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Franjo: A Journeyman Story (New Episode Every Week Day!)

My Name is Franjo. And I will be a Football Manager.
Started on 8 May 2017 by Wtfranjo
Latest Reply on 6 May 2018 by Wtfranjo
Tunnel Vision (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep116)

We’re on the home straight now. No more International breaks, no more cup games, just non-stop league matches until the end of the season. We’re sat at 10th place in the Premier Soccer League which I don’t like so much, but we’re only 5 points behind 4th placed Golden Arrows and we have a game in hand over most of the teams above us, except for Kaizer Chiefs who are still 4 matches behind most of the league, because you know... Scheduling. Now is the time for PSL tunnel vision. Now is the time to build up serious momentum. Now is the time for one last sprint to the finish line, to pick up as many wins and as many points as we possibly can, so that we can finish as high as we possibly can.

We start our sprint by making the short trip to Cape Town City FC, who also have a game in hand over most of our rivals for the top half positions. We’ll be without Luther Singh, who’s pleasantly surprised me with his good performances since I took a punt on him in January, as he's bruised his head in training. He’ll only miss 3-6 days though.

The perpetually underwhelming Yanga Baliso comes in for him on the left wing thanks to limited options but otherwise we’re unchanged. Hicham Aidir needs just 1 more goal to surpass the club record for league goals scored in a season which is 15, so fingers crosses today will be the day.

We get off to a rocky start. In under 5 minutes CTC take the lead when Manyama squares the ball to Akosah-Bempah in the area, and he places it coolly into the bottom corner of Komo's net. They continue to push afterwards and I take action after 20 minutes. We'll play on the counter to try to turn their momentum against them with through quick breaks.

It takes a while, but on the stroke of half time we grab a frankly undeserved equaliser when Masango's low cross ricochets off a couple of defenders and falls kindly at Aidir's feet a few yards out. Hicham slides the ball home to set a new Santos record of 16 league goals in a season, but worryingly we don't deserve to be level after a first half in which Cape Town City have dominated.

Arguably Baliso's most memorable moment since his ill-conceived Summer transfer is in the 57th minute when he sprains his wrist. He'll play on though as I really don't have anyone to replace him with. Sony Norde and Luther Singh are injured and so is Siyabonga Zulu, which means Japhta needs to stay at left back.

With 25 minutes to go, Mandla Masango whips a corner in to the edge of the 6 yard box and Sello Japhta's there to volley us ahead. Masango gets another assist less than a minute later as Cape Town City try to attack us. They raise their defensive line too high and our winger clips a pass from our own half over centre back Johannes for Aidir to run onto. The big Moroccan latches onto the ball, brings it into the box, sidesteps the out-rushing keeper and rolls it into the net for 3-1.

Over the next 15 minutes I replace Kakuba with Roscoe, Sinbad with Gogotya and Baliso, who's still nursing his wrist, with Marothi Diale, with Joël moving out to the left wing. I've got one eye on the midweek match so I'm keen not to overstretch anybody. With 7 minutes to play, Jayiya shoots low from the right wing, but Komo manages to tip the ball against the post. In the dying moments we do get the ball in the back of the net again when Japhta's cross floats over Aidir and 2 Cape Town City defenders and is drilled in by Masango on the volley, but the goal won't count as Aidir was adjudged to push one of the centre backs. The scoreline at the final whistle is extremely flattering for us.

Yanga Baliso will have protective equipment on his sprained wrist for about 2 weeks, but he'll still be able to train and play so hooray for that.

Hicham comes out and backs me to be offered a new contract after the match thanks to our good form. It's a nice gesture but I'm genuinely not sure whether I even want one. The Lazio job's still vacant but I've not heard back about an interview so I'm not hanging my hopes on it at the minute.

But while we're on my future and the Lazio job, I've applied for a similar position in France: The AJ Auxerre job. Like Lazio they were a big team not so long ago, but they're currently fighting against relegation from Ligue 2 so they're shopping for houses quite a bit further down Self-Destruct Avenue than the Italians. Still, they're a big club and I'd relish the challenge of restoring them to their former glory.

For now though I'm the Santos manager and we've been busy setting a couple of records. Hicham Aidir went above and beyond with his 2 goals against Cape Town City, setting a new Santos league goals record of 17.

My team have also set a South African Premier Soccer League record, racking up 47 yellow cards and 2 reds, breaking Platinum Stars' record of 37 yellows and 5 reds.

Orlando Pirates are up next. They've caused me a few headaches during my stint in South Africa and are sitting at the top of the league, so a win today would really show how much progress we're making. As we're only 2 points behind Golden Arrows, the 3 points could also take us into the top 4.

We're only making 1 change from the CTC match; Ryan Moon replaces Yanga Baliso and will take the right wing while Mandla Masango cuts in from the left. Baliso and Luther Singh are both fit enough for spots on the bench though.

Once again we're dominated early on, forcing us to play on the counter after 15 minutes. We get a chance a few minutes later when Joël spots Aidir running through into the box and tries to play the ball in to him. It deflects off Adolph's foot and bounces over to Masango, who's cutting in from the left. He takes a touch 6 yards out and pulls the trigger, he can't miss... And yet he does. Mandla manages to skew the ball wide of the far post. It's a really awful strike.

A couple of minutes later, Joseph Ekwalla gets the ball. He passes it forwards to Ndoro on the edge of our box, who turns and lashes the ball into the bottom corner to put the hosts ahead. After half an hour we pull level though when Aidir plays a give and go with Masango. He gets himself into the box and when Masango chips a cross in from the left wing, Aidir's there to volley into the net.

The game's still tight as we move towards half time, but then with a couple of minutes to go before the break Masango lays the ball back for Japhta, who passes it inside to Joël Soumahoro. Joël turns and hits the ball so sweetly. He's already running away in celebration as it flies into the top corner.

Moon's had another quiet game and I sub him on the hour mark, bringing on Baliso and his big glove. He'll play on the left and Masango will go back over to the right. 5 minutes later we win a free kick just left of centre and just outside Orlando Pirates' box. Juno steps up of course and cracks the ball over the wall and against the bar. It bounces high into the air and comes back to the young holding man, who shoots again but slices it wide of the far post.

Happy to settle for 2-1, Diale comes on for the tiring Juno and we go to a defensive 4-1-4-1 with 10 minutes to play. We hold on until the 93rd minute but then Ayanda Nkili underhits a backpass to Komo, allowing Ndoro to run in one on one and equalise from close range. These bloody Pirates have foiled us again.

It's frustrating to concede late like that, especially when a win would've taken us 5th, but 8th is still a good position to be in and we've still got plenty of opportunities to pick up more points. Add on top of that the fact that Orlando are at the top of the league and I won't lose any sleep tonight.

Footsteps (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 116.5)

“Where’s these match tickets you keep promising me, bru?” Calls Stevie as he sees me leaving Geen Rook Nie.

“I keep ringing you!” I laugh as I sidle over and take a knee to give Chappie the shaggy haired collie cross a fuss. “You keep dodging my calls, I’d imagine because you can’t be arsed to come fix the hot water!”

“Oh, that...” He says sheepishly. I get to my feet.

"I'll do you a deal, you sort the hot water today and I'll sort you a ticket for the Chippa match in a couple of weeks. Deal?"

"Deal", he grins, heading past me through the gate. "If I get it done before you get back can Chappie come?"

"I'll have a word", I smile.

As I walk down the industrial street towards the Athlone my mind wanders back to the dream I had last night. In typical dream fashion it tried to slip away from my conscious mind as soon as I woke, but I leapt out of bed to write the details down. I'm not sure why, it just struck a chord with me.

I was walking in a world of bright whiteness. Everything was plain white in every direction, as far as the eye could see. I saw a flash as something ran right across my path and turned to see a big yellow dog running into the distance, leaving behind dark red/purple footprints on the white ground. I set off in a sprint chasing him, but he was too fast. I was losing ground and the big yellow dog was shrinking over the horizon.

I kept running full pelt as he became a distant speck in a sea of white. And then he stopped running. As I continued to sprint the figure of the dog grew larger and larger until I could make him out properly. He was sat at the end of the trail of dark red footsteps and had turned to face me. I kept going as fast as my legs could carry me until I was only feet from him... And then I was almost close enough to reach out and touch him...

And then I woke up. I thought I'd escaped all of this cryptic shit when I left Volcano Island.

The People's Team (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep117)

I hold the letter in my hands, staring down at the words.

"Dear Mr WT Franjo,

We regret to inform you that due to the number and strength of applicants for the position of Manager, we have decided not to take your application any further.


Claudio Lotito,

Chairman of Società Sportiva Lazio S.p.A."

Short and sweet. I've not let myself get too excited about the prospect of managing such a massive club, but it still stings. I'm only human after all. Well, half human. As much as I'd told myself to put Lazio out of my mind, I've still caught myself imagining the feeling of lifting trophies in the middle of the Stadio Olympico pitch, surrounded by a sea of those famous sky blue shirts. At least they spelled my name right I suppose. That's something.

Still, if I'm not good enough or famous enough or successful enough for a job like that yet, I'd better get on with making myself better, more famous and more successful. There are 6 matches left to play of the PSL season and my Santos side are 8th in the league, 3 points clear of 9th placed Bloem Celtic and only 4 points behind 4th placed Golden Arrows. I'm sick of seeing that 4th spot dangling just above me, only to be snatched away at the last second. I want a win today and I want to keep moving upwards towards it. Golden Arrows have had their chance to get themselves clear of the chasing pack and they're making no progress, so it's about time we finally close the gap.

Polekwane City are the visitors to the Athlone today, one of the few teams in this league that I've not lost against over the last 2 years and they're rock bottom of the league and massive favourites to be relegated. I'm sticking with Project: Meatloaf Mk II as we've been performing quite well since its' introduction and we'll be playing the extra extra narrow version to choke the narrow 4-2-3-1 that they use. There is a slight hitch to today's gameplan in that Sello Japhta's picked up his 8th yellow card of the season and so has picked up a 1 match ban. Seeing as Siyabonga Zulu is out for the season, that leaves me with no option but to dive into the reserves to find a left back.

Sinethemba Tavares is only 16, but he's chock full of potential and able to fill in at left back, so he's thrown into the starting 11 today. Further up the pitch, our only other change is that the fit again Luther Singh replaces Ryan Moon and takes the left wing, while the versatile Mr Masango takes the right.

The game's tight and scrappy to start with. After almost 20 minutes though Nkili's drawn out of position by attacking midfielder Seoketsa, who releases fellow attacker Manganyi into the space that our right back leaves behind. He gets away down the left wing and floats a cross to the near post, where Ace Bhengu arrives to nod the ball home. It's not a terrific start and I'm quite worried about how frequently we concede the first goal, even if we do usually come back afterwards.

We try to control the game for the rest of the half but fail to make any sort of noteworthy chance. At half time Baliso comes on for Luther Singh on the left wing. The loss of Japhta's overlapping runs on that left hand side have made inside forward Singh quite ineffective, so Baliso should at the very least give us some width out there.

Only a couple of minutes after the restart, Ndlovu crosses from the right wing to our far post. Nkili leaps to win the header, but mistimes his jump and misses the interception. The ball falls at the feet of Allie, who controls it before shooting hard at Komo. Our young skipper makes a howler, letting the ball slip through his fingers and into the net. My head retreats into my hands. Bottom of the table at home and we're 0-2 down.

