry.

5 minutes later, my team give me an example of my new system working absolutely perfectly. Austria have a left-sided throw in deep into our half and the ball’s thrown to Schaub, who’s quickly dispossessed by Ed Salmon. Salmon lays it off to Reece Oxford, who plays the ball down the line where Winks is running into space. Winks plays it inside for Alli, who exchanges passes with Coleman and then Webb, who runs it forward through midfield. 20 yards out, he lays the ball back to Joe Bell, who picks out Luke Shaw sprinting into the left hand side of the box. Shaw latches on, cuts the ball across and Alli arrives late in the box to place it firmly into the top corner from 8 yards to complete his hat trick. Absolutely excellent football. A scorching 9 pass move from one end of the pitch to the other and we’re 5-1 up.

In the 80th minute, yet another good spell of possession sees Luke Shaw find Dele Alli on the left hand side of the box. Alli chips it to the edge of the area for Webb, who Di Canio-volleys it into the bottom left corner. 6-1. Suffice to say this is a better England debut than I could’ve hoped for.

Austria have a late surge of action and do get a second goal when Arase takes on Shaw on the right wing and crosses to the near post, where Seidel arrives again to stab it home. I’m a little disappointed as the striker got ahead of Taylor Moore to meet the cross and that’s the first time the debutant centre back’s been tested today, but I won’t hold it against him for now. Arase gets away from Shaw again in the 90th minute, wriggling free in the penalty box and shooting tamely at Butland, but the Arsenal keeper catches it comfortably.

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I reckon I can afford to be quite smug after that. We had solid performances all over the park, some decent debuts, Winks was good on the right and Coleman absolutely dominated in his new midfield position. The front 3 were electric and even though Webb probably could’ve completed a hat trick of his own, his primary job up front is to be the supporting striker and he did set up 3 goals and eventually bag one for himself, so I can’t complain at all. Alli was exemplary and Joe Bell looked like a man who’d never been out of the international scene. Project: Pride is a roaring success.

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I won’t be the smuggest man at Wembley though. No, that will be my opposite number and Paris Saint-Germain predecessor, Pep Guardiola.

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Don’t you pity me, you git. “He’s far too good a manager for [The fact that I’ve never beaten him] to mean anything” he croons to the press ahead of the match. I’m onto you, Josep. Nobody’s this nice, especially in football management. Our paths have crossed 5 times now: A friendly defeat before my season in Ligue 2 with Auxerre, which we were actually pretty unlucky to lose, 3 Ligue 1 defeats and a 1-1 Ligue 1 draw in one of the only recorded cases of Project: Sword working as a system. The thing that makes this all the more interesting though is that my France side beat Marcelino’s Spain 6-2 just over 2 months ago. Can my “lesser” England side have similar success against a Spanish side under a better manager? We’d fucking better do, because I’m way overdue for a win against this bastard. With his mind games. As it stands, we’re top of Division A Group 3 and I intend to stay there.

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The only change I’m making for this match is that Harry Winks drops out to be replaced by Trent Alexander-Arnold at right wing back. Winks was knackered coming into the break and 90 minutes bombing up and down the wing hasn’t helped the situation, so I don’t think he’ll have the energy to do a job here. My former striker Álvaro Morata leads the line for our opponents, with one of PSG’s many attacking midfield playmakers, Miguel Veiga, behind him. Thanks again, Pep. Veiga will need to find a balance today because he’ll obviously want to impress his new manager, but then if he performs too well he could find himself spending the next 8 months polishing my boots.

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“Ladies and gentlemen, please show your appreciation for the new head coach of the England Men’s Football Team, WT Franjo!”

The appreciation hits me like a smack in the face. The full dose of my first Wembley reception is shot straight into my bloodstream and the side effects include euphoria and paralysis. I’ve loved all of my clubs… Well, I’ve loved some of my clubs. I’ll forever be a fan of Angrense, Santos and Auxerre and even Höllviken holds a weird little corner of my heart, but I came into each of those places as an outsider and grew to love them over time. Now, for the first time, I’m greeted by my people. My countrymen. The men, women and children who I grew up alongisde and then stood and fought against in June when we met in Group D. The people I stole a result against on that day. For the first time, I’m back where I belong. And the noise is deafening.

The first half hour is tight and a bit scrappy as the sides figure each other out. In the 29th minute we come forward on the attack through Ollie Webb on the right wing. Webb gets level with the box and gets a cross in, but it’s cut out and Spain hit us on the counter. The ball’s played out to Iñaki Williams on the right, who strides down the line and lays it off for Hector Bellerin. Bellerin whips a cross in for Veiga in the box, who plays a cheeky backheel to find Morata all on his own on the penalty spot. The striker places the ball into the top corner to put Pep’s men ahead, before giving me a smile and a thumbs up as he makes his way back to prepare for kick off. Dickhead.

A few minutes later, the shit really hits the fan when a long, hopeful ball over the top from Zabalza is brought down by Lokando, but the City man’s first touch is poor and Morata nips in to steal possession. He bursts away from Lokando, runs through on goal and blasts the ball under Jack Butland for 0-2. This time, Álvarsehole runs over to the away dugout and attempts to celebrate with Pep, but after a sheepish smile, Pep shoos him away and turns to give me a sympathetic look.

After a less than ideal start though, we do seem to get up and running in the next few minutes. Ollie Webb has the ball on the halfway line and plays a beautiful diagonal pass to release Bell behind the defence. Bell gets to the left byline and pulls the ball back to the edge of the 6 yard box, where Coleman arrives and shoots… Against the far post.

With 3 minutes to go before the break, we come forward again. This time it’s a great pass from Joe Bell that sends Alli chasing through the left channel. Alli runs though on goal and pokes a shot towards the near post, but De Gea tips it wide for a corner. Webb runs over to take it and drifts a cross into the box. Of all people, it’s Luke Shaw that wins the aerial battle and cushions the ball down for Joe Bell, who smashes a volley against the bar.

To be fair, we’re not down and out yet and I tell the players as much in my half time team talk. We’ve given as good as we’ve got in a very even first half. On another day Lokando takes a better touch and both of our shots that hit the woodwork creep into the net, giving us the lead, so I’m not too unhappy. The only major worries I have are that Morata found himself unmarked for the first goal and that our squad is pretty tired. I make a couple of changes for the second half, with Phil Joes and Lewis Cook coming on to replace Stu Coleman and Dele Alli, who are looking particularly leggy.

The introduction of Cook makes a big difference in the opening few minutes of the second half. First he receives the ball from a flicked Joe Bell header and controls it 35 yards out, before surging away from Pablo, around Zabalza and into the box. He gets one on one and shoots low and hard, but De Gea manages to tip the effort around the near post. Less than a minute later again though Cook gets the ball from Bell again and dribbles forward once more. This time he gets to the edge of the box and lays it off for Ollie Webb, who does not think twice. Webb draws back his right foot and rifles it first time into the bottom corner. Good lad.

Before even 5 minutes of the second period have passed, we come forward again. Luke Shaw receives the ball deep in our half and powers down the left wing, leaving Bellerin, Pablo and Veiga all struggling to keep up. Shaw gets to the left byline, whips a cross in and Joe Bell rises at the near post to glance a header into the net. Fuck me, it’s 2-2.

The match does settle back down after the equaliser but not for too long. A few minutes after the hour, we come marching into Spain’s half once more, this time with Joe Bell, who passes to O’Halloran. O’Halloran plays it on for Ollie Webb on the edge of the box and the striker hits it first time… Off the far post. Lewis Cook darts in to latch onto the rebound but Bueno Prieto manages to clear it off the tips of his toes.

A minute later Spain finally reply through a long ball from Morata on the half way line, into space on the left wing where Trent Alexander-Arnold is struggling to get back. Spain’s left winger Vélez brings the ball down, dribbles into the box unopposed and chips his shot past the outrushing Butland to give his side back the lead. 5 minutes after that we go close to another equaliser when Cook plays a long ball over the top for Webb to run onto, but De Gea rushes out well to block his shot. I decide to bring Alexander-Arnold off as he’s left us looking vulnerable a couple of times now. Michael Keane comes on, with John Stones switching to wing back.

BAM! That does it. Just 3 minutes after the change, Stones plays a pass down the line for Ollie Webb, who drills a cross in from the right byline. Lewis Cook arrives right on time at the near post to deservedly tuck in his first England goal and level the scores once again. I tell the wing backs not to venture up as much for the remaining 17 minutes as if anywhere, that’s where Spain have the potential to catch us. With only a few minutes to play, we could have a 4th goal when Cook presses Saúl into losing the ball and Webb takes over, bringing it forwards into the box. His shot at goal is weak though and gathered easily by De Gea.