Needless to say we go on the attack from that point on. I want us to play wider, exploit the flanks and play some actual sodding football. With 25 minutes to go, Khoabane's 20 yard free kick comes straight at Komo, who parries the ball into the back of the net. I fucking despair. Komo's no world beater but he's usually a fairly reliable pair of hands. He's had an absolute shocker today.

A few minutes later, a good passing move culminates with Joël passing to Masango on the edge of the box. He squares it for Hicham Aidir, who smacks the ball furiously into the back of the net. 1-3 with 20 minutes to play. We might still be in this. With 13 minutes left, Masango gets another cross in, this time it's an early one from deep on the right wing. It cuts the defence and bounces all the way through to Aidir on the edge of the 6 yard box, who smashes the ball into the roof of the net. 2-3. I'd love to be able to say that the pair combine again to equalise a few minutes later, but they don't.

There's no shame in not quite being able to come back from 0-3 down and the lads' late effort was actually quite remarkable, especially from Mandla and Hicham. However, there is plenty of shame in letting yourselves go 0-3 down in the first place. I'm not laying any blame at his door because everyone did their part, but Tavares had a nightmare debut, looking nervous throughout and only really contributing mistakes. I send him back to train with the Under 19's the next day, making it explicitly clear that he hasn't blown his chance, he's just not ready.

For me, the worst thing about your team losing a football match is the knowledge at the final whistle that they won't have a chance to make it right for days. Sometimes weeks. Sometimes even months. In an ideal world if you lost a match you'd play another one straight afterwards and win so that everyone could go to bed smiling that night. As I'm sure we're all well aware though this is not an ideal world, so we get 5 days to stew on our humiliating defeat.

The 5 days are fairly eventful though to be honest. I have to talk Roscoe down after he comes to my office and moans to me about his lack of first team football. The Kakuba/Sohna partnership has been a major plus to come out of this season though and I think deep down he understands that he's not good enough to dislodge either one.

Our young playmaker Luke Fanteni turns pro too, meaning that Astra's infinite future bids for him will probably have to be ever so slightly improved, perhaps from "Derisory" to just "Insulting".

I'm also told that Hicham Aidir is on the verge of yet another record: He's been player of the match 6 times this season and the club record is 7, so he's definitely capable of at least equalling that in our last 5 games.

And then comes an extremely exciting phone call: I'm offered an interview with AJ Auxerre Chairman Loïc Chabod. I fly over to burgundy as soon as the call ends and attend the interview. It goes... Pretty well I think. They ask me about my relegation in Vellinge, my track record of not staying put for very long, and then they ask me about Liechtenstein. They ask whether I'd hypothetically be willing to leave both of my current jobs to focus on Auxerre and their relegation battle. After a moment of consideration, I say yes.

Goolam meets me at Cape Town International Airport arrivals, out of the blue. He drives me back to my flat and we talk on the way. He says that he and the board don't want to lose me and are prepared to be very generous with their new contract offer, but I decline and reiterate that I'm not ready to commit to staying in South Africa.

He asks me again the next day too, but again I refuse to enter negotiations, instead convincing him to put his generosity money into the club, allowing the transfer revenue percentage to be raised. I tell him again that I'm not definitely leaving, but I just want to explore my options first, and one of my options is still absolutely to stay at Santos.

So in the end I don't really get much time to stew on the Polekwane City match, what with all the travelling and meetings and what have you. Before I know it it's time for our trip to the Harry Gwala Stadium to face Maritzburg United.

The good news is that Sello Japhta's eligible to play having served his suspension. The not so good news is that Ayanda Nkili, Juno and Joël Soumahoro are all bloody suspended for picking up their 8th, 4th and 4th yellow cards respectively. No wonder we've broken the disciplinary record. I'm keeping faith with Project: Meatloaf Mk II as I still think we can make it work, and Tlou Molekwane, Marothi Diale and Gugu Gogotya all join Japhta in the starting line up, replacing the suspended lads.

It's a quiet match to be honest with you. Quieter than I thought it'd be between 2 rivals for the top half places. The first half passes in the blink of an eye, broken up only by Marothi Diale's gashed leg after half an hour that he plays through. We go on the counter attack in the second half and that does the trick. With 20 minutes to go, Mandla Masango sets up Hicham Aidir for the 3rd time in 2 games when he drills a cross in to him at the near post. Hicham makes no mistake, finishing calmly to put us ahead.

Yanga Baliso makes an appearance replacing Singh a few minutes later and then actually sets up Aidir for his and our 2nd goal, with a short pass to the striker's feet before he slams the ball past the keeper. Colour me impressed, Yanga. Fanteni makes a late cameo in place of the injured Diale, but we make it through to the end unscathed and worth the win.

That win takes us back up to 8th and things are really starting to get tight between 4th and 9th, with only 2 points separating the teams. Kaizer Chiefs are finally starting to catch up with the rest of the league and have taken the 4th spot for themselves and to be honest I doubt they'll give it up now as they still have 2 games in hand over the rest of us. Golden Arrows, Mthatha Bucks and Cape Town City are all absolutely catchable for us though.

And something that's been annoying me ever so slightly this season is that since our opening day defeat against Ajax CT, we've had a negative goal difference throughout the entire season. I'm pleased to announce that after our professional 2-0 victory over Maritzburg, we're finally back to 0. Sometimes it's the little things.

My phone starts to ring and I answer with a knot in my stomach. "Hello, Mr Franjo?" Says the voice on the other end. My heart skips a beat. And then another. I know that accent. I make a tortured breathy noise that vaguely resebles a 'yes'. "I was impressed with you the other day and I'm impressed with your CV." Continues Loïc Chabod. "I've talked to the owner and the board and we're delighted to offer you the job as Auxerre's Manager. We'd like you to come in straight away." There's a momentary pause, before: "We need you to save us, Franjo."

I sit in silence for a few moments. This could be my big break. The Auxerre job. I could make them a Ligue 1 team again, take them back into Europe... And yet it's a big gamble. Auxerre's Ligue 2 status is in jeopardy and I'd have 3 matches to keep them up. If I failed, that'd be another relegation on the CV and the prospect of managing in the French third tier next season, which doesn't really enthuse me. With 3 games to go they’re 17th out of 20 teams, 1 point above the relegation playoff place and 3 above the relegation zone proper. I've always backed myself for challenges before, but I couldn't keep Höllviken up... I've barely been able to get Liechtenstein to score a goal...

"Franjo? Are you there?" Says Loïc, starting to sound worried.

"I'll take it." I splutter.

"Fantastic!" Says Loïc, sounding chirpier again. "Our next match is in a week's time..."

"I'll take the job next week." I interrupt. "I'll be there in time for the next match, but I want to... Next week."

"Very well" replies Loïc, now sounding confused and slightly annoyed. "Fly over next week and we'll get your contract signed."

I don't sleep the night before my last match. Chippa United at the Athlone. I can't even focus on it. I have no idea whether I've made the right decision. Will I regret leaving Santos? A club where I'm comfortable, the owner's sensible and we're on the up? I'll have £5 Million to spend on players, more than I've ever been given before, but that'll surely change if I can't beat the drop. And even if it doesn't, how many quality players are going to want to join us in the 3rd tier of French football?

By match time I'm running purely on coffee. I want to go back to bed but I've been told that that might come across as 'Unprofessional'. Hicham Aidir, thankfully, is itching to get out there though. His performance in the last match means he's now the joint-record holder for number of Player of the Match awards in a Season with 7, and he can break that record today.

We're going to play a variant of Project: Meatloaf Mk II today, and that variant is all out bloody attack. Because why not. Maybe it's my sleep deprived state or the adrenaline rush that accompanies throwing yourself into a needlessly intense situation, but I want to go out with a bang. This club's been good to me and I want to give them a performance to remember me by. Diale's gashed leg will keep him out for 3-6 days but our suspended lads are back so Juno replaces him, with Soumahoro replacing Gogotya and Moon replacing Singh and moving to the right, allowing Masango to take the left.

You can tell that there's a real hunger from Santos to give me a match to remember. It takes only 16 seconds for us to register our first shot on target, a Sinbad effort from 25 yards that's caught by Hawes. 5 minutes in Mkaza plays a long ball over our defence and finds Ngema, who runs through on goal but drags his shot wide of the far post. It's an energetic start.

After the half hour mark, Joël passes to Masango inside the Chippa box, who dinks the ball to Aidir. The big striker doesn't even think about it. He pulls back that trusty left boot and slides the ball into the corner of the net.

We come out for the second half just as hungry but it takes 10 minutes for us to see a proper chance. Molekwane plays the ball long over the defence for Moon to run onto down the right wing. Moon latches on and crosses low from the byline for Aidir, who tries to finish it from close range but uncharacteristically shoots straight into Hawes' arms. A few minutes later though, Sinbad passes the ball to Moon in the box and he's tripped by a clumsy challenge from Mokgothu. A penalty. Masango places the ball on the spot. He deserves a goal more than anyone to be fair. He's set up 4 for Aidir in his last 3 matches. Mandla steps up confidently - And places the ball firmly down the centre of goal, rippling the back of the net as the keeper dives out of the way. That should be it, I think to myself. Game over. 

With a quarter of an hour to play, I bring off Sinbad to be replaced by young Luke Fanteni. I pull him into a firm hug as he walks off the pitch. "It's been a privilege, Sinbad", I grin. Sinbad in my opinion is the best kind of footballer. I went on and on about Benjamim back in the day for the same reasons; Players like those 2 make a Manager's life so much easier. You don't have to think about them at all, you can just concentrate on everyone else. Who's coming into form? Who's dropping off? Who needs a rest? Who needs fitness? Meanwhile players like Benjamim and Sinbad will be there every single match, the first name on the teamsheet, and they will run their arses off. He's the kind of player that still comes out of a heavy defeat with credit because "if only everyone else had worked as hard as him". The kind of player that the fans love to rally behind. They sing Sinbad's name as he takes a seat on the bench. After 2 years of near-non-stop football, he deserves a rest.

5 minutes later it's Joël Soumahoro's turn to make way for Gugu Gogotya. Again, I pull him into a hug as he walks past. Joël's probably been the best signing I almost didn't make throughout my career so far. I 'umm'ed and 'ahh'ed over bringing him in for a while after Joe Ekwalla left and my number 1 target to replace him went to the Belgian Pro League. Eventually I snapped him up, knowing he was less technically and mentally mature than his predecessor. In all honesty, I never thought he'd hold a candle to Joe when I brought him in, but after scoring twice on his second substitute appearance to give us our first victory of the season over Wits, he's never looked back, scoring 4 more and setting up 5 goals for his team mates, as well as putting in consistently excellent performances.

With 5 minutes to go of my Santos tenure, I bring on Themi Maluka and replace Hicham Aidir, because obviously. Hicham has been ridiculous for us this year, scoring 24 goals and setting up 2, all for the modest fee of £40k. He's too good for this league. I suspected it when I brought him in and I know it now. All I say as I give him the obligatory hug on the touchline is "Tell your agent to expect a call".

It may not last long considering the games in hand the other challengers have over us, but my final match is a routine 2-0 victory that sends Santos FC, predicted relegation strugglers, into 4th place. The 6000-odd fans sing my name as I make my way around the perimeter of the pitch applauding them. I see Stevie waving on the front row wearing his Santos shirt, laughing as he struggles to restrain Chappie from leaping over the advertisement boards and onto the pitch towards me. I soak it in for a few minutes; The atmosphere, the fans, the outpouring of support for an outgoing manager. The People's Team indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goalkeeper - No 16 - Xavier Lenogue

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

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

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

Centre Back and Captain - No 2 - Baptiste Aloé

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

Defensive Centre Back - No 4 - Godspower Tower

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

Defensive Left Back - No 3 - Faouzi Hikem

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

Defensive Midfielder - No 15 - Loïc Goujon

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

Box to Box Midfielder - No 27 - Abdoulaye Sissako

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

Deep Lying Playmaker - No 40 - Chancel Kasongo

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

Right Winger - No 35 - Ibrahim Sangaré

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

Left Winger - No 18 - Corentin Tirard

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

Advanced Forward - No 11 - Florian Ayé

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healthy Competition (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep119)

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

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

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

“I wish we had you 2 for the run in”, I whisper to Joël and Hicham with a smirk. Joël laughs, but Hicham looks more serious.

“We played OK in the last match”, he says, “Florian is a good striker I think.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonjour mes amis,

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

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

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

Anyone wanting to leave feedback, feel free to leave a comment in wordpress or whichever forum you find me on, or by emailing [email protected]!

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


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

Au revoir, bon voyage et bon appetit.



Year 5 Review (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 120.5.5)

Side Note: Bloody hell, I just realised that my Wordpress site alone's had over 50,000 views, which is just mental. Thanks once again for reading, everyone!

Now where was I?

Oh yeah, what a year! A good cup run, a promising but ultimately fruitless European International League campaign, a couple of sound thrashings both given and received, a late charge up the league and then a cross continental switch to save a fallen giant from relegation. Let's have a look back on Year 5.

AJ Auxerre

Final Position: 16th

Record: W2 D0 L1

Key Players: Baptiste “Captiste” Aloé, Corentin Tirard, Florian Ayé

Highlight: Survival in Ligue 2

Lowlight: Our loss against Nimes Olympique

I think it’s a bloody tragedy that I've had to save Auxerre from being relegated to the 3rd tier. When I was younger I remember the French 1st Division being a very different beast to the monotonous duopoly that it is today. Paris Saint Germain and Monaco were decent top half clubs, only occasionally challenging for the title. Teams all fought fiercely because they knew that the title was up for grabs. In the 2000’s Olympique Lyonnais had a strangle hold on the top division, but they were always closely contested by teams like Marseille, Bordeaux, Lens, Lille, or Sochaux. Even Nantes won the title a couple of times before fading years later.

AJ Auxerre were always buzzing around the top 8, frequently qualifying for the UEFA Cup and even the Champions League a couple of times. Before the Millennium we were even better, securing top 5 finishes all through the early 90’s before falling away somewhat after winning the 1995/96 title under the stewardship of legendary Auxerrois Manager Guy Roux.

I don’t have much to say about my short stint in Burgundy at the moment for obvious reasons (I’ve not even fully unpacked my suitcase yet), but I want it known that I’ve not joined them just as a stepping stone in my career. Auxerre aren’t just another team that I sign for first and get to know later on my path to the top. Auxerre are different. I joined them because it saddened me to see them struggling like they were after such a magnificent period in the top flight. I joined them because I want to see them back in Ligue 1 and back in European football. I reckon I can bring them back.

The end of season awards are an education for me as I get a real insight into who the top performers were in this horrifically underperforming team. Ruben Aguilar is voted Fans' Player of the Season by a landslide, followed from a distance by Florian Ayé and Corentin Tirard. Florian Ayé gets the Young Player of the Season award and interestingly in the Team of the Season, Bingourou Kamara is selected in net. I know I've not seen him play live yet but from what I've gleaned he was sub par under the last regime. For me, Xavier Lenogue has proved that I chose my goalkeeper wisely with 2 clean sheets in my 3 matches.

Young target man Florian finished the season with 15 goals, our top scorer by a distance, and Ruben Aguilar was rated the highest performer on average and picked up the most Player of the Match awards. Corentin Tirard set up the most goals with 9 and Raf was the best retainer of the ball. I think that he can offer something different that I've not given him a proper chance to show me yet, so he'll get his chance in the new season. Captiste picked up the most yellows with 14 and Tirard, Hikem, Godspower Tower and Moussa Diallo all picked up a red over the course of the season.

The Auxerre Football Messenger, a local newspaper, are scathing in their assessment of L'AJA's season, claiming that we fell well short of expectations, which I have to say I agree with. We've got enough quality in this team to finish in the top half like we were predicted to. Not much quality in depth though despite our abundance of players. It's an interesting dilemma but I think my priority for the Summer will be to trim the fat from the fringes of my squad and add a few quality players. It's simultaneously quite flattering and damning that our match of the season was one of the 3 that I oversaw at the end of the season, our 1-0 win away at Strasbourg.

Former Clubs

Santos FC

Final Position: 5th

Record: W16 D6 L11

Key Players: Mike Kakuba, Isaac Sohna, Sello Japhta, Sandile Stanley “Sinbad” Sibande, Joël Soumahoro, Mandla Greatful Masango, Hicham Aidir

Highlight: The 2 4-0 wins over PSL opposition in a row that took us to the my first Cup Final: The SA Cup Final

Lowlight: The SA Cup Final

I loved my 2nd season in Lansdowne. It definitely had shades of that 2nd season in Hero Creek about it, but it wasn’t nearly as straightforward. There were serious highs, such as the majority of our SA Cup run, and there were lows, like getting destroyed 1-5 by our local rivals Ajax CT and 0-4 by Kaizer Chiefs. In the end though we made it, thanks in no small part to the developing defensive partnership of Kakuba and Sohna, the industriousness of Sinbad, the creativity of Japhta, Joël and Masango and the clinical finishing of Aidir.

After I left, my former assistant Jakub Kalikowski took over the 1st team on a temporary basis, guiding them first to an away win over Mthatha Bucks. He made some bold choices like restoring Dino Visser, Roscoe and Luke Fanteni to his starting lineup and it paid off, with a Ryan Moon double grabbing the win.

Jakub then took Santos over to Pretoria to face Supersport United, who we had beaten twice earlier in the season 4-0 and 3-1. Supersport were clearly looking for revenge and thumped the people's team 0-4, with Dino Visser in particular having an absolute shocker.

For the last match Goolam Allie reinstalled Boebie Solomons as Santos boss, pinching him from the relegated Magesi FC. Boebie took his first managerial footsteps with Santos in 2008 and stayed with them for 3 years, eventually getting them relegated from the Premier Soccer League. Let's hope that after a decade of management in South African football and with Auxerre's £1.5M in his pocket, he'll be able to build well upon what I've started.

The new manager finished the season and started his second stint at the Athlone with a 2-1 win over his old club; the League's whipping boys Magesi FC, who in all fairness beat my Santos team just before the SA Cup final. He had the good sense to restore Captain Komo between the sticks, so that's a good sign.

Santos players finished the season with some impressive stats - Mandla Masango for example covered the 2nd most distance per 90 minutes in the league and also got 10 assists, the joint 2nd most.

Mike Kakuba was comfortably the best centre back in the PSL, so I'm glad that he'll be joining me in Ligue 2. The Ugandan made the most key headers and interceptions and the 2nd most key tackles.

Obviously Hicham Aidir was in a league of his own, getting the 3rd highest shots on target percentage, the 2nd highest average rating, the most Player of the Match awards, the fewest minutes per goal and of course the highest number of goals in the league with 23, which won him both the Golden Boot and the Young Player of the Season awards. Absolutely first class season from the young striker.

Ajax CT's Serame Letsoaka won the Manager of the Season award, closely followed by Kaizer Chiefs' Professor Ngubane in second place, and yours truly in third.

GKS Katowice

Sometimes things just aren't meant to be: Joey Tribbiani and Rachel Green, Barney Stinson and Robin Scherbatsky, Franjo and GKS Katowice. I don't know if it's thanks to the continuing payments from the top league or if I just royally messed that job up, but Katowice are flying without me. After sneaking into the top half last year, they went and followed it up by finishing 4th! I barely recognise the side to be honest. Almost my entire squad has been dismantled apart from exciting winger Ari Tuovinen and reliable defender Damian Garbacik. Hurley and Kevin have both departed after a pretty unsuccessful stint in Poland. They didn't get much game time after I left. They're both back in the Portuguese Championship with Cova da Piedade and Santa Clara respectively.

Overall I like to think that I helped GieKSa on their way to where they are now, but to be honest I think Tomasz Kaczmarek is just performing miracles over there.

SC Angrense

Speaking of the Portuguese Championship, Os Heróis were very close to going back down there themselves this year. It's a shame, they had 2 excellent seasons in the Portuguese Second League but it all fell apart in the end for Pedro Amora's men. The manager was sacked with Angrense fighting a losing battle against the drop and Hugo Carlos Pereira stepped in to save them, but only just. Again, most of my Angrense squad have dispersed at this point, but Captain and Vice-Captain Jaime Seidi and Cristiano Magina are still there. Magina's still knocking in a minimum of 10 goals a season, but Seidi's struggled for game time and will leave on a free this Summer. I'm still rooting for Os Heróis and hope that Hugo consolidates, builds and finally gets them promoted to the top tier. No pressure though.

FC Höllviken

Not much has changed at FC Höllviken sadly. I still hope one day they'll climb back up the Swedish pyramid.

I'm building quite the portfolio of former clubs nowadays, aren't I. I still keep a close eye on them and certain players and I still hope each and every one of them keeps progressing. After all, I like to think that I'm not just a 'short term fix' kind of manager. I bring in and develop the youth, I'm sensible with finances, I build the infrastructure wherever I go if I'm able. Here's to another good year ahead for everyone.

Especially Auxerre.

Year 5 World Roundup (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode

Everything’s crumbling and I can’t stop it. I’ve been in this situation plenty of times before but it never gets any easier to fix. I take a deep breath, pick up my knife and attempt another cut through the croissant. It continues to flake away everywhere, crumbling onto the plate. I’ve bottled it.

Fuck it, I think, pushing the plate to the side and opening my laptop, causing residual crumbs to fall onto the gingham tablecloth. “J’ai fini”, I say to a passing waitress. She smiles as she picks up the plate and the mangled croissant, eyeing it with momentary confusion before strolling away towards the kitchen. I quite like this café. I've got myself a flat just round the corner from the Stade de L'Abbe Deschamps and this place is a 30 second walk away. It's called "Perk de L'Abre Sec" which I don't really get, but it's nice and peaceful.

Anyway, I think as I take a sip of coffee, it's about that time of year that I climb out of my bubble, let my eyes adjust to the bright lights of the real world and take a look around Europe's top Leagues.

I'll start like I often do in the Premier League, where Jose Mourinho's Red Devils have really hit their stride now. They've not quite reached the same standards as last year when they romped to the title 19 points clear of their closest rivals, but they've at least won it again. Unai Emery's Chelsea bounced back from last year's disappointing 7th placed finish by pushing United right to the finish line, ending up just 2 points behind the Champions. Pochettino's Spurs and ex-Spain Manager Ernesto Valvderde's Liverpool made up the Champions League places, with the Reds' former boss Jürgen Klopp having moved to the Camp Nou in the Summer, and the European places were filled out by Carlo Ancelotti's Gunners and somewhat novelly by the continually impressive Jason Tindall's Bournemouth and Walter Mazzarri's Watford. I'm pleased to see that Tindall is rewarded for his team's phenomenal success with the Manager of the Year award, and I'm flabbergasted to note that Watford beat Stefano Pioli's Everton to the last Europa league place by a single goal's difference too, when for years I've watched my beloved Toffees circle the drain. I applaud their newfound competence.