With time ticking down, I take a moment to really breathe in the atmosphere. The noise around Wembley is good. The fans are in good voice, everyone seems pretty happy with what they’ve seen and those sodding drums are echoing around the stadium. I think I’ll go away from my Wembley debut pretty happy, all things cons… In the 92nd minute, De Gea hoofs the ball forward. Juddy Lokando rises and heads the ball back the way it came, but his header goes straight to Abraham Pérez, who chips it around the centre back for Morata to run onto. Lokando scrambles as Morata powers down the right wing. He gets to the byline. He drills in a cross… And Vélez taps in the winner from point blank range.

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Vélez runs full pelt towards the travelling fans and slides on his chest across the turf, before his team mates pile on. The atmosphere around the stadium probably changes pretty dramatically, but in the moment I fail to really notice. I stand rooted to the spot, staring blankly across the turf once again. After a moment I feel a hand on my back and Pep Guardiola appears in front of me, pulling me into a hug and ruffling my hair, before pulling away from me once again. He looks straight into my eyes. He’s smiling, but it isn’t the same sympathetic smile from before. It’s one of genuine happiness. Possibly relief?

“Welcome home.” He says. I see something flash across his eyes, but before I can process it, he’s disappeared. I turn and watch as he strides towards the tunnel. He catches up with Álvaro Morata, wraps an arm around the striker’s shoulder and starts talking excitedly in Spanish.

I’ll remember this. I promise I’ll remember that you ruined my homecoming. The score is Franjo 0-5 Pep, but the gap will not reach 6. Enough is enough now, Josep. You just made my list.

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Episode 206 >

Project: Pride (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Mini-sode 204.5)

We’ll defend as a pride and we’ll attack as a pride. 

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 204

“You cant, Boss.” Bechkoura pleads. “Not again. Do you not learn your lessons?”

“The only lesson I’ve learned in the past few months, mate” I rebuke, feeling myself turn slightly red, “Is that apparently I’m the only person in World Football who gives even the faintest toss about bringing through defensive midfielders. If I have to raise the next generation of Makélélés, Kantés and Carlseys single handedly, then that’s exactly what I’ll do.”

“But it didn’t work with Marquinhos! How the fuck is it going to work with Stuart Coleman?!”

Some explanation may be needed here. Let me introduce my very first England squad. God, that feels good to write.


Jack Butland (Arsenal), Jordan Pickford (Sunderland AFC), Will Mannion (Norwich City)

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John Stones (Liverpool), Juddy Lokando (Manchester City), Michael Keane (Real Madrid), Taylor Moore (Burnley), Harry Winks* (West Brom), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Real Sociedad on loan from Liverpool), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Charlie Taylor (Swansea City)

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Eric Dier, Dele Alli (Both Tottenham Hotspur), Reece Oxford (Watford), Jordan O’Halloran (Stoke City), Stuart Coleman* (Manchester United), Ed Salmon (AFC Bournemouth), Phil Jones (AC Milan), Lewis Cook (Manchester City)

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Oliver Webb (Chelsea), Joe Bell (Stoke City), David Crammond (West Ham United), Marcus Rashford (Real Madrid)

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* Players are not actually proficient in the positions that they’re listed under, but that’s where I’ll be playing them.

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It’s been yet another head scratcher for me, this. Just like when I arrived at Paris Saint-Germain, it’s been a real puzzle working out how I want England to play, how they’re suited to playing and how I can get all of the pieces to fit together. But after many a ripped up sheet of paper, I’ve come up with Project: Pride.

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I came to the conclusion that with the massive amounts of pace that England have going forwards, I want us to play on the counter attack wherever possible, battling and chasing together, much like a pride of lions, to win the ball back before launching lightning fast counters through our attackers. I also knew that I wanted Eric Dier sitting in front of the centre backs to become an auxiliary 3rd centre back if needed, as he’s one of our best players and I believe that it’s the position that suits him best. With that decision came my first problem. If Dier’s sat in front of the defenders, we need wing backs. There’s no point in having 5 defensively minded players across the back as it’ll leave us light going forwards.

The Right Wing Back Problem

So we need someone who can come back and defend, but is just as good going forwards. Mentally strong, physically impressive and technically skilled. At the right wing back position, this proved a huge problem. These are the players who fit the bill:

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As you’ll notice, barely any of the players who have the right attributes for the gig are right wing backs. One of them’s Scottish. Of the 14 who more or less suit what I’m looking for, 4 can play on the right hand side of defence in some capacity: Southampton’s Mason Holgate, as fine a player as he is, is not a wing back. He’s a good Premier League centre back but can’t cross for toffee, so he’s out. Trent Alexander-Arnold is good and made the squad, although to be honest I’m not blown away. He doesn’t scream “England’s starting wing back” to me. Brentford’s Ryan Woods is decent. He’s a good Championship midfielder who’s been known to play on the right of defence, but he’s slow off the mark and doesn’t excel in any area. He’s also never played above Championship level. Finally, Middlesborough’s Sam Byram, who just barely scrapes through into my criteria. He’s very average in all of the areas I need and isn’t all that mentally strong, so he won’t do. I actually considered using Dele Alli as my right wing back. I genuinely did. Do you know how frustrated a man has to be to consider deploying Dele Alli as a right wing back? He’d be wasted there, but luckily there is a man who fits the bill.

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So that’s how I’ve landed on West Brom’s Harry Winks as England’s right wing back. Obviously that might change, but I reckon he can do a job. He’s pretty rounded in all of the areas I need and although he’s never played as a wing back, I see no reason why he won’t be capable.

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So we’ve got a goalkeeper, 2 centre backs, 2 wing backs and Eric Dier sat in the hole. Now we need a pair of all-action central midfielders. A box to boxer and a ball winner, who’ll chase down every ball so that Dier can stay in his position. The box to box spot was easy to fill. I’ve picked uncapped pair Jordan O’Halloran and Ed Salmon and thrown down the gauntlet to make the spot their own. They’re both very good and I’m excited to see how they do, but then we come to the next problem.

The Ball Winning Midfielder Problem. Again.

So as I say, it needs to be someone that’s completely defensively minded. Someone who will wear their heart on their sleeve, chase every ball, dive into tackles and dominate the midfield. Stick a boot in, stick a head in, dive right in front of danger for Queen and Country. Here are the players that fit the bill:

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As you’ll notice, only a handful of the 8 players that match my criteria can play in midfield and most of them are holding men. Sitters. Not all action centre mids. And one of them’s Scottish. I want Michael Keane in my defence, Eric Dier is my holding man and Holgate we’ve discussed, so that leaves 5. I’ve poked fun at Kilmarnock’s Jay Fulton, but although he would be available to switch his allegiance to England, he’s just not good enough. Isaac Hayden is someone that I briefly considered, but he’s been pretty poor for Nottingham Forest in the Championship and is approaching 30, so he’s probably not about to get any better. Scott Wharton over at Derby is actually pretty good and has the attributes I need, but if I’m going to use a centre back in my midfield, I may as well go the whole hog.

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And Stuart Coleman, who’s name sounds very familiar from somewhere but I just can’t place it, is that whole hog. He’s a big powerful centre back who absolutely dominates the back line with his stature, defensive expertise and fantastic positioning, sort of like a modern day Sol Campbell. So naturally I’m shunting him out of position. In the same vein, his understudy will be AC Milan defender Phil Jones, although Phil is slightly more accustomed to the midfield than Stu is. As with Marquinhos and as with Winks, I may abandon this strategy at some point, but I want to at least see how Coleman does first. We’re extremely well stocked in the centre of defence so I feel like we’ll be fine without him at the back.

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And after that problem’s sorted, it’s all easy. Well, not exactly easy, but that’s only because we’ve got an abundance of talent up front so the problem becomes “Who do I pick out of all of these great strikers?”, which is a much better one to have. England Captain Harry Kane does me the courtesy of straining his knee ligaments and ruling himself out of my first squad, so I only have 4 top strikers to choose from. Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, let’s actually have a look at the team again.

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Arsenal stopper Jack Butland will start in net as he has done for Eddie Howe over the last year or so with Liverpool’s Stones and City’s Juddy Lokando in front of him, giving us the perfect defending partnership of experience/ball playing abilty and youth/no nonsense. Eric Dier sits in front of them, with Winks and Shaw bombing on as the full backs, O’Halloran and Coleman are our chasers and battlers in midfield, while Dele Alli obviously starts behind Oliver Webb and Joe Bell, because it’d be pretty hypocritical of me at this point not to start Joe Bell and to be fair I think he’s our best goalscorer even when Kane’s fit. Off the ball we’ll defend together, with the wingbacks coming back to help out and the midfielders squeezing the opposition off the ball.

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On the ball, the centre backs will part, Dier will slot in and the rest of the team will bomb forwards. Alli will join in with the strikers, with Bell the primary goal threat, the wingbacks will provide the width and O’Halloran will have license to get forward to help out too, as will Coleman to a lesser extent.