Speaking of the drain, 2 of last year's promoted sides have gone straight back down. Norwich were promoted as Championship runners up under Roberto Di Matteo, but he was sacked in January with the club struggling. I never really understand that as I prefer the strategy of keeping your manager and counting on the fact that he'll bring you back up. Chris Hughton was drafted in though, which in all fairness is a very sensible appointment, so hopefully he'll have them straight back up. Ipswich are the other side to go straight back down. Steve McClaren decided to jump ship before his team had even kicked a ball in the Premier League and took the Wales gig vacated by Avram Grant, leaving the Tractor Boys to hire Ben Petty, a man who'd done a distinctly average job with Leeds United, commonly known as "The Auxerre of England". He didn't fare well. Sadly Burnley were the final team to drop down. They've been yo-yoing for years now and Steve Clarke was the latest Manager to be sacked once relegation was confirmed. Paul Heckingbottom has been brought in though after impressive spells with Middlesbrough and Barnsley twice, so I'll watch how they do with interest. The other promoted side from last year is Sunderland, who finished 11 points clear of the drop zone in 14th place thanks to the steady guiding hand of manager Rob Page, who I'm becoming an increasingly avid fan of.

Anyone missing from this review so far, by the way? Ah yes, Manchester City. There's no easy way to say this, lads; Zizou really fucked this one up. Pep Guardiola's high profile replacement Spent half a season at the Etihad and lost 14 matches, leaving the club in lower-mid table with 28 points from 24 matches. Javi Gracia was drafted in from Villarreal though and he did about as a good a job as you could've hoped for: Guiding the Citizens to 9th place, a full 3 points clear of Crystal Palace...

Arsenal paid a measly £12.5M last Summer for Stoke's Jack Butland, which strangely enough coincided with the Potters' slide from 6th to 16th. The 28 year old has done a stunning job for the Gunners, beating David De Gea to the Golden Glove and earning himself a spot in the Team of the Year. Also selected are Liverpool's Nathaniel Clyne, Chelsea's Aymeric Laporte, who's now been in the Team of the Year 4 times in a row since he came to England, Spurs' Toby Alderweireld and Manchester City's Lucas Digne. In midfield are Chelsea's Isco, Tottenham's Dele Alli, United's Paul Pogba and the league's joint highest assister: Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho. Sadly there's no place for Bournemouth's Lewis Cook, who won the Players' Young Player of the Year award. Leading the line for the Team of the Year are United's Paulo Dybala, who was also joint highest assister and won Footballer of the Year and Players' Player of the Year, and Chelsea's Mauro Icardi, who was miles ahead of his nearest competitor for Top Goalscorer with 25.

Coming up to the top division next year are Michael Laudrup's Hull City, Stevie Crawford's Derby County and Marco Silva's Swansea City. There was a weird sort of symmetry at the bottom of the Championship too, with Christian Järdler's aforementioned "Auxerre of England" Leeds United surviving relegation to League 1 on goal difference, much to the dismay of Joey Barton and his Preston North End side.

The bad news for Atleti fans is that Diego Simeone stepped down last Summer to join Bayern Munich and with Didier Deschamps drafted in, their side collected exactly the same amount of points as last year when they finished second. The good news is that after Luis Enrique buggered off to manage Spain and Jürgen Klopp came in to manage Barcelona, they had a bit of a transitional season, finishing 3rd and allowing Athletico Madrid to clinch the title, 4 points clear of Marcelino's Real Madrid, who came in 2nd. Didier Deschamps won the Manager of the Year award for his achievement and rightly so. He's been out of club football for 8 years but you wouldn't know it. The final Champions League spot has been passed around quite a lot in the last few years but this time it's Real Sociedad's turn, finishing as the best of the rest under former Celta Vigo manager Eduardo Berizzo. It's been a bit of a season to forget for Bilbao and Valencia though, who finished in 10th and 13th place respectively.

The La Liga Team of the Year never fails to astound me for the sheer number of Real Madrid players that make it in each year despite them never winning the bloody thing. Keylor Navas, who has won the Goalkeeper of the Year award to make it 4 years out of the last 5, is in net, with Alessandro Florenzi of Atleti and Real trio Raphaël Varane, Sergio Ramos and Álex Grimaldo across the back. Real pair Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard, the League's top scorer and joint top assister respectively, are in midfield, along with Athletico Madrid's joint top assister Saúl and Barcelona's Player of the Year Neymar. The front 2 is unchanged from last year: Barca's Leo Messi and the Champions' Sandro Ramirez, who I feel compelled to mention is really really good.

I'm not going to do the big build up this year because you and I both know that Diego Simeone's Bayern Munich won their 9th successive Bundesliga title. A small amount of variety can be found just beneath them though as Roger Schmidt's Bayer Leverkusen finished as runners up, 4 points off the Champions and 3 points clear of Thomas Tuchel's Borussia Dortmund. Markus Babbel's Red Bull Leipzig had a greatly improved season, climbing from 9th to 4th to secure European Football, Slaven Bilic's Schalke have to settle for the Europa League in 5th, but the story of the season is without a doubt Pál Dárdai and his Hertha Berlin side, who won the Relegation Play Off last season to remain in the division and have now managed to grab the last Europa League spot. Pál was 3rd in the Manager of the Year voting behind winner Roger Schmidt and runner up Diego Simeone, which makes no sense to me.

Leipzig's Ralf Fährmann is selected in net for the Team of the Year after keeping a league high 12 clean sheets, and is joined by Dortmund's Vyacheslav Karavaev, Leverkusen's veteran centre back Per Mertesacker and Bayern pair Mats Hummels and David Alaba in defence. In midfield, the league's top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Dortmund is joined by Borussia Mönchengladbach's Marco Van Ginkel, Leipzig's Emil Forsberg and Leverkusen's Kai Havertz, who is looking increasingly like a future world beater.

 Dortmund's Mario Götze, the league's top assister, is selected in behind the 2nd best assister and Footballer of the Year: Bayern's Thomas Müller.

Normal service has been restored in Serie A. As I feared last year, Manager of the Year Antonio Conte's return to Juventus has brought the Turin side back up to the top of the Division, where I'm assuming they'll stay until the Sun explodes and wipes all of us out. Sorry, that was morbid, where was I? Oh right, last year's winners AC Milan, lead by Manager Ramón Díaz, finished as runners up, with Luciano Spalletti's Roma and Vincenzo Italiano's Fiorentina just behind them in the Champions League spots. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Napoli and Walter Samuel's Inter complete the top 6.

The Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year and pick for the team of the year is Roma's Alisson, who picked up a pretty incredible 18 clean sheets along the way. Juve's Gerónimo Rulli did too but he conceded 1 more goal than the Roma stopper, so he misses out for the first time in 3 years. Defender of the Year for the 6th straight year and Player of the Year for the 2nd straight year is Leonardo Bonucci and he's selected too, along with team mate Alex Sandro, Napoli's Elseid Hysaj and AC Milan's Phil Jones. Napoli's Ignacio Camacho is selected at the base of midfield, just behind team mate and Italian Player of the Year Jorginho, who's next to Midfielder of the Year, Foreign Player of the Year and Fans' Player of the Year: Inter's Marcelo Brozovic. His team mate and the league's top scorer Paco Alcácer makes the cut up top, along with Napoli's Serie A Striker of the Year Gerard Moreno and Roma's Mo Salah.

Now then... Who would've thought that one of the top 5 European Leagues would actually directly affect us next season? It certainly is exciting being just one tier below the likes of PSG, Monaco, Lyon etc but for now that gap is still a long one to bridge.

The battle for the top spot wasn't quite as intense as last season but the order of the top 5 has stayed exactly the same. Pep Guardiola's PSG have finished top of Ligue 1 for the 3rd straight year with Manager of the Year José Barros' Monaco 2nd, Jocelyn Gourvennec's Lyon 3rd, Roberto Mancini's Marseille 4th and Michel Der Zakarian's Bordeaux 5th, just like last season. Toulouse were this season's surprise package in the French top tier. Like Hertha in Germany, they finished just outside the relegation places last year and stormed back to win a Europa League spot this year.

The relegated sides that'll join Auxerre in Ligue 2 are Didier Santini's Angers Sporting Clube de l'Ouest, ending their 6 year spell in the top flight, Frédéric Antonetti's Stade de Reims, who've had a 4 year spell up there and Christophe Galtier's Stade Malherbe Caen, who are going straight back down after being promoted last year, having lost their Relegation Play off to SC Bastia. I look forward to meeting them all.

Paris' Goalkeeper of the Season Gianluigi Donnarumma takes the Team of the Year goalie's spot, with team mates Marquinhos and Raphaël Guerreiro in defence along with Monaco's Daniele Rugani and Stade Malherbe Caen's Loic Nego. Monaco's winner of the Best Player award Thomas Lemar got a place in midfield, having also set up the most goals in the league, and alongside him is Lyon's Sergi Darder, who created the 2nd most goals. Lemar's Monaco team mate Kylian Mbappé is on the left wing, having won the Star of the Season award, Lucas Moura of PSG is on the right, and his colleague and the league's top scorer Álvaro Morata leads the line.

Bundesliga runners up Leverkusen won the Europa League, beating Sporting Lisbon, Valencia and Roma on the way to the final by a combined scoreline of 11-6. Their opponents in the final were Villarreal, who beat Palermo, Bilbao and Napoli by a combined score of 10-6.

The Spaniards actually started the final well, with Cristian Espinoza getting them off to an early lead, but Johannes Eggestein gave the Germans an equalising goal just before the break to set them up as the more confident side for the second half. With Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo taken off before the hour mark, Eggestein left it late to get the winner, scoring with 10 minutes to go to secure the win at the San Nicola in Bari.

The Champions League saw Manchester United go on something of an elite world tour, beating Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint Germain to get to the final, only to lose to Barcelona, who themselves had beaten FC Porto, Lyon and Spurs all quite comfortably.

It was a clinical performance by Barca that saw them lift the trophy, scoring 3 of their 4 shots on target through Rafinha, Rafinha again and Luis Suárez. Paul Pogba gave the red devils some hope, making it 2-1 at one point, but to no avail. United were perhaps unlucky to lose Filippo Melegoni to injury within the first minute of the game, but then they did have a small window in which to dominate when Samuel Umtiti was sent off for collecting 2 yellow cards with 12 minutes to go. It was too late though. Barca lift the trophy at the Allianz Arena.

I feel like I'm knocking on the door now. We're 1 brilliant season or bizarre fluke away from breaking into one of the Elite Leagues in World Football, and what better incentive could there be than that to make sure we have the best bloody year so far.

Sylvania (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode

As I grab my trusty grey coat and make motions to leave Perk de L’Abre Sec, a short, smartly dressed woman enters the café, prompting a small ‘Ding-a-ling’ from one of those old shopkeeper’s bells above the door. She makes a beeline for me and sits down at my table in the seat opposite, grinning a wide, Cheshire cat grin in my direction. She's an odd looking lady; Fairly young with a round face, big brown eyes and a pair of trendy-looking glasses perched on the end of her slightly crooked nose. Her hair is short, dark and spiky and like the glasses I assume the style is "in vogue" at the minute. I suddenly feel much older than I am.

Now as many of you will know by now, I hail from a country called England, where speaking to strangers in public was made illegal several decades ago. There are exceptions to the rule of course, like if one of you is on fire or if you happen to be walking towards each other in a corridor and you both try to step out of the way, but end up still being in each other’s way (Repeat until you’re both suitably embarrassed), or if somebody isn’t looking where they’re going and bumps into you, in which case you should always apologise profusely because you’re so fucking English that you cry Earl Grey tears and shit scones.