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We’ll play narrow to restrict space in the centre, we’ll play high tempo counter attacking football, we’ll close down aggressively to win the ball back but stay on our feet so as to not take ourselves out of the game positionally. We’ll pass into the space, use our numbers through the middle but also have width through Winks and Shaw. We’ll defend as a pride and we’ll attack as a pride.

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Let’s see how it fares.

Episode 205 >

Coman Feel The Noise (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep204)

“We do not need any more attacking midfielders.” I pronounce each word slowly and clearly, like I’m mouthing the message to a fucking idiot through a sheet of soundproof glass.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Mini-sode 203.5

“No more. Do you hear me? No more.”

“With all due respect, it is my decision who we sign for the future, Mr Franjo.” Growls Stefano Braghin, Paris Saint-Germain’s head of youth development.

“Well it’ll be mine going forwards.” I reply. “From now on, I’ll make the bids.”

“But Mikkelsen…”

“Is an extremely talented footballer I am sure, but I have lost my patience now. We do not need any more attacking midfielders.” I pronounce each word slowly and clearly, like I’m mouthing the message to a fucking idiot through a sheet of soundproof glass. I’m so sick of having this conversation. It’s not Stefano’s fault, well not entirely, but this club is fucking addicted to signing midfield playmakers. I’ve assumed control of all youth signings from here on out after having to step in to cancel our latest bid for Barcelona’s Norway U21 international Gaute Mikkelsen.

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I lean back in my comfortable chair as Braghi shuffles out of my new office and sigh. In all honesty, I didn’t even realise until now that he was responsible for youth signings. Never mind though. At least that’s us sorted, so now we can focus on the draw for the Champi-

“Boss,” Bechkoura opens the door without knocking and sticks his head through. “Devos says to remember that Ricardo Ibarra’s expecting you to buy a striker before the window closes.”

“Kean is our striker for the time being, but thank you, Bechkoura.” I reply curtly. He nods and his head disappears behind the door as it closes.

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As I was saying, now that all that’s sorted, we can focus on the draw for the Champions L-

“Boss,” Bechkoura’s head reappears around the door without even the faintest of knocks. “Do you want me to get back to United about that Lucas bid?” I sigh again.

“Uh, yeah actually. Tell them no, please. I want to keep him around at least until Marquinhos is fit again.” Bechkoura salutes and disappears once more, before slamming the door unnecessarily.

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So yes, with all of those things firmly out of the way, the dr-

“Boss?” Says Bechkoura’s reemerging head.

“Can you knock, for fucks sake?”

“Coman, Kovacic and Kean all named in Team of the Week.” He smiles and gives me a thumbs up, which I return.

“Richly deserved. Thank you, Bechkoura.” He closes the door once again.

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So now that all of that’s out of the way… I pause for a moment… The draw for the Champions League has been made. Paris Saint-Germain have been placed in a spicy looking Group C and we’ll have some tough opposition. Let’s have a quick look:

FC København

Anders Lingaard’s København are by far the weakest team in the group but to take victory over the Danish Champions for granted would be silly. They may have a bit of a mental barrier to climb over though as Pep’s PSG beat them 3-0 and 2-1 in the 2020/21 Champions League and then 3-0 and 3-0 last season. They won’t be looking forward to taking us on again. They’ll also be my very first Champions League opponents.

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Marcelo Gallardo’s men should be very tricky as they’re enjoying a bit of a resurgence in La Liga after a difficult few years. They finished 4th last season, which is essentially the “Best of the rest” spot in that league. Nevertheless, we will still be favourites for the win and I look forward to giving them a tough time in their first Champions League group since 2016/17. Incidentally, they qualified from the group stage that season, only to be knocked out in the first knockout round by… Unai Emery’s Paris Saint-Germain.

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Now this one should be a doozie. Luciano Spalletti’s Serie A Champions, Roma. As it happens, Roma were also in Group D in 2020/21 along with PSG and København and like the latter, they lost twice to Pep’s side: 3-1 and 3-1. For anyone interested, the final team in that group was FC Porto. I’m chomping at the bit to take on a Roma side that’s performed so well in the last few years and I’m even more eager to go back to the Stadio Olympico, the site of my 4-5 defeat to Belgium in June and seek some form of revenge on the stadium’s usual occupants.

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I want to better whatever Pep’s achieved in all competitions this year with the obvious exception of the Trophée des Champions. He won the league once in 4 years, reached the 1st knockout round of the Champions League twice, the quarter final once and the semi final once. The Semi-Final appearance was during that same league winning 2020/21 season, after which he fell off considerably. I have the opportunity here to better Emery’s results against Sevilla, to better Pep’s results against København and Roma and to better both of them and all of the others by winning the bloody thing and bringing the Cup back to Paris for the first time, thereby cementing myself as the greatest Paris Saint-Germain manager of all time. Is it perhaps the tallest of tall orders? Yes. Do I back us to pull it off? Why the fuck not.

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But the Champions League still seems so far away. First we’re hosting the Friday night match against Olympique de Marseille, then there’s the transfer deadline and then I’m flying over to Austria to oversee my first ever match with England, so let’s put a pin in those hopes and dreams for the moment, shall we.

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There’s not much to report in terms of our team for this one; We absolutely dismantled Lorient last week so I’m sticking to the same starting XI. Marseille look like they’ll set up to stifle us and deny us space through the centre, but to be honest I’m all for it. Project: InSeine has so far dominated sides in the centre of the park so I’m interested to see how well we break Marseille down when they’re using 2 holding midfielders precisely to stop us from doing so. My record signing Éder makes the bench and is given the number 27 shirt.

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The first 20 minutes is quiet and our opening goal comes as a result of a defensive mistake as much as anything else. Kovacic is forced to try and go direct with a long ball to Kean but the Italian is beaten to the pass by Armando Izzo, who then plays a sloppy ball towards Augustinsson on the left. Coman takes advantage of the wayward pass, nipping in and reclaiming possession before sprinting full pelt towards goal. As Augustinsson and Izzo give chase fruitlessly, our winger bursts into the box, sees Werner step off his line and drills a low shot past him into the net to give us the lead.

A few minutes later, Coutinho plays a pass inside to Kovacic 25 yards out and the Croatian tries to make space for a shot, but Kessié slides in brilliantly to knock the ball away as far as Orlando. Our winger has an effort blocked by Gumny on the edge of the box and the loose ball falls perfectly in front of Coman on the right hand side, who lashes a half volley against the far post. The ball rolls back in front of Kean, but Izzo manages to get the better of him again and clear it. We go close a couple more times before the break, with Orlando picking out Kovacic on the edge of the box and the midfielder slamming an expertly struck volley against the bar before Coman’s rebound attempt is blocked by Yao.

At half time and despite our lead, I make the decision to try and work our play down the wings, as their compact shape is definitely affecting our Project: InSeine through the middle and restricting us to half chances and snapshots. Just after the restart though, we’re nearly pegged back when Enes Ünal draws Triponez out of position and chips the ball around him for Veglio, who sees his shot tipped behind by Donnarumma. The next quarter of an hour is no more fruitful either, so we make a couple of subs to freshen things up in the middle. On comes Manuel Bueno for his first appearance of the season in place of Kean, while Kovacic jogs off to be replaced by debutant Éder, who gets a warm ovation from the home fans.

That does the trick. Just 4 minutes after the changes, Éder passes to Philippe Coutinho, who plays a superb ball over the Marseille defence for who else but Kingsley Coman to run onto in the box. Coman brings the ball down skilfully, dribbles into the 6 yard box and slots in our 2nd.

At 2-0 I’m pretty certain that the match is ours, but it still jangles my nerves when Coutinho’s dispossessed by Bentaleb in the 74th minute and the former Spurs midfielder plays a long ball over our defence for Ünal. Donnarumma rushes out well to meet him though and blocks the Turkish striker’s eventual shot with ease. After that, we drop back to a withdrawn 4-2-3-1, Cvitanovic replaces Orlando on the left and we set up to soak up whatever pressure Marseille put on us, but the final quarter of an hour is pleasingly eventless.

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That is a solid win if ever I’ve seen one. So far there have been disclaimers to our victories; Small asterisks next to each one. Yes we beat Lyon, but we relied on a last minute winner. Yes we beat lorient, but although they overachieved last season, the 3 points were to be expected. Marseille absolutely nosedived last season under Roberto Mancini, finishing 14th in Ligue 1, but they are still a top French club with the squad of a top French club. A solid win against them with a clean sheet to boot is very pleasing to me.

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I’m quite excited now to join up with my first England squad. Matches against Austria and Spain in the European International League await and I’ve already named my squad, but before we get to that we’ve got transfer deadline day to deal with. Some more good news to kick us off though is that we’re the leading producer of elite footballers, which I can’t exactly take any credit for whatsoever, but it’s still nice to hear. What I will take some credit for is the fact that Auxerre are 3rd on the list, which is excellent.

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We’ve also got 3 players in this week’s Team of the Week. Donnarumma and Ricardo Ibarra were solid and our keeper in particular did brilliantly to keep a clean sheet against Marseille. Kingsley Coman’s playing out of his skin at the minute and also gets a place.

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And speaking of Kingsley Coman, he’s won the Ligue 1 August Player of the Month award at the first opportunity since rejoining his childhood club. He definitely deserves it and I’m happy to eat my words over Pep’s final signing. I thought him an unnecessary purchase initially, but if I’m to have a good season here, it looks like Kingsley’s going to be absolutely crucial, so long may his excellent form continue. In other news, Neal Maupay and Nathan Andre came in 2nd and 3rd. Interesting.

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So while we’re on the subject, let’s talk strikers. Moise Kean had a pretty poor game against Marseille but I’m not ready to go back on what I said about him becoming our main striker just because of one game. There are however some players that I’ll be keeping an eye on over the next few months, just in case I need to bolster our attacking options in January. One of these players is Neal Maupay, another is Nathan Andre. You already know all about them, so I’ll just add that Neal’s scored 5 goals in his first 4 games this season, while Nathan has 3 in 3.

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I’ve also considered players like Thomas Buitink and Christopher Dieckmann, both of whom impressed in last year’s Bundesliga and in the Euros, but to be honest they’ll cost too much even for us to afford at the minute, so I’ve had to give up on those options. The final player I’ll be keeping an eye on is Darragh O’Reilly of Nottingham Forest.

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The thing about Darragh is that he hasn’t proved himself yet. Not really. He’s 21, an Irish International and has scored 33 goals in 109 league matches for Forest in the Championship. His best haul came last year when he scored 15 in 43, so he isn’t prolific, nor is he tried at a level even close to resembling Ligue 1, but I don’t know… There’s something about him. He fits my usual mould; hard working and switched on. He’s quick and strong enough to be a handful for opposition defenders and there’s no doubt he’s technically gifted. Plus the idea of an Irishman leading the line at Paris Saint-Germain is just genuinely exciting to me. Realistically he’s not at our level yet and initial talks with Forest reveal their asking price, which exceeds £30M. That’s way too much. I will be keeping an eye on him though, as I say. If he impresses this season I may be back.

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So that’s me done for this window, I think. Time to sort out my jam-packed voicemail and see which offers have come in. First up is Koln and their £5.75M bid for Michal Hutka, who you haven’t met yet because he’s one of our many attacking midfield players. He’s a pretty good prospect so I’m not ready to let him go just yet and certainly not for such a low price. I reject the offer and sign Hutka up to a new deal.

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One offer that I’m happy to accept though is new Auxerre manager Jocelyn Gourvennec’s £62k bid for our 5th choice Luxembourger goalkeeper, Youn Czekanowicz. This deal works for all parties and I let Jocelyn know that I’ll be happy to talk to him any time about any of my young players or reserves that he’s interested in. The Czekanowicz deal goes through quickly, although I do see with a heavy heart that the reason Jocelyn’s signed him is that he’s let Xavier Legod move to Marseille, where I’m sad to say I reckon he’ll be a benchwarmer. Or perhaps a Tim Krul-esque substitute for penalty shootouts. Best of luck, Youn and LeGod.

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Another player on the move is Romain Vandecasteele, who’s the subject of a £675k bid from Guingamp. I’d forgive you for thinking that I’m just getting shot of all the players whose names I can’t be arsed to keep typing in the future, but it’s not that. Vande… Romain is a striker and one of our academy graduates who just hasn’t progressed all that much. He’s made 4 appearances for the first team in total, which has probably contributed to his lack of development. Now 22, he really needs to get out of our reserve team and get himself some competitive football, so I’m happy to oblige.

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And then in come Bayern with a £40.5M bid for Donnarumma. “Obviously not.” I tell Allegri.

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“Well how about Yûsuke Abe?” He asks. “£28M.”

“Again, no.” I reply. Abe is my backup goalkeeper and I think it’d be more trouble than it’s worth replacing him this late in the window. He’s obviously not a patch on Donnarumma, but at 23 years old he’s been capped 81 times by Japan, so he must be on course for some kind of record there. He’s also 6’8″ and really solid backup to our Italian vice-captain, so he’s not moving right now.

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Knock knock knock. Of course. Abe wants to go, but I talk him down. If Bayern come back in January when I’ve got time to find a replacement, he’s welcome to move. For fucks sake, Allegri.

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With a sigh of relief, midnight comes and the deadline passes. Predictably, I’ve signed only a defensive midfielder in my first window in Paris. We’ve got 3 wins out of 3, including pretty impressive victories over Lyon and Marseille and let’s not forget that Lorient finished 3rd last season. Monaco match aside, it’s been a good start. I’m happy. I switch off my office light and grab my trusty grey coat from the back of the door, then I make for the exit. I’ve got a plane to catch. I’m off to Austria for a quick kick about with their national side, after which, Spain will be heading over to Wembley. I’m coming home.

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Mini-sode 204.5 >

The Full Brazilian (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Mini-sode 203.5)

Éder is the immediate solution to our problem. One that I’m very, very happy with.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 203

“What would you say to those who claim that walking into your first big club and spending £85M on a single player straight away shows your inexperience as a manager?” Smirks the l’Equipe reporter. The hairs on the back of my neck prickle as I lean in towards the microphone.

“I would say,” I start thoughtfully, “That sometimes you’re able to buy a player for the future at a lower price and that sometimes you need to spend more money to get an immediate solution to a problem area in your squad.” I stare unblinkingly into the reporter’s beady eyes as I plough ahead. “I would say that it’s no secret that if I had been appointed a few weeks earlier, I would’ve tried to make sure that certain transfers were cancelled, as I feel like we’ve been left short in some areas of the squad and bloated in others. Éder…” I gesture to my new Brazilian signing, set to my right. “… Is the immediate solution to our problem. One that I’m very, very happy with.”

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I can’t let them see how terrified I am. I cannot let them see how much I’m sweating under my trusty grey coat. Signing Éder from Manchester United is in my opinion the biggest gamble I’ve made in my career. Until now, that title has been held by my decision to join an Auxerre side that could have very easily been relegated into the French 3rd tier, but in full view of the entire World’s media, I have just made this 20 year old ball winning midfielder the most expensive Brazilian ever, shattering Kaká’s record transfer to Real Madrid by £27M. I’ll give you a moment to remember some Brazilian footballers. Maybe you’d like to remember Ronaldo. Maybe Ronaldinho, Socrates, Zico or Rivaldo. Maybe fucking Pelé. Whoever you’ve chosen to remember, Éder is now more expensive than them. It’s fair to say the move has turned heads.

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You see, it’s not just that I’ve signed a defensive midfielder for £85M. That in itself isn’t that much of a shock seeing as only a few weeks ago we sold Diawara to Barcelona for the exact same amount. The thing is, Diawara has proved over his career that he’s worth the money, whereas Éder… Well, just 2 years ago he joined United for £5.25M off the back of a couple of decent seasons for Santos and has made just 27 league appearances since, 16 of which were for Espanyol during a loan spell. He was good for Espanyol, but not £85M good. He was not good on his rare appearances for Mourinho’s men.

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I have also, ridiculous as this is to say as manager of Paris Saint-Germain, never shown that I am good at spending money. I’ve been excellent on a shoestring if I say so myself, bringing in gems like Hurley, Aires, Olivier and Traore for Angrense, Sohna, Kakuba, Joël, Aidir and Masango for Santos, the Santos 4 and players like Foden, Billy, Doucouré and Vidal for Auxerre. The thing is, it’s all relative. After Aidir, my most expensive signing at Santos was Yanga Baliso, a thoroughly unimpressive left winger. My most expensive signings for Auxerre were Fabian McCarthy and Amine Reynier, who I suppose still have time to become impressive players, but under my reign were very average. At Katowice, there were a couple of good signings like Danny Wilson and goalkeeper Jack Hamilton, who I never had a chance to use but who went on to make the club a great profit, but you need to weigh that against my £43k signing of Alan Hutton. My point is, the players I’ve signed for big money relative to the clubs I’ve managed have tended to be some of my worst signings, while the cheaper ones have generally been pretty good. So for me to go straight out and throw £85M at a largely untested Brazilian ball winner 3 matches into my PSG tenure, eyebrows have been raised.

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I considered once again just not buying anyone at all. Maybe it’d all be alright with the squad I already have at my disposal. Maybe Neves and Kovacic can provide all the defensive cover I’ll need as they’ve proved capable so far. But will I think the same way the next time we come up against Monaco? Will I think the same way if we go deep into the Champions League and come up against one of the best sides in the World? Simply, no. No I will not. We need a defensive midfielder.