“Franjo?” Says the smartly dressed woman, invoking the politeness clause that forces me to acknowledge her. It’s a complicated law.

“Oui?” I reply weakly.

“It is OK, I speak the finest English” she says flamboyantly and through a thick French accent.

“Ah, that’s lucky. I’m still learning.” I say, feeling slightly more relieved as I sit back down at the table. “Can I help you?”

“My name is Sylvania”, she begins, sliding a business card across the tabletop towards me. “I represent the finest people in football.” I glance at the card. It reads:

"Sylvania D

Professional Football Agent"

I have to squint to read it as the whole card is written in an especially loopy sort of calligraphic font and the phone number below the writing is pretty illegible.

“I’m fine thank you,” I say, smiling as I make to stand back up. “I represent myself.”

“In South Africa you did, yes! In Poland and Portugal and Sweden, but this is France! The finest footballing nation in the World!” I pause mid-stand and look at her curiously. She’s done her research on me. She uses the word ‘finest’ far too often and I choose to flat out ignore the last thing she says, but she does know my career. She grins again, aware that she’s caught my attention. “Not one Manager in Ligue 2 represents themselves. Not one. Not even the finest ones.” I roll my eyes. “These clubs will eat you alive, Monsieur Franjo. They’ll pay you a quarter of what a fine Manager like you should receive!”

“I’m only on a year’s contract, I hardly think Auxerre will want to offer me...”

“UNE ANÉE?!” She gasps, making the other patrons in the tiny café turn around with surprise. Sylvania claps her hands over her mouth. “You should have received a contract of 2 or 3 years!” She whispers, “And on 10 times the salary!”

“Well steady on,” I raise a hand to try and stop her verbal momentum, “You don’t even know what my salary...”

“93.6 thousand pounds.” She says abruptly.

“OK fine, keep it down.” I lean in, exasperated.

“How much of a bonus did you receive for keeping Auxerre in Ligue 2?” She asks, and for some reason I feel like she already knows the answer. I look awkwardly down at the table. “NO BONUS”, she cries dramatically, making heads swivel around once again.

“Alright, you’ve made your point”, I hiss desperately. “Please calm down!”

“C’est incroyable.” She whimpers. “I would get you so much more! More time, more money, more everything!”

“I’m happy with what I...”

“JAMAIS!” She cries once again, prompting a couple of people to slam down their cutlery and storm out of the café altogether. She holds out her forefinger and leans awkwardly across the table to press it against my lips as she continues “Never be happy with what you have, not when I can get you so much more!”

“Alright, fine.” I say quietly, brushing her finger away, “Look, I’ll give you a trial, OK? You speak to Auxerre and see what you can...”

“I WILL GET YOU THE FINEST DEAL!” She beams back at me across the table, then stands, picks up her business card and sweeps out of the café in one fluid movement.

“Wait, don’t I need...” The door slams shut as the old shopkeeper’s bell rings. “...That?”

Philosophy (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode

“OK, you’re hired” I say happily, standing from my desk and holding out a hand.

“Brilliant, cheers gaffer”, he says with a big toothy grin, also getting to his feet on the other side of the desk and very quickly dwarfing me with his stature. He takes my hand and shakes it.

I take him out onto the training pitch at the Centre de la Formation, where the lads that I’ve asked to show up for first team training are warming up. The others I’m planning on selling or sending out on loan. “Lads, this is my new Assistant Manager”, I call, gesturing for them to gather round. “A lot of you will probably know him, but for those who don’t, this is Peter Crouch.”

Crouchie grins awkwardly down at the squad, most of whom seem to recognise him. He's a very recognisable guy after all. "Crouchie and I are here to make sure that what happened to this team last year doesn't happen again. Every one of you should know that the very fact that we're here means that you all underachieved last season and now I want to see major improvements." I start pacing up and down the row of players like some kind of Platoon Leader as they listen on. "I'm a fair bloke. If you impress me in training you'll get your chance. If you take your chance and play well in matches you'll continue to play. Is that clear?" A murmuring of acknowledgement makes its way through the squad. "Right then. Let's get started."

To kick off our pre-season I send the squad on a cross country run. As an Everton fan growing up in the 90’s but only really starting to understand football in the 2000’s I always admired the way David Moyes approached pre-season training. He always worked on the 5 ‘R’s: Run, Run, Run, Run and Run some fucking more. The steeper the gradient the better. Yes it made players complain and yes it sometimes made them violently ill, but the benefits were huge. It built unity, character and determination and sorted the wheat from the chaff. At the end of the day those players would run through brick walls for Moyes, and there wasn’t a fitter squad in England than his Everton side. I like to organise my pre-season schedules in a similar way, starting off with some heavy fitness building to obliterate the Summer cobwebs, followed by some team building. How much we do of that depends on how many players I bring in.

The way I see it, I'm getting to a position in football where I can start to define myself as a Manager, so here's my philosophy: If you have a fit, hard working squad that are willing to battle for results and run their knackers off, you're already a step above pretty much every other team you'll face. If you can add some quality on top of that, you're laughing. It's a simple theory but it's been proved to work by countless Managers before me, so it honestly baffles me that so many teams don't adhere to it. To the best of my ability I've already implemented my footballing philosophy in my career so far. Sometimes I've been hindered by financial problems or work permit regulations, but I've tried to make it work.

Hicham Aidir is the first to finish his run. I expected no less as he’s fast becoming the personification of my ideals; Fit, determined, hard working and absolute quality to boot. In the South African Premier Soccer League anyway. His prize for finishing first is that he doesn’t have to do 3 laps of the pitch with the rest of the lads on his return. As the remaining AJ Auxerre players arrive back one by one, wheezing and dragging themselves around the pitch though, I smile. Because this time my philosophy could really work wonders. If I can achieve success at at a big club like this with my sensible approach, the sky's the fucking limit for us.

Wtfranjo's avatar Group Wtfranjo
6 yearsEdited
Trimming The Fat (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep121)

I've been looking forward to this Summer. Well, I often look forward to Summers, but I've been looking forward to this one especially. When I first arrived in Auxerre in May I had a very big squad and very little time to get to know them all. Now that pre-season has begun though I can take a step back and assess this rabble, identifying the good, the bad and the squad players and acting accordingly. There's a lot to do so I jump straight into it, and my first challenge arises early on with the impending expiration of several players' contracts.

I decide to give out 4 new deals, all to players who came up through the AJA academy. Firstly, I trigger a contract extension in Romain Montiel's contract. I want the option to play with a front 2 this season and Romain's a functional if limited target man, so I want to give him a look.

Adama Ba gets a new deal almost instantly. I didn't pick Ba in any of my 3 matches as he's an inside forward on the left and I feared that with him in front of defensive full back Faouzi Hikem we'd lack width on that side, which is why I selected Corentin Tirard as a winger instead. From conversations with my coaching staff though I've no doubt that Ba has quality and I want to actually give him the chance to show it to me.

Battling midfielder Abdoulaye Sissako also gets a new deal. I selected him in the 2 matches that he wasn't suspended for when I came in and although there were no fireworks in his performances, he's definitely my kind of player and I just have a feeling that he'll be an important player to have in the squad.

Finally, Lamine Fomba gets a new deal. He was suspended when I came in but I threw him in for the last match to replace Abdoulaye Sissako and he was solid. I'm still torn with Lamine between excitement, on account of his undeniable quality and physicality, and suspicion, on account of him being one of the main culprits in Auxerre's underachievement last year, but only time and performances are going to sway me one way or the other so he'll get a chance.

I decide against new deals for brothers Harvey and Evan Ndicka, the former of which played in our last match and was actually one of the best performers, but will see his chances limited with Kakuba and Sohna joining our already sizeable fold, Ibrahim Sangaré, who I played twice out on the right wing but whose questionable amount of actual quality is going to see him slide down the pecking order, and quite a few reserve and youth players, who I knew fairly quickly weren't going to make the cut.

As I continue to look for places in which my squad can be trimmed, Fraty Miezi throws his hat into the ring by suggesting that he wants to join Stade Brestois 29. Captiste talks him round initially, but when Brestois actually come in with an offer, I negotiate them up to nearly £700k and shake on it. Miezi has come up through the ranks here and is a pretty decent young winger, but I don't think we'll miss him.

Reserve defensive midfielder Kévin Appin and 'Too-cool-to-try' winger Jerson Cabral are the next out of the door, shipped to Turkish 1 League side Büyüksehir Belediye Erzurumspor and Greek National B Division side AS Anagennisi Karditsas respectively for a combined fee of around £100k. They're both no brainer deals to be honest.

One thing that I've not started properly bleating about yet (But trust me I fucking will be) is our academy. I've not mentioned it much because at the minute my concern is not bringing through the youth, it's hammering at the big flabby chunk of marble that is my first team squad with my transfer chisel, trying to shape it into a beautiful sleek statue. But our academy is fantastic. Famed even. As well as a fair few players still at the club, we've brought through some big names in World Football; Premier League Stalwarts Bacary Sagna, Younes Kaboul and Abou Diaby for example. Enigmas like Mohamed Sissoko, proven Ligue 1 players Paul-Georges Ntep and Djibril Cissé, the legendary Eric Cantona and the borderline psychotic Phillipe Mexes. Oh yes, this academy has produced some good 'uns and we've got plenty more coming through.

In a roundabout way I'm trying to introduce you to young striker Nathan Andre, who's currently probably our brightest academy talent. He's not even 18 for another couple of weeks but he looks like an excellent prospect; Quite mature mentally, able technically, and with very good fitness, Nathan's caught the eye of Ligue 1 sides Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseille as well as Southampton in the Premier League. If he wants to go and one of these clubs puts in a decent offer, I've got no problem with him going on to play in a better league. Just in case though, I sit him down, have a chat and offer a new long term deal to tempt him to stay.

While I'm at it I agree new long term contracts with Captiste, arguably our best centre back and captain, 

Corentin Tirard, last season's top assister and starting left winger and Amine Chassaing, a promising young attacking midfielder/striker from the academy.

Sivasspor attempt to lure our target man and last season's top scorer Florian Ayé away to Turkey with an offer of up to £1.6M, but I reject the bid flat out and Florian too signs a new deal later that day.

The new season's fixtures are released and assuming I'm not sacked before the Summer, I'll be bookending my first full Ligue 2 season with matches against La Berrichonne de Châteauroux. They should be a team that'll allow us a gentle introduction into the new season as they're predicted to finish in mid table, so I'm happy with that.

When the transfer window opens we officially sign the players that the local papers are calling "The Santos 4". Isaac Sohna, Joël Soumahoro, Mike Kakuba and Hicham Aidir have already been introduced to the first team in our early training sessions, but now they're officially in.

You might think that bringing in 4 African players is a silly move, what with the Domino's Ligue 2 season having a "The squad must have no more than 2 non-EU players" rule. It's a logical conclusion to come to and it's the same thought that nearly made me physically ill in early June when I saw it, having already finalised the transfers of the Santos 4. Fortunately though after some light research, I found out about the Cotonou agreement, a treaty between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP). In short, all of the Santos 4 count as EU players in France, which I'm sure we can all agree is a massive fucking relief.

In preparation for the new season I arrange some friendlies. As usual we'll start with matches against the kids and the reserves, followed by a trip to Luxembourg to face Berchem and then a home match against Belgian Pro League side Eupen. Then I'm back off to England, which will be odd. It's been 5 years since I jumped on a plane to Vellinge and although I've come a long way since then, I didn't think I'd be heading back this early. Leicester City will be extremely tough opposition and Manchester City Under 23's should probably be shown respect, but I reckon we'll have Aldershot. After that we'll fly back to Auxerre and host Paris Saint-Germain, because I do love an impossible challenge to finish pre-season.

Bordeaux are sick of waiting to see whether Nathan Andre will sign a new deal with us apparently because they launch a bid of up to £475k. I try to negotiate them up to around the 2 million mark but they won't have it and eventually our talks break down. Encouragingly though, Nathan wades in to signal his intentions by signing a new contract. He wants to continue his development here for a while before moving to a bigger club, which tells me he's got a good head on his shoulders. We'll get on just fine.

In terms of which systems we'll be playing this season, I'll be starting off with very basic ones as per usual. In previous years my systems have stayed pretty basic, but I'm hoping to be able to evolve them with Auxerre now that I have better quality players to work with, who might be more suited to a more attractive, fluid style. The first system I'm bringing back is Project: Meatloaf Mk II, the 4-1-2-3 that kept Auxerre up at the end of last season. We use it for our friendly against the Under 19's and the match is a straightforward one, as it usually is. Abdoulaye Sissako misses out with a twisted ankle and Godspower Tower is still out with torn knee ligaments, but the youngsters are put to the sword by 2 strikers that look like they're going to give me a real selection headache: Hicham Aidir, who scores the opener, and Florian Ayé, who comes off the bench to score 2 more including a penalty to give us a 3-0 win.

Russian Premier League side FC UFA then come out of nowhere to bid £1.9M for Ruben Aguilar. He may be the best and most rounded full back I've ever worked with though so I'm not willing to give him up without a fight. I ask for 5 Million and the Russians withdraw. Ruben's initially unhappy, but Captiste makes him see sense. Early signs are that the centre back is bloody good at his off-field captain's duties, which is fantastic news.

I always look forward to the First Team v Reserves friendly matches. They're extremely interesting as all 22 players are trying to impress you and are desperately trying to outshine their counterparts. I turn to Project: Meatloaf for this one. Not the Angrense style Project: Meatloaf though, I just look at it nowadays as a standard 4-2-3-1 system. For now. The match is very even but is actually slightly edged by the reserves. It all seems to be ending goalless until Hicham Aidir pops up in the 92nd minute to score the winner. If he can hit the ground running like this in the league, we're laughing. I'm not particularly impressed by Loïc Goujon though, who gets himself sent off in the second half. There's also a bit of a worry over Florian Ayé, who has to come off injured with a bruised thigh, but he'll only be out for a few days.

Over the next few days I complete my Continental B License and after talking to Mr Chabod, the Chairman, I start on my Continental A License, courtesy of the club. If I carry on at this rate I should have my Continental Pro License in the next few years, which would put me in a fantastic position in regards to the quality of clubs that would see me as a serious option.

Let me introduce you to another lad from the academy: Brahim Ferhat. He's a pretty versatile but technically limited striker, but has excellent pace, fitness, work rate and team play and those are qualities I admire. 

He's another one of our great prospects and Olympique Lyonnais are interested. They bid £275k to take him away but I reject it out of hand. I'd much rather keep him and maybe send him out on loan, as he could well have a future in my team. I also resent the sneakiness of Lyon's bid to get him on the cheap just a few days before his 16th birthday when he turns professional, which he then does.

At the start of July we lose a player that I'd not really bothered to get to know; Khamis Digol. Khamis had already agreed to join US Orléans at the end of his contract when I joined the club and it's a shame really. He looks like an interesting right back; 6'4", strong as an ox and otherwise decently rounded. On the other hand though, he's no Ruben Aguilar, so I'm not too bothered.

Russian club UFA really want Aguilar actually, but I really don't want to sell. They come back in with a £2.5M bid, but even though it's way, way more money than I've ever received for a player, I invite them to double it if they're serious.

For our trip to Luxembourg, I'm debuting a new system and one that I've been considering for some time. Project: Burnie Mk III is a 3-5-2/5-3-2 system: A back 3 with 2 wingbacks, 2 central midfielders and an attacking midfielder behind 2 strikers. It's a flexible system that hinges almost entirely on what I ask of the wingbacks. I'll sometimes need them to bomb on into the final third and provide support but I'll sometimes need them to stay at home and make up almost a bank of 5. It makes sense for us to use this system now because from what I've seen I have at least 3 quality centre backs and at least 2 quality strikers, as well as a right back who'll be able to do a job going forwards and a left back who's young enough to learn. I use Project: Burnie Mk III against Berchem's narrow 4-3-3 and it's a success, although annoyingly centre back Patrick Verbeeck is sent off for the hosts in the first half, so it's not really a fair experiment for my new system. Nevertheless, 2 goals from Nathan Andre, who's playing behind the 2 strikers, and a thunderbastard from Joël give us an extremely comfortable 3-0 win in Luxembourg.

Alessandro Bassani is the next young star to attract the attention of the Ligue 1 clubs. He's a 16 year old left winger and he's extremely promising; Quick, agile, determined and hard working enough and decent enough technically to give me hope that he'll be ready to make a few appearances for us this year. Stade Rennais make a pitiful bid of up to £120k and I turn it down without discussion.

So at this point I think I have a fairly good idea of my squad for the upcoming season:

Goalkeepers: Xavier Lenogue, Bingourou Kamara, Anthony Gasnier

Defenders: Ruben Aguilar, Issa Samba, Captiste, Mike Kakuba, Isaac Sohna, Godspower Tower, Fabien Fonrose, Faouzi Hikem, Jérôme Mombris

Midfielders: Raf, Loïc Goujon, Lamine Fomba, Gaizka Basauri, Abdoulaye Sissako, Zoun, Adama Ba, Joël Soumahoro, Amine Chassaing, Corentin Tirard, Alessandro Bassani

Strikers: Hicham Aidir, Florian Ayé, Nathan Andre, Romain Montiel

There are a few players there that I've not yet mentioned, so let me do that now: Anthony Gasnier is a pretty promising young goalkeeper, although I worry about his aerial reach as it's quite low for a 6'2" goalie, teenager or not.

Fabien Fonrose is a 23 year old centre back who spent last year on loan with rivals La Berrichonne. He's fairly well rounded but I don't see him as a long term prospect if I'm honest. I just need a couple of extra centre backs for back up, especially as I'm trying out a back 3.

Gaizka Basauri is an interesting little player. He's an 18 year old defensive midfielder, or central defender at a push but he's 5'9" so I'm thinking not. He does have plenty of interesting characteristics though, he's full of flair and can smack a free kick to rival Juno at Santos, as well as being fit, strong and hard working.

Chassaing I mentioned briefly but let me talk about him for a second. He doesn't exactly fit my mould as he isn't what I'd describe as a "Fighter". Low determination and work rates are usually signs that a player is about to get sold but he's young, versatile, can run all day, has a few tricks and thunderbastards in his locker and is just generally pretty rounded. He'll get a chance to impress me at some point.

Anyway, I reckon we could do with 1 more player. You see, we have a natural right winger in Zoun, a natural left winger in Tirard and a natural left inside forward in Adama Ba. We could really do with a right inside forward; A creative left footed player who can cut in from the right and cause some chaos in and on the edge of the box if we want to play that way. And I think I've found just the bloke. I remember years ago on some podcast or other, I heard somebody say that if Manchester City can't bring Phil Foden, who at the time was the latest in a long line of "Saviours" of the English game, through into the first team, then they might as well close their academy down. Because what's the point? What's the point of having a local footballer of such staggering potential come up through your ranks if he's just going to be left to rot while you spend hundreds of millions of pounds on ready-made players? Flash forward to present day, 2021, and 21 year old Phil Foden hasn't made a single appearance for City's first team, although he did play a full League One campaign on loan at Bury 3 years ago... I don't blame Manchester City for letting him down. I blame the English game. I blame the Premier League, where clubs hold themselves to ransom because of the jaw-dropping amounts of money on offer for those who can stay up, or especially those who can break into the Champions League. If you give a chance to a young player and he contributes less than a £40 Million signing would have, meaning you only finish 5th instead of 4th, WHAM! There goes your revenue. You can't afford to hold onto your best players and no suitable replacements will join you, so you're on a downwards trajectory, making less money, and etc etc etc. So to avoid this, you buy ready-made players who'll get you where you want to be. The English have methodically built and nurtured a system in which, in the vast majority of cases, good young players simply cannot break through.

Wow. I didn't mean for that to get so... Ranty. My point before I went off on that tangent was meant to be that Phil Foden was once destined for true greatness, but a lack of first team football has stalled his development. If he can get back on track he could still be a top player and I'm willing to take a chance on my ability to make that happen. I'm also willing to break my own personal transfer record to bring him in. A £500k offer is accepted and I offer Phil a contract.

Issa Samba is the next player in demand and this time it's SPL side Hamilton that want to take him on loan. I want to keep him around though, so I reject the bid and make it clear that Issa will be staying with us.

Not long after, we get a call. Phil Foden's agent says that he's delighted to be given an escape route from City to a club where he might actually play football. They fly over and Phil signs on the dotted line, becoming my 5th signing of the Summer.

I'm taking a big punt on him here. I know he doesn't exactly adhere to my philosophy but he's still young, he's still got potential and at the very least he's extremely versatile, most comfortable as a number 10 but also able to play in midfield or anywhere behind the striker. I'll be looking mainly for him to play as an inside forward off the right as I mentioned before and I think he'll do a job. I get the feeling that he'll either be one of the very best or very worst signings I've ever made.

I think my squad's complete now and we just need to gel together and get ourselves disciplined in these formations I want us to use. Stade Rennais make a £300k bid for Bassani and Alanyaspor bid up to £1.1M for Zoun, but I reject them both. They'll both play a part on the wings this year.

Eupen are our next friendly opponents at the Stade Abbé-Deschamps and I see the Belgian Pro League side as a good challenge as we start to turn up the difficulty on our pre season. New signing Phil Foden gets a place on the bench as we line up with Project: Meatloaf Mk II. What follows almost brings a tear to my eye; First my prolific Moroccan striker Hicham Aidir nods us ahead from an Aguilar cross, then he doubles our lead just after the break with a clever turn and a clinical left footed finish. We're awarded a penalty 15 minutes from time and I scream at Hicham to take it with his right foot to complete his perfect hat trick, but he's a striker, and strikers don't tend to take any chances when a goal's on offer, even in a friendly. He opts for his trusty left peg and completes his imperfect hat trick. Still though. The bad news is that Lamine Fomba picks up a twisted ankle and will be out for a few weeks, but he should be back for the new season.

He won't be lonely in the treatment room though, even as Godspower Tower and Issa Samba return to full training with the rest of the team. Phil Foden and Loïc Goujon suffer a pulled hammy and a thigh strain respectively in training a few days later.

Alanyaspor are dead set on buying Zoun, our nippy right winger, but I'm still not selling. Their improved £1.5 Million bid is rejected.

The Coupe de la Ligue draw is made a couple of days later, pitting us against GFC Ajaccio in the First Round. They were in Ligue 1 only 6 years ago but have since plunged to the National League, the third tier of French football, and gone semi-pro. The winner of the tie will face FC Metz or Stade de Reims in the Second Round, both of whom are fellow Domino's Ligue 2 teams.