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And my god I tried not to spend £85M. I really did. I looked everywhere. I looked in South America, Europe, I hoped for yet another gem from Africa, I looked down the back of the bloody sofa cushions, but all to no avail. Defensive midfielders and I mean real defensive midfielders, who are or at least have the potential to be world class are at an astonishing premium. I considered raiding Auxerre for someone like Sissako or Goujon, but aside from the fact that I really don’t want to break up that fantastic team, the cold hard truth is that they just aren’t at our level and they never will be. They won’t be able to provide what I need for this team. That’s why I’ve taken this risk. That’s why I let United haggle me up from my initial £60M bid. That’s why I’ve signed Éder.

He has all the tools to be successful. He has the athletic ability, the mental fortitude and the technical skills. With some guidance, he can be the complete defensive midfield powerhouse. The full Brazilian that we all need.

Please. Please mate. Become a fucking world beater.

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Episode 204 >

The Striker Dilemma (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep203)

I happen to remember Manuel spanking my Auxerre team up and down the garden path in February.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Mini-sode 205.5.5

Now here’s a thinker: On one hand, we have Álvaro Morata, a very good striker in his early 30’s who is the subject of a couple of interesting bids. On the other hand we have Manuel Bueno: A Spanish target man, if you can imagine such a thing. He’s played twice for his country at 23 years old, he’s 6’5″, quick enough and is very strong and very good in the air. He’s yet another driven individual and he wants more playing time than he’d previous gotten under Pep. I also happen to remember Manuel spanking my Auxerre team up and down the garden path in February, scoring a hat trick as we lost 5-0 to PSG, so I’m curious as to how good he can become.

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I initially accept what eventually becomes a £15M bid from Real Madrid for Morata, but then cancel the deal when Manchester United come in with a bid rising to £22M, accepting that one instead. I think I’d be pretty comfortable letting him go as we do have plenty of options up front. We’ve got Bueno, we’ve got Kean, neither of whom I’m too sure about yet but they’ll get a chance to impress. Orlando may be able to do a job up there too and we have a good few youth players, or failing any of those options we can always bring somebody in, so Morata may be allowed to leave. I’m going to bench him for our trip to Lyon and explore another option as we debut Project: InSeine in our first Ligue 1 match.

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Despite my fighting words last week, I wasn’t particularly aiming for this to be a “Franjo v Ibra” showdown as I’m more focussed on seeing how my new system works, but Zlatan wants to humiliate me today. Good luck, mate.

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Anyway as I say, we’re giving our revelatory new system a try today and I’m making a few personnel changes from the Trophée des Champions match. Renan, Dobby, Triponez and Morata are all out, while Bologna, Kovacic, Lato and Kean are in. Zlatan’s sticking religiously to his 4-4-2 so there is the possibility if we’re poorly disciplined that we’ll be left 2v2 against their strikers. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen, because then Zlatan’s dream of humiliating me may be in danger of being realised.

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It takes less than 2 minutes for Lyon to give us a scare. Raí drops deep to receive a pass from Marchetti, bringing Ibarra with him before slipping the ball into the space. Blanchard darts in on goal and shoots for the near post, but Donnarumma pulls off a great save, tipping the ball behind.

In the 10th minute we get caught when Ibarra rises to head the ball towards where a left full back would normally be, except Lato is tucked into midfield and isn’t there to receive it. This will take some getting used to. Instead Brekalo picks up the loose pass, bombs down the right wing, crosses from the byline and allows Raí to slot in the opening goal. Not a fantastic vindication of my system, that. We go on the counter.

Luckily, we do see an improvement going forwards shortly afterwards. Lato passes inside for Kovacic, who plays it on for Moise Kean who has his back to goal. Kean takes a touch, executes a lovely backheel pass to set Orlando clean through and the Brazilian slots the ball under Lopes to equalise. What pleases me the most is our shape as we work the ball forward, completely flooding the centre of the park in what actually resembles a 2-1-3-1-3 formation.

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The first half ends with the scores level at 1-1 and I’m pretty happy with that. I tell us to play fairly narrow to really make the most of our dominance in the centre, but a lot of the second half is eventless. With 20 minutes to go something does happen, but it’s not something I’m happy about. Marquinhos goes down clutching his thigh and has to be stretchered off the pitch. Boris Triponez comes on in his place and the armband goes to our vice captain, Gianluigi Donnarumma. 5 minutes later I make another change, bringing off Cvitanovic and replacing him like-for-like with Philippe Coutinho. The change certainly sparks something as a couple of minutes later, Coman releases Coutinho on the right hand side of the box and the Brazilian tries a cross, which is blocked and bounces back to Toni Lato. The full back has a pop from 20 yards but it’s caught comfortably by Lopes.

With 8 minutes left to play, Kovacic receives the ball from Neves 30 yards out from goal and looks up to assess his options. Quick as a flash he spots Coman’s run and threads a pass through the defence into the Frenchman’s path. Coman shoots first time and Lopes does well to palm the ball away, but Orlando goes to collect it from the left byline. Turning onto his right foot, Orlando fizzes a low cross into the box and Coutinho places it into the net first time. 82 minutes in, we have the lead.

88 minutes in, we don’t. As the game winds towards it’s conclusion and my first 3 points of the season, Mateo Kovacic trips Vincent Marchetti on the edge of the box, giving away a free kick right on the edge of our box. Up steps Memphis Depay, a player who has managed to get thoroughly on my tits over the last few years for a number of reasons, to blast the ball into the top corner of Donnarumma’s net. 2-2.

And so we trundle on towards the end of 90 minutes and a disappointing Ligue 1 curtain raiser. There’s only one way this could get any worse. With 30 seconds of normal time to play, Juanpi looks up inside his own half an boots the ball towards the PSG box. Memphis rises to meet it… But his header goes straight to Ricardo Ibarra. Now we’re talking. Ibarra heads it to Kovacic, who spins and plays it on to Moise Kean just inside the Lyon half. Kean looks up and spots Kingsley Coman racing inside from the right wing, leaving a dumbfounded Jonathan Silva trotting along in his wake. Kean plays the pass and Coman takes it in stride beautifully: With his first touch he knocks the ball around centre back Yann Deschamps and runs around him the other way, then with his second he gets to the edge of the penalty area. It’s one on one. Anthony Lopes rushes off his line… COMAN!

I let out what seems like an ultrasonic yelp of delight as PSG’s league debutant lifts a sublimely audacious lob over the stranded Portuguese goalkeeper. The ball drifts for hours through the air, spinning slowly backwards before finally arcing over the line and nestling in the back of the net. We sit back and defend through 3 minutes of injury time. At full time, the score is Zlatan 2 – 3 Fra… I mean Lyon 2 – 3 PSG.

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A perfect start to the league campaign, or so it would seem. What really does a big old piss on my bonfire though is the fact that after reluctantly accepting that Captain Marquinhos’ place is in the centre of defence, I’m now not going to be able to play him there for 2 months on account of his torn hamstring. And while I’m getting the bad news out of the way, I may as well mention that my winger Orlando is 1 goal away from triggering a 10 goal clause in his transfer deal, which will mean we need to pay Santos a handsome £4.6M fee. Remarkably, this would technically break my personal transfer record which currently stands at the £3M that Auxerre paid for Amine Reynier in January.

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Now that I’ve had a week to begin waring my arse groove into the PSG manager’s chair though, let’s have a little look at transfers. I’ve already mentioned Morata before the match, but in the following 8 days before our next match there’s plenty of interest in the striker’s signature. New Chelsea Manager Didier Deschamps is the next in line after also apparently showing interest in Rúben Neves and Silvio Cvitanovic. If and when he makes a move for either of them, he’ll be merrily told to jog on, but his bid of up to £25.5M for Morata is welcome and after a bit of back and forth, the deal goes through. Álvaro, we barely knew ye. But I’m not that arsed.

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The squad aren’t very happy about the news as they now think we’re light up top, but I tell them I’ve got my eye on a few possible replacements for the Spanish striker, although as I’ve said I’m also looking within the squad. This seems to tide them over for now.

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Unfortunately though, Morata’s move seems to paint a big neon sign over the Parc Des Princes that says “Reduced to Clear”, so I then have to fend off bids like Manchester City’s £42.5M offer for Donnarumma, who I value at £100M at the very least and their £52M bid for right back Danilo Bologna, who I’m not interested in selling at all.

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Dortmund also try their luck with a £33.5M bid for Toni Lato, but I reject it out of hand. The left back’s still got a big part to play in my plans.

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Massive Argentinian anti-winger Rodolfo Chao fancies a move to Bayern too, but I’m reluctant to let him go as I think he can be a terrific option for us. In the end we shake on a £40M price tag should Bayern come in for his signature.