Touching down at Leicester Airport is a weird feeling. I'm back. Not back in Leicester, obviously, but back in Blighty. It's exactly the same as I remember it; Grey skies, grey buildings, grey people. Thick drops of rain start dribbling down my window and merging with each other as the plane taxies around to the terminal. As we make our way to the hotel I see so many people, so many of my people, all hiding behind black umbrellas and ignoring one another, even the ones walking together. My God, it's good to be home.

The prodigal son's return raises some eyebrows too when we take on Leicester City at the Kings Power Stadium. The former Premier League Champions dominate the plucky visitors but the Auxerre defence hold strong. We take the lead in the second half thanks to a goal from defensive midfielder Gaizka Basauri, who comes off the bench and is released through on goal after some good hold up play by Florian Ayé. Gaizka converts the chance and completes an extremely satisfying smash and grab victory.

Anyone wanting to put a quid on the team that avoided relegation on the final day of last season getting promoted, the odds are 50-1. We know we underachieved but the bookmakers have made us the 7th favourite to go up to Ligue 1 this season. My first thought is that it's a bit optimistic to rate us so highly, but do you know what? I think I actually like those odds.

FC Metz' Ivan Santini, who was last year's Ligue 2 top goalscorer, is evens to repeat the feat this season. In fact looking down the list, there are no odds being given on any Auxerre players outscoring the rest of the league. I smile to myself. These bookies haven't met a certain Moroccan striker I know yet.

There is an Auxerre player in the list of most likely players to be the league's top footballer though and it's not somebody I expected. Faouzi Hikem, the left back that I dropped after only 2 matches watching him due to his poor performances when I first came in, is 24-1 to be the best player in the bloody league. I've not seen it from Faouzi yet, but I look forward to being proved wrong.

I get a pretty frustrating phone call later on that morning; Alanyaspor have increased their bid again for Zoun, with an offer rising to £2.1 Million. Again I reject it, as I want him in my team. I'd consider bids towards the £5 Million mark though.

I suffer an unexpected bit of backlash from an Auxerre fans' forum after the club release this year's squad numbers on it's website.* Apparently quite a few of them are irked by Zoun having kept the number 6 shirt, admittedly not a traditional number for a right winger, but it's only 1 away to be fair. To be honest though I've had so much on my plate this summer that the squad numbers were pretty low down on my list of priorities and I just left the existing ones as they were. A quick glance down the rest of the list reassures me as I don't think there are many more badly numbered players, although my first choice goalkeeper having the number 16 shirt isn't ideal.

After that's dealt with we make our way over to Manchester City's academy to take on their Under 23's. Sadly Phil Foden misses out on a return to his former club, but as we've only had 3 days break since our last match I decide to give my second string a run out, because what could possibly go wrong? A thrashing. A thrashing even worse than Leicester City's first team gave us. I suddenly realise why Phil stayed here for so long, these lads are bloody good! We're not helped on the hour when the Kings Power goalscorer Gaizka Basauri is sent off for a second yellow, but by that point we're already 1-0 down and showing no signs of coming back. Things go from bad to worse when Florian Ayé picks up a gashed head, and then a second City goal finishes us off. 0-2 it ends.

Alanyaspor are getting either desperate or annoyed at this point and they raise their offer to up to £3.1 Million for Zoun, but again I reject it. If they keep going like this though they'll have him within a couple of weeks I would have thought.

To finish off our dismal holiday in the North of England we travel over to Aldershot, the most surprising inclusion on my homecoming tour. I put out another second string side, giving players match time who need it, and we romp home in a thoroughly entertaining game. Florian Ayé scores twice in a minute but then gets stretchered off before half time, which isn't a good sign 9 days before the start of the season. Aldershot pull one back through Idris Kanu before Adama Ba scores, and then we're pegged back again by Jaidon Anthony. Ba scores again in the dying minutes though to wrap the match up at 4-2. It's a dominant display by us but it's overshadowed by the injury to Florian Ayé, which turns out to be a damaged achilles tendon. He'll miss 5-6 months. I certainly hope Hicham Aidir hits the ground running now because we can't really afford him not to.

But it's no use crying over damaged tendons, despite it being very frustrating to lose last year's top scorer perhaps for the rest of the calendar year. We've got a pre-season to finish and we're going to finish it in style. I welcome none other than Pep Guardiola to the Stade Abbé-Deschamps dugout with a firm handshake and a smile. Pep bloody Guardiola. I'm about to face off against a legend of Football management. Someone who's achieved almost everything that I aspire to. I don't let on that I'm bricking it. I play it cool. He puts an arm around my shoulder as the players warm up in the background and says: "It's windy today, yes?"

"Haha, yeah." I reply awkwardly.

Cool as a cucumber.

We aren't facing a full strength Paris Saint-Germain side, but we're still facing a good one with such stars as Renato Sanches, Stefan de Vrij and Gianluigi Donnarumma, and they have some more big names on the bench. Knowing Pep loves a 4-4-2 nowadays I set us up with a defensive variant of Project: Burnie Mk III. We're essentially playing with 5 defenders, 2 ball winners in midfield and an attacking front 3.

Amazingly, we take the lead after 35 minutes when Hicham Aidir turns in Ruben Aguilar's cross. In fact PSG don't really trouble us throughout the entire first half. The second half is a different kettle of fish though and we go on the counter after they come out swinging. Before the hour, Rolón Martinez drives home the equalising goal, 15 minutes from the end, Edinson Cavani heads the visitors into the lead from a Serge Aurier cross and 8 minutes later Bernadeschi's corner is bundled home by Lucas to give some gloss to the scoreline for the French Champions. I was impressed with our domination against PSG B in the first half, but the second half is an onslaught. Mind you, there's no shame in being beaten by the best.

After the match I sit down and chew the fat with Pep over a glass of chablis. For one of the best managers of his generation he seems like a nice grounded bloke. He commends my team's first half performance and is very humble about his own team's win. I quiz him about his time at Barca and Bayern, but neither of us mention City after his unceremonious sacking. We sit and talk as equals. Colleagues. Despite the defeat, it's an extremely good day.

After our final friendly has been played and with the new season looming, I'm left with 1 last big decision: Who should captain Auxerre for the 2021/22 season? When I arrived Captiste had the armband and Ruben Aguilar was his deputy. From what I've seen of Captiste so far he is an excellent captain on and off the field and will probably also play every single match that he's available for, so he'll stay on. In terms of our vice captain though, I'm not so sure. I do like Ruben Aguilar but if I'm being completely honest I've had my eye on someone else for over a year. Last Summer in Lansdowne, I toyed with the idea of making Hicham Aidir the Santos captain, due to his leadership skills, determination, work rate and "Lead by example" attitude. I decided against it as I didn't know him too well and he was new to the team, hence the decision to give Komo the armband, but this year... New signing or not I think Hicham's ready to get used to the idea of leadership. He'll certainly be a captain in the future, perhaps for club and country, and I think the vice captaincy will suit him perfectly for now. He gets the nod over Ruben.

Phil Foden and Lamine Fomba return to full training just in time for our first match, albeit lacking some match fitness after missing a few of our friendlies. I also get a very interesting offer from fellow Ligue 2 side USBCO, who want to take our 16 year old striker Brahim Ferhat on loan for the season. They want him to play regularly too, so I agree. Regular football at the same level as his parent club should do wonders for the lad's development and as USBCO have been recently promoted and are one of the favourites to go back down, it's not as if I'm strengthening a direct rival. Hopefully. I look forward to seeing how he copes.

Hey, before I finish off this pre-season, I want to draw attention to a couple of my ex players, who I've noticed are doing extremely well for themselves: Firstly Joseph Ekwalla (Boo, hiss), who's moved on from Orlando Pirates after just a year to join PEC Zwolle in the Eredivisie. My grudge against Joe faded when Santos ended up doing fine without him and to be fair he funded a lot of our transfer activity in that hugely formative summer of 2020. Santos will have also got a chunk of his latest £300k fee, which will please Goolam Allie.

Perhaps even more amazingly, I wonder if you remember Carlos Antunes? In a way he was SC Angrense's Joe Ekwalla; a promising young attacking midfielder who held a place in my first team from the age of 16 but was sold by my meddling Chairman at the time, Miguel Borba. He was initially sold to Vit. Guimarães but has since moved from there to Estoril, where he became a regular Liga Nos player, and then onto bloody West Ham! Ironically the same club that I loaned Domingos Quina from at the time as a direct replacement, although he didn't end up pulling up any trees. Antunes spent last season on loan in the Eredivisie himself as a regular starter for VVV-Venlo and is now back in the Liga Nos on loan with Arouca. I wish both players all the best and will continue to keep an eye on them. Maybe our paths will even cross again some day.

I receive another very interesting offer the day before our first match against La Berrichonne. Fellow Ligue 2 side Nîmes Olympique want to take Isaac Sohna on loan this year and would use him as a key centre back, as well as paying his entire wage and a monthly fee on top. I take a pretty long time over this decision as I think more than any other player, Isaac's development is going to need an extremely delicate guiding hand and a wrong move could prevent him from fulfilling his potential. In the end though I agree to the arrangement. Similarly to Ferhat, a year of consistent Ligue 2 football is something that I might not be able to offer him this year as we're well stocked at the back, and it's something that I think could really make him push himself and help him grow. It's now up to Isaac himself to decide whether or not he wants to go.

Here it is then. It's Friday night. The 30th of July 2021. The start of the Ligue 2 season. Tomorrow will be the 5 year anniversary of my first step into management, when I sent my CV to FC Höllviken Chairman Alexander Lundgren. Since then I've been relegated in Sweden, won a league title unbeaten in Portugal, beaten the drop in Poland, guided a struggling team to a cup final and almost a Confederation Cup place in South Africa, won a couple of matches in Liechtenstein and beaten the drop again in France. I've told Slaven Bilic to go fuck himself, become something of a Connect 4 master and ruthlessly tormented a dehydration-induced hallucination of my spirit guide and perpetual failure Abel Xavier. I've laughed, I've cried, I've kicked more water bottles than my players have kicked footballs and I've quite literally pissed myself in front of my drunk landlord in a vampire costume. It's time to begin my 6th year in football management with AJ Auxerre and amongst all of the feelings of optimism that a new season brings, I smile as a single thought crosses my mind, bright and vibrant: I'm only just getting bloody started.

*Commiserations to sammuthegreat and jakec91 from fm-base for having to look at a number 6 on the back of our right winger! The comparison to William Gallas and his number 10 shirt has been thrown about though which I think is somewhat extreme. Anyway, someone remind me to change it next Summer!

Domino's Ligue 2 101 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 121.5)

We're not messing about now. The French Ligue 2 is a serious League for serious people doing and saying serious things. It's the biggest league that I've managed in both in reputation and actual number of teams, unless you count the Portuguese Championship which had to be split up into many smaller leagues. We've got 19 opponents in the league this season so we'd best get to know them.