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Oh and then Deschamps comes back with £53M for Neves. As I said, jog on.

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Centre back Lucas, who fell out of my favour while I was in charge of France, also wants out in search of first team football. To be honest, I’d be fine with cashing in so I tell him I’ll happily let him go, but he does a U-turn and tells me he’d rather stay.

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The final bit of news I’ve got for you is that former Bordeaux, Lyon and Stade Brestois manager Jocelyn Gourvennec has taken over at AJ Auxerre. Despite his recent relegation, I’m really pleased with that appointment to be honest! He’s a quality manager, experienced in Ligue 1 and he should be a very steady pair of hands to take my old club forwards. I wish him all the very best, except in September when we’re due to welcome them to Paris.

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Oh and we’ve also lodged a bid that’d break my £3M transfer record almost 30 times over, but you don’t want to hear about that now. Let’s get to the match, shall we?

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Lorient at home is a match that I’d have had reservations about in previous seasons, but this should be a routine win for us. I’ll let you into a secret though; Neal Maupay starts for Lorient today and after impressing me over the last couple of years, he’s on my shortlist to bolster our options up front, if indeed that’s what I want to do. I’d quite like to see him to give us a hard time, so consider today his audition. In terms of our team, Marquinhos starts his long injury layoff, so Boris Triponez comes in to replace him in defence while Donnarumma takes the armband. I’m also starting Coutinho ahead of Cvitanovic as the Brazilian has impressed me much more off the bench than his younger German teammate has so far.

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Lorient set up to try and pen us into our own half, but it’s a very risky strategy. At Auxerre they may have got some joy from such an approach, but here in Paris we have ways of dealing with… Well, 18 of the clubs in Ligue 1 that have nowhere near as much money as us. In the 22nd minute, Mateo Kovacic makes a well timed interception to break up a Lorient move, then skims the ball over to Orlando on the left. Orlando spots Kean racing down the line and lifts the ball over to the Italian, who then turns inside and splits the Lorient defence with a breathtaking diagonal ball to the far post. Coman arrives to tap in his 2nd goal of the campaign and get us off to a flying start.

10 minutes later we come forward again looking to press our advantage. This time Ibarra sprays the ball out to Coman on the right hand side of the halfway line. The Frenchman takes a touch and plays a long diagonal ball over the top for Moise Kean, who brings the ball down, draws the centre backs out of position and slips the ball in front of Kovacic. The Croatian midfielder takes a touch on the edge of the box and pokes the ball under Plizzari to make it 2-0. Another great assist there from Kean, who’s impressing me.

As half time approaches we have yet another chance, this time stemming from Coutinho’s ball out onto the right for Coman, who races past Tyrone Mings and swings a cross in towards the far post. Orlando loses his marker to reach it and taps the ball back across goal for Kean, who shoots from close range but hits it straight at Plizzari, who to be fair still has to pull a pretty impressive save to deny him from point blank range. The referee’s whistle blows anyway as Orlando was judged to be offside by the linesman.

5 minutes after the break, Orlando drives down the left wing hugging the touchline. He swings a cross in towards the near post, Plizzari comes charging out to claim it but Kean rises to beat him to it, besting Saralina in the air and sending a looping a header over the pair of them. I feel like he deserves a goal today to be honest but unfortunately his effort bounces off the post and is cleared.

On the hour, a lovely PSG passing move culminates with Kovacic passing to Coman on the right hand side of the box. The winger touches a lovely pass through the defence for Kean, who gets a bit of space and this time does rifle the ball in from 8 yards to get himself on the scoresheet. I’ve got to say, coming into this match my focus was more on Neal Maupay, but his team have failed to create any decent chances for him and as a result, he’s been well and truly outshone. So far Moise Kean’s got a goal, 2 assists and has hit the post. For now at least, I reckon I’ve already got my starting striker.

I make a couple of substitutions with just under 20 minutes to play: Silvio Cvitanovic comes onto the left wing replacing Orlando. Although we’re not even 3 games in yet, Cvitanovic has been underwhelming for me and I really want to find his best position in this side. Replacing Coutinho in the centre is Miguel Veiga, one of the many attacking midfielders at my disposal and a bloody talented one too. He started most of PSG’s matches last season after a £61M summer switch from Real Madrid and won a single cap for Spain in October. He’s a top athlete and a really mentally strong footballer for a 22 year old, although technically there is really only one string to his bow; He’s a great passer of the ball, but that’s about it and that’s why he’s only just getting a look in. Even so though, he is one of the most talented players in the squad and I feel like I need to give him a proper chance at some point. In case it isn’t obvious, I still have no bloody idea who my main attacking midfielder will be at this point.

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2 minutes into injury time, Boris Triponez gets the last touch of the match, rising to meet a Cvitanovic corner and heading the ball onto the roof of Lorient’s net. The whistle blows immediately after and I have to say I’m impressed. 3-0 was probably par for the course in this match, but nearly everyone has impressed me nevertheless. Orlando wasn’t too involved and the lads who came off the bench didn’t really have time to grab my attention, but defensively we were very solid, Kovacic looks extremely at home in the box-to-box role, Coman actually looks like a superb last signing by Pep having scored twice and set another goal up in his first 2 league matches and Moise Kean has for now solved the striker dilemma. Now I just need to trial-and-error my way to finding my best attacking midfielder and we’ll be golden.

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Mini-sode 203.5 >

Project: InSeine (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Mini-sode 202.5.5)

I have been scheming obsessively over how I can set up this team.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Mini-sode 202.5

Did you ever hear about the man who jumped into the river in Paris?

He was later declared fucking mental.

I may have told that wrong. Anyway, since my first match and indeed first defeat as Paris Saint-Germain manager, I have been scheming obsessively over how I can set up this team. We’ve had almost a full week of training since the Battle of Madagascar and with our first Ligue 1 match away at Zlatan’s Lyon imminent, I am ready to unveil Project: InSeine.

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Project: InSeine is a bit of a departure from my usual style. Usually my systems will be based around a 4-1-2-3 or a 4-2-3-1 with at least 1 wide man tucking in to create space for overlapping full backs. To be honest, that’s been the core premise of pretty much every system I’ve ever used. With this PSG side though, it took me a really, really long time to figure out how I can actually use the players I have to get the best out of everyone. Let me first outline why my usual systems wouldn’t work with these players.

Problem 1: No ball winner

I know we have “Defensive midfielders” in this squad, but because I’m walking into a Pep Guardiola team, they’re all fucking playmakers. I have actually considered the possibility that it’s me that needs to change. Maybe I don’t need a ball winner at a club like PSG. Maybe I’m bringing a small club mentality to a big club where I can just slot 11 attacking midfielders in and trust that they’ll blast the opposition apart by virtue of being really talented. But no. I want a ball winner and I don’t currently have one, so I’m not comfortable playing a 2 or 3 man midfield that includes 2 or 3 playmakers.

Problem 2: Out and out wingers

I had Kevin and Amonike at Angrense, those two plus Janga at Katowice. I had Masango at Santos, Foden, Zoun and Ferhat at Angrense, Mbappé and Lemar for France. I’ve always used inside forwards to supplement my attack, with fullbacks or wingbacks providing the width. With Coman, I actually used him most often as a playmaker on the right for France, swapping onto the left now and then as an inside forward. But… Well hold that thought, because I need to introduce you to our senior full backs.

Right Back – No 2 – Danilo Bologna

A £25.5M deadline day signing from Atalanta in January 2022, Italy international Danilo is the senior full back that was banned for our first match against Monaco. He is an absolutely superb defender. His physical and mental game is almost off-the-charts impressive. He’s an excellent athlete, a leader, a hard worker with fantastic decision making, positioning, bravery and anticipation. The thing is, he’s not very good going forwards. His crossing and dribbling is sub-par, so as much as I really rate him, he won’t be much good as a wing back bombing past an inside forward on the flank. That’s fine. Gary Neville wasn’t the greatest crosser of the ball in history either, but with David Beckham in front of him, he didn’t need to be. Still, it’s something to keep in mind.

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Left Back – No 12 – Toni Lato

Toni has been an excellent signing for PSG so far and is just back from injury. He’s approaching his prime at 26 and is about to enter his 5th season in Paris following his £14.5M transfer from Sevilla. As with most of our squad, he’s quick, physically strong and is also very strong mentally. He’s as determined as anyone, a great decision maker and a hard worker. He’s also very good defensively and is pretty decent going forwards as well.

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So this is my problem: I’d have no problem with Lato bombing on past an inside forward, but the only players that can play as an inside forward on the left are Kingsley Coman, who’s actually better as a right winger and Moise Kean, who I can’t see doing very well as his crossing and passing ability isn’t great. Also if I did use Coman on the left, I’d have nobody on the right as we’re actually fairly short on wide men. I’d have to train someone like Orlando as a right inside forward, but as I say, Danilo isn’t good enough to bomb on down the right anyway. Our best wide men for my money are Coman and Orlando: They’re out and out wingers, so I’m changing my approach accordingly. Let me just introduce you to another player:

Box to Box Midfielder – No 10 – Mateo Kovacic

Mateo was signed from Real Madrid for £46.5M in the Summer of 2018 and has been a big player for PSG in the last 6 years. Now 30, he epitomises the squad: He’s an all round great player, physically impressive, mentally excellent and technically gifted. I’ve given up for now on the idea of using Marquinhos as a ball winning midfielder as I think I need him in defence, so Kovacic is the closest thing I have to that player. He’s not a natural ball winner but he’s competent, so I’ll be using him as a box to box midfielder who can chip in all over the pitch.

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Off the ball, we’ll be set up in a form of 4-2-3-1 with the full backs acting as full backs, Neves the deepest midfielder, Kovacic coming back to help out and Cvitanovic waiting to receive the ball so that he can start attacks for the front 3.

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On the ball is where we’ll really see a bit of a departure from the classic Franjo formula, with our shape resembling sort of a 2-3-2-3 or 2-3-4 1. As Coman and Orlando will be staying out wide, I want Bologna and Lato to tuck into midfield to help out with our solidity. We don’t have ball winners in midfield and we don’t need our full backs pushing up, so it seems like quite a tidy solution to both problems.

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So that’s the plan shape-wise. We’ll control the play and we’ll need to be fluid to allow the players a bit of freedom. We’ll play high tempo football and play out from the back mainly through Marquinhos, then using Neves to start attacks by playing the ball into space for our attacking players, all of whom have plenty of pace with which to attack that space. We’ll harass our opponents, we’ll run at them, we’ll express ourselves and it’s going to be fantastic.

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Or this system will fall flat on its face and we’ll be buggered, after which we’ll come back to the drawing board. Let’s hope not though.

Episode 203 >

An Unexpected Applicant (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Mini-sode 202.5)

Why would you want the job?

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 202

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I fall to my knees, the tears streaming down my face as my trembling hand holds the phone to my ear. I can’t breathe. I feel as if a huge weight is pressing down on my chest, restricting me to short, sharp gasps of air.

“I take it that’s a no then?” Asks the mildly annoyed voice from the other end of the phone. I use my free hand to wipe the tears from my blurry eyes.

“Of course it is, you bloody spoon!” I manage, through my hysterical laughter.


“Oh well let’s run through the checklist shall we?” I straighten up. “Because you bailed on Auxerre! Because you bailed on me! Because you’re the Hull City manager for fucks sake! Why would I want you as my assistant again?” I pause, the laughter now well and truly gone from my voice. “Frankly, Peter, why would you want the job?”

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“I do my best work for England.” Crouch replies glumly.

“Oh I know you do.” I pull myself back into my office chair, still holding the phone to my ear. “I haven’t forgotten. 20 goals in-”

“22.” He cuts across me. “22 goals in 42 caps.”

“Right. Not really the point though, is it? We’re talking about the assistant manager’s job and I need someone I can trust.” He starts to protest, but I cut him off. “Besides, I’ve already hired someone.”

“Have you?” He sounds quite hurt. “Who? Bechkoura?”

“No, Bechkoura’s sticking with France, the unappreciative tit… It’s Rui Faria.”

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“Rui Faria?!” He groans. “Why does he even want the job? Aren’t his hands full with United?”

“Aren’t yours full with Hull?” I laugh. “You know… Being the manager and everything. And Faria’s great! He’s worked under Mourinho for years, worked at a load of top clubs…”

“Not scored any England goals though, has he.” Crouch replies bluntly.

“No, you’ve got me there.” I concede. “Sorry, Crouchy.”

“I just thought you could have used some international experience on your team, you know… After…”

“The Semi Finals is still a fucking achievement! Why will nobody agree with me?!” There’s a long, awkward pause.

“Is it though?”

“Yes. Good bye Peter. It’s been a pleasure as always.” I scathe, before hanging up and slamming the phone down on my desk. “It’s still an achievement.” I repeat quietly, to my empty office.

Mini-sode 205.5.5 >

The Battle Of Madagascar (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Ep202)

I have faith in my thrown together system to get the best of Monaco.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Mini-sode 201.5

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Enrique smiles a thin smile as we walk to meet each other on the touchline of Antananarivo’s Stade Municipal de Mahamasina pitch, deep in the heart of Madagascar. We shake hands and he pulls me into what seems like a mock-friendly hug. “You’ve left the French National Team in good shape I see.” He mutters, his voice thick with sarcasm.

“As long as they’re not losing 6-2 at the World Cup mate, I’ll be happy.” I pull away from the hug and give Enrique a wide grin, savouring the look of disdain on the former Spain manager’s face.

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As simple as it is, I have faith in my thrown together system to get the best of Monaco in my first match in charge of Paris Saint-Germain. I’ve had a little bit of time since my arrival to watch footage from Enrique’s friendly matches and he’s been setting up to dominate in a 4-1-2-3. We’ll try to dominate too in our 4-2-3-1. We’ll do our best to retain possession, we’ll press high up the pitch to win the ball back as fast as possible and we’ll use our many skilled dribblers to run at Monaco’s defence and create space.

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The good news for us is that our rivals are without Kylian Mbappé and Corentin Tolisso, whose strengths I know all too well at this point. The bad news is that Tiémoué Bakayoko starts in the heart of their midfield and I’m a big fan of the ball winning midfielder. I actually very much wish that I could have him in my team so that I didn’t have to play Marquinhos in the ball winning role. Also Theo Hernández starts at left back and I suspect he’ll want to prove to me that he should’ve been in France’s Euro 24 squad.

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The first chance of the match goes Monaco’s way when 15 minutes in, Euro 24 winner Bernardo Silva’s corner is cleared by Ricardo Ibarra. Fabinho brings the ball down and plays it back out for Silva, who beats Dobby for pace and whips a cross towards the near post. Vinícius Júnior arrives with the goal at his mercy but thankfully glances a header straight at Donnarumma, who parries it clear.

A couple of minutes later they come at us again when Marquinhos is caught out of position pressing Giménez on the half way line. Silva cuts in from the left to make full use of the space that our makeshift midfielder leaves, chips a ball into the path of Júnior in the box and the striker shoots just wide of Donnarumma’s near post. I drop us back a bit to play on the counter attack, but just after the half hour mark Monaco get the breakthrough they deserve when another Bernardo Silva corner is missed by Coman at the near post and fizzes straight onto the foot of Giménez inside the 6 yard box, allowing the centre back to volley in the opening goal.

We go in for the break trailing by a single goal to nil, which isn’t ideal, but our attacking play is the most worrying thing to come out of that half for me. We’ve not been able to get the ball into the final third nearly enough, so I decide to bring Cvitanovic back into a deeper central midfield position so that he can pick the ball up and drive us forward. We’ll go more attacking after the break and we’ll play with a bit of fluidity, which should help us express ourselves and impose ourselves upon Monaco.

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We do show signs of improvement just after the restart when Cvitanovic gets on the ball, takes on Bakayoko and slides the ball to Morata. The striker’s instantly crowded out though and Monaco counter. Silva again is the danger man, dribbling through the centre but then spooning his 20 yard shot well over the bar. With an hour gone I experiment a bit more, bringing on Philippe Coutinho and Moise Kean for Coman and Orlando, who’ve been ineffective as wingers today. We’ll change to a narrow 4-3-1-2 system with experienced playmaker Coutinho acting as an enganche behind a striking partnership of Morata and Kean. I’m hoping that having Coutinho stay in that central area will enable us to overload Monaco through the centre while our fullbacks now overlap to provide the width. I’m also unimpressed with Morata’s hold up play so far as a lone striker, so maybe having Kean supporting him will help us create chances. We’ll pass the ball shorter and we’ll exploit the centre.

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10 minutes later, green shoots of promise are emerging when Dobby finds Kean drifting out on the left wing. Kean drops the shoulder and cuts inside, spraying a fantastic pass out onto the right for Renan. This is more like it. Renan speeds down the line, gets a cross in… But it’s blocked and Monaco counter attack. Bloody hell. Bernardo latches onto a hoofed ball on the now vacant left wing, charges inside past Ibarra, gets into the box and shoots, forcing a great flying save from Donnarumma. From the resulting corner, Silva crosses to the far post and Giménez sends a looping header goalwards, but it’s a comfortable catch for Italy’s number 1.

7 minutes from time, we put together by far the best move I’ve seen all match, so I want to describe it in full. André Gomes sidles forwards towards the halfway line but is dispossessed by a superb sliding tackle from Marquinhos. Ibarra picks up the loose ball and chips it out onto the right wing for Renan, who uses his quick feet to leave Theo Hernández utterly bamboozled before playing the ball back inside for Cvitanovic. We then play some nice one touch stuff, with Cvitanovic passing to Coutinho, who moves it on to Kean on the edge of the area, who pings it first time back out onto the right for Renan. Renan volleys a cross to the far post, Dobby arrives to meet it, besting Leonardo in the air, but his header comes back off the post. Morata also has a chance a minute later, forcing a near post save from Rico after an impressive solo run, but we don’t manage to find an equaliser.

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So the scoreline on the electronic board inside the Stade Municipal de Mahamasina reads Monaco 1 – 0 PSG, mirroring the scoreline between myself and Enrique. He’s won the battle of Madagascar and he’s won his first silverware as Monaco boss, but if I’m honest, I’m not too disheartened. This is not my Paris Saint-Germain. Not yet. This is a group of strangers who I’m experimenting with to see what works. Our time will come and the next time I meet Luis, I hope that we’ll be ready to put the record straight. The Trophée des Champions was merely the first battle in a year-long war. The Ligue 1 title is what I’m gunning for. That, as a wise man once said, is the real quiz. And we’re going to win.

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Mini-sode 202.5 >

Ligue 1 2024/25 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story – Mini-sode 201.5)

Our perspective has been dramatically altered.

Start from the start with episode 1

< Episode 201

Here we go again then. It’s the beginning of my 4th full season in France and my 3rd in Ligue 1, but our perspective has been dramatically altered. In seasons past, I’d be looking down this list in terms of what pitfalls might await, who we’ll need to pick up wins against and which matches are just plain write offs. This year, we’ve really got to be looking down the list as “Which 18 teams should we beat comfortably?” plus Monaco.

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Athlétic Club Ajaccio

Nickname: L’ACA

Manager: Olivier Pantaloni (9 years, 276 days)

From: Ajaccio

Ground: Stade François Coty

Last Season: 17th

Predicted: 20th

Rivals in Ligue 1: Sporting Club de Bastia (Fierce, Local), OGC Nice (Local)

My Record: W4 D0 L2

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Association de la Jeunesse Auxerroise

Nickname: L’AJA

Manager: Juninho (Caretaker)

From: Auxerre

Ground: Stade Abbé Deschamps

Last Season: 6th

Predicted: 15th

Rivals in Ligue 1: Dijon FCO (Local)

My Record: N/A

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Association Sportive de Monaco Football Club

Nickname: Les Monégasques

Manager: Luis Enrique (11 days)

From: Monaco

Ground: Ettori Park (Built 2019)

Last Season: Champions

Predicted: 2nd

Rivals in Ligue 1: OGC Nice (Fierce, Local), Olympique de Marseille (Local), Olympique Lyonnais (Competitive), Paris Saint-Germain (Competitive), Sporting Club de Bastia (Local)

My Record: W0 D0 L4

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Association Sportive NancyLorraine

Nickname: L’ASNL

Manager: Didier Santini (1 day)

From: Nancy

Ground: Stade Marcel Picot

Last Season: 1st in Ligue 2 (Promoted)

Predicted: 14th

Rivals in Ligue 1: FC Metz (Fierce, Local), FC Sochaux-Montbé (Local)

My Record: W2 D1 L0

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Association Sportive de Saint-Étienne Loire

Nickname: Les Verts

Manager: Claude Makélélé (1 year, 199 days)

From: Saint-Étienne

Ground: Stade Geoffrey-Guichard

Last Season: 9th

Predicted: 9th

Rivals in Ligue 1: Olympique Lyonnais (Fierce, Local), Olympique de Marseille (Historic), FC Nantes (Historic), Paris Saint-Germain (Competitive)

My Record: W2 D0 L2

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Dijon Football Côte d’Or

Nickname: Le DFCO

Manager: Daniel Moreira (112 days)

From: Dijon

Ground: Parc Des Sports Gaston Gérard

Last Season: 2nd in Ligue 2 (Promoted)

Predicted: 19th

Rivals in Ligue 1: AJ Auxerre (Local)

My Record: W2 D1 L0

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En Avant de Guingamp Côtes-d’Armor

Nickname: Les Costarmoricains

Manager: Michel Der Zakarian (123 days)

From: Guingamp

Ground: En Avant de Guingamp Stadium (Built 2019)

Last Season: 15th

Predicted: 12th

Rivals in Ligue 1: Stade Rennais FC (Local), FC Lorient (Local), FC Nantes (Local)

My Record: W2 D0 L2

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Football Club Lorient-Bretagne Sud

Nickname: Les Merlus

Manager: Djamel Merdjett (4 years, 229 days)

From: Lorient

Ground: Gourcuff Stadium (Built 2021)

Last Season: 3rd

Predicted: 7th

Rivals in Ligue 1: Stade Rennais FC (Local), FC Nantes (Local), En Avant de Guingamp (Local)

My Record: W2 D0 L3

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Football Club de Metz

Nickname: Les Grenats

Manager: Cláudio Caçapa (2 years, 202 days)

From: Longeville-lès-Metz

Ground: Stade Saint-Symphorien

Last Season: 11th

Predicted: 16th

Rivals in Ligue 1: AS Nancy Lorraine (Fierce, Local), Football Club Sochaux-Montbéliard (Local)

My Record: W1 D1 L1

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Football Club de Nantes

Nickname: Les Canaris

Manager: Frédéric Hantz (4 years, 240 days)

From: Nantes

Ground: Stade Louis Fonteneau (La Beaujoire)

Last Season: 8th

Predicted: 6th

Rivals in Ligue 1: Stade Rennais FC (Fierce, Local), Girondins de Bordeaux (Local), AS Saint-Étienne (Historic), FC Lorient (Local), En Avant de Guingamp (Local)

My Record: W1 D1 L2

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Football Club Sochaux-Montbéliard

Nickname: Les Lionceaux

Manager: Albert Cartier (8 years, 310 days)

From: Montbéliard

Ground: Stade Auguste Bonal

Last Season: 7th

Predicted: 11th

Rivals in Ligue 1: AS Nancy Lorraine (Local)

My Record: W2 D0 L3

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Football Club des Girondins de Bordeaux

Nickname: Les Girondins

Manager: Zinedine Zidane (235 days)

From: Bordeaux

Ground: Matmut Atlantique (Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux)

Last Season: 5th

Predicted: 5th

Rivals in Ligue 1: Toulouse FC (Fierce, Local), FC Nantes (Local), Olympique de Marseille (Competitive), Olympique Lyonnais (Competitive), Paris Saint-Germain (Competitive)

My Record: W2 D1 L2

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Lille Olympique Sporting Club

Nickname: Les Dogues

Manager: Eric Chelle (1 year, 159 days)

From: Villeneuve-d’Ascq

Ground: Stade Pierre Mauroy

Last Season: 16th

Predicted: 13th

Rivals in Ligue 1: N/A

My Record: W2 D0 L2

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Olympique Gymnaste Club Nice Côte d’Azur

Nickname: Le Gym

Manager: Julien Sablé (156 days)

From: Nice

Ground: Allianz Riviera

Last Season: 12th

Predicted: 10th

Rivals in Ligue 1: AS Monaco (Fierce, Local), Sporting Club de Bastia (Local), Olympique de Marseille (Local), Athlétic Club Ajaccio (Local)

My Record: W0 D1 L3

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Olympique Lyonnais

Nickname: L’OL

Manager: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (1 year, 243 days)

From: Décines-Charpieu

Ground: Parc Olympique Lyonnais

Last Season: 4th

Predicted: 4th

Rivals in Ligue 1: AS Saint-Étienne (Fierce, Local), Olympique de Marseille (Fierce, Competitive), AS Monaco (Competitive), Paris Saint-Germain (Competitive), Girondins de Bordeaux (Competitive)

My Record: W1 D1 L2

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Olympique de Marseille

Nickname: L’OM

Manager: Jorge Jesus (230 days)

From: Marseille

Ground: Stade Orange Vélodrome

Last Season: 14th

Predicted: 3rd

Rivals in Ligue 1: Paris Saint-Germain (Fierce, Competitive), Olympique Lyonnais (Fierce, Competitive), AS Monaco (Local), OGC Nice (Local), AS Saint-Étienne (Competitive), Sporting Club de Bastia (Local), Girondins de Bordeaux (Competitive)

My Record: W0 D2 L2

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Paris Saint-Germain Football Club

Nickname: Le PSG

Manager: WT Franjo (0 days)

From: Paris

Ground: Parc Des Princes

Last Season: 2nd

Predicted: 1st

Rivals in Ligue 1: Olympique de Marseille (Fierce, Competitive), AS Monaco (Competitive), Olympique Lyonnais (Competitive), Girondins de Bordeaux (Competitive)