Athlétic Club Ajaccio

From: Ajaccio

Ground: Stade François Coty

Last Season: 8th

Predicted: 9th

Rivals in Ligue 2: N/A

Association de la Jeunesse Auxerroise

From: Auxerre

Ground: Stade Abbé Deschamps

Last Season: 16th

Predicted: 7th

Rivals in Ligue 2: ESTAC Troyes (Local), Bourg-en-Bresse 01 (Competitive)

Angers Sporting Club de l'Ouest

From: Angers

Ground: Stade Jean Bouin

Last Season: 20th in Ligue 1 (Relegated)

Predicted: 2nd

Rivals in Ligue 2: N/A

Bourg-en-Bresse Péronnas 01

From: Bourg-en-Bresse

Ground: Stade Marcel Verchère

Last Season: 15th

Predicted: 15th

Rivals in Ligue 2: N/A

Chamois Niortais Football Club

From: Niort

Ground: Pôle Sport

Last Season: 9th

Predicted: 12th

Rivals in Ligue 2: N/A

Clermont Foot 63

From: Clermont-Ferrand

Ground: Stade Gabriel Montpied

Last Season: 7th

Predicted: 10th

Rivals in Ligue 2: N/A

Club Sportif Sedan Ardennes

From: Sedan

Ground: Stade Louis Dugauguez

Last Season: 10th

Predicted: 14th

Rivals in Ligue 2: Stade de Reims (Fierce, Local), FC Metz (Local), ESTAC Troyes (Local), Valenciennes FC (Historic)

Espérance Sportive Troyes Aube Champaigne

From: Troyes

Ground: Stade de l'Aube

Last Season: 6th

Predicted: 6th

Rivals in Ligue 2: Stade de Reims (Local), CS Sedan Ardennes (Local), AJ Auxerre (Local)

Football Club de Metz

From: Longeville-lès-Metz

Ground: Stade Saint-Symphoriem

Last Season: 4th

Predicted: 3rd

Rivals in Ligue 2: RC Strasbourg Alsace (Local)

Groupe Sportif Consolat

From: Marseille

Ground: Stade de la Martine

Last Season: 18th

Predicted: 18th

Rivals in Ligue 2: N/A

La Berrichonne de Châteauroux

From: Châteauroux

Ground: Stade Gaston Petit

Last Season: 17th

Predicted: 11th

Rivals in Ligue 2: US Orléans Loiret Football (Local), Chamois Niortais FC (Local)

Nîmes Olympique

From: Nîmes

Ground: Stade des Costières

Last Season: 12th

Predicted: 8th

Rivals in Ligue 2: N/A

Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace

From: Strasbourg

Ground: Stade de La Meinau

Last Season: 13th

Predicted: 13th

Rivals in Ligue 2: FC Metz (Local)

Red Star Football Club

From: Paris

Ground: Stade Jean-Bouin

Last Season: 14th

Predicted: 16th

Rivals in Ligue 2: N/A

Stade de Reims

From: Reims

Ground: Stade Auguste Delaune

Last Season: 19th in Ligue 1 (Relegated)

Predicted: 4th

Rivals in Ligue 2: CS Sedan Ardennes (Local)

Stade Malherbe Caen

From: Caen

Ground: Stade Michel d'Ornano

Last Season: 18th in Ligue 1 (Relegated)

Predicted: 1st

Rivals in Ligue 2: N/A

US Créteil-Lusitanos

From: Créteil

Ground: Stade Dominique Duvauchelle

Last Season: 2nd in French National (Promoted)

Predicted: 19th

Rivals in Ligue 2: Red Star FC

US Orléans Loiret Football

From: Saint-Ouen

Ground: Stade Bauer

Last Season: 11th

Predicted: 17th

Rivals in Ligue 2: La Berrichonne (Local)

US Boulogne Côte d'Opale

From: Villeneuve-d'Ascq

Ground: Stadium Lille Métropole

Last Season: 1st in French National (Promoted)

Predicted: 20th

Rivals in Ligue 2: Valenciennes FC

Valenciennes Football Club

From: Valenciennes

Ground: Stade du Hainaut

Last Season: 5th

Predicted: 5th

Rivals in Ligue 2: USBCO (Local), CS Sedan Ardennes (Historic)

I'm encouraged that we're predicted to finish 7th and I'd certainly take that right now, but I do worry that I've got largely the same squad that's finished 16th 2 years in a row, albeit with a couple of quality improvements. I'm certainly interested to see whether I can be the one to make these players actually realise their potential or whether they're just going to sit by and let me fall by the wayside like the last poor sap. Enough talk though, we'll never know unless we get this show on the road.

As the French say, Allons-y!

No Words (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep122)

I think it’s fair to say that our pre-season’s been mixed. We’ve done some good work in the transfer market so far and had some testing friendly matches where we’ve not only gained familiarity in my new systems but really pushed ourselves against tough opposition. On the other hand I could've done without losing Florian Ayé for 6 months and Phil Foden isn't as integrated as I'd like him to be as his pulled hamstring has kept him out of most of our friendlies. Nevertheless, today is the day that we finally get to put everything we’ve been working on into practice.

We’ll start this season as we finished the last - With a simple 4-1-2-3 named Project: Meatloaf Mk II. Xavier Lenogue will continue to be between the sticks for the time being at least, as he performed well there after my arrival. Mike Kakuba lines up for his debut on the left side of central defence alongside Ruben Aguilar, Captiste and Faouzi Hikem. Deep fried demon Loïc Goujon will be our holding man, with the enigmatic Lamine Fomba in front of him as a box to box midfielder next to attacking playmaker Joël Soumahoro, another debutant. I’m going to play with wingers today and I want to save Zoun as an impact sub like I did after my arrival last season, so Adama Ba starts on the right and Corentin Tirard takes the left, with vice captain and 3rd debutant Hicham Aidir leading the line. The referee blows his whistle to begin the 2021/22 Ligue 2 season.

13 minutes in Aidir channels his inner Messi, dribbling into the La Berrichonne half and into the final third while holding their midfielder Castro at arm’s length. He dodges Castro’s challenge, cuts back across him onto his left foot, jinks past the poor lad once again and shoots with power. Delle makes the save, sending the ball out for a corner, but it’s a fantastic start from Hicham. He’ll have the fans onside in no time if he carries on like that.

La Berrichonne aren’t exactly threatening in the opening stages but they are having the lion’s share of possession, so we go on the counter just over quarter of an hour in. Almost instantly we put together a very slick passing move that ends up with the ball at Aidir’s feet again. He holds it up and slips in Lamine Fomba, who takes a shot but Delle catches it fairly easily.

After that the first half is largely devoid of action. In the 42nd minute with half time looming, I get the message out to go a bit narrower and play a bit quicker in the hopes that we’ll be able to strangle La Berrichonne’s patient passing moves and get the ball up to Aidir quicker. Before the break we do get the ball to him and he powers forwards towards the box. The striker’s a man possessed today, dodging a couple of challenges before letting fly from 20 yards. The shot has power but no accuracy though and the ball flies wide.

After the break I issue instructions to close down more and mark tighter, to try and put some pressure on our opposition and get us winning the ball back higher up the pitch. On the hour mark though we're still deadlocked so I bring on Zoun for Tirard, who's had a disappointingly quiet day. Zoun'll take the right wing and Ba will cut in from the left.

5 minutes later, Lenogue thumps a goal kick forwards and Aidir nods it on. Zoun sets off at a sprint, causing panic in the defence. Exactly what I was looking for. The rapid Burkinabe winger bursts past his marker with the ball and runs it into the 6 yard box, but he gives himself too tight an angle and shoots across the face of goal, wide of the far post.

A couple of minutes later our free kick breaks down and is cleared by La Berrichonne. As they look to start a counter attack though Loïc Goujon wins the ball and pumps it back over the outrushing defence for Hicham Aidir, who's played onside by their left back. He takes the ball down, dribbles into the box and blasts it into the far corner of the net, bagging himself a debut goal and giving us the lead. Good lad.

With 10 minutes to play, Adama Ba cuts inside from the left and passes to Aidir on the edge of the box. He takes a touch and pulls the trigger just in time to avoid a sliding tackle from a defender. The ball finds the bottom corner again, rippling the back of the net as the majestic Moroccan peels away in celebration. I have no words. Maybe I'll never need to buy another striker again. I bring off Ba and replace him with debutant Phil Foden to give him some match fitness. He'll slot in as a left winger.

After a couple of minutes Aidir slips the ball into the box for Zoun, who's coming in from the right wing. He gets a shot in but the keeper rushes out and saves well. In the dying minutes Zoun gets loose again when Goujon gives him the ball in our half. He drives down the wing hugging the touchline and gets level with the box when Obiang puts in a tackle to send the ball rolling away into the area. Zoun rallies and gets to the loose ball first though and dribbles inside, before firing in our 3rd goal of the day. Stick a fork in this match, lads.

A 3-0 away win is what I would describe as a fucking fantastic start to a new season. It wasn't a complete performance by any means but the second half was brilliant. Aidir's off the mark and Zoun's shown me some proper quality and justified my plan of keeping him on the bench, saving him for the latter stages. Add that to superb showings from debutant centre back Kakuba and holding man Goujon as well as good performances throughout almost the whole team and this has been an incredibly encouraging match.

As encouraging a performance as it was though, the transfer window's still open and I'm still looking at the balance of the squad. As it looks as though Isaac Sohna's going to be spending the season over in Nîmes I reckon that leaves us with 3 centre backs of sufficient quality that I'd actually trust to start for us, along with a couple of back ups. Therefore I'm dipping my toes into the market probably for the last time to sign another. After consulting with my scouts and watching some video reports I decide on former Paris Saint-Germain and now frustrated Borussia Mönchengladbach defender Mamadou Doucouré. He's a good height at 6'1" and is very well rounded and technically, mentally and physically strong. He's also probably quicker and better on the ball than any of our other centre backs and is left footed, all of which could come in handy.

Over the next few days we receive more offers for some of our players too: AS Nancy Lorraine's £300k offer for left winger Alessandro Bassani is rejected, along with Partizan Belgrade's £2.1 Million bid for Ruben Aguilar.

Another bid that comes in is for yet another of our promising youngsters and probably one of the most promising. Benjamin Valette is a 17 year old defensive midfielder very much in the Franjo mould of being physical, determined and hard working. Don't let his ginger mohawk fool you, he's a hell of a talent. 

Olympique Marseille approach us with a £600k bid but I turn it down as I value him quite a lot higher.

Benjamin's not best pleased at my valuation of him. After sitting down with him and talking it through, it seems like his heart is set on a move away. I don't want a player who doesn't want to play for me at the club, so I tell him he can leave. I won't let him go on the cheap though, I reckon he can go right to the top and players of that talent don't come at bargain prices. In other news though, 2 of the Santos 4 have made it into the Domino's Ligue 2 Team of the Week - Mike Kakuba and Hicham Aidir are also joined by Captiste and Loïc Goujon in being recognised for their fantastic performances against La Berrichonne.

More transfer news follows: Young striker Brahim Ferhat completes his season long loan to USBCO, but I reject AS Nancy Lorraine's bid for Alessandro Bassani.

And the offers just keep coming in, which I'm quickly finding to be an annoying byproduct of having a fantastic academy. LOSC and Stade Rennais both table bids in the region of £100k for 16 year old striker Abdoulaye Traoré, another player in the Franjo mould. He's also pretty quick and very skilful. I reject the bids as he looks like a talent and £100k is nowhere near what I'd let him go for.

Then it's Marseille's turn to come knocking. A £250k bid is submitted for our 15 year old attacking midfielder Robin Faivre. Like Traoré he's quick and extremely skilful on the ball, so I reject the offer. If he's worth £250k at 15 I think it's worth us holding onto him for a year or 2 at least.

Our next match is at home. We welcome Valenciennes to Stade Abbé-Deschamps, a side that also won their first match 3-0 against newly relegated Stade de Reims. They deserve a massive amount of praise for a very surprising result. Early as it might be, we're top of the league but Valenciennes are in 2nd, behind us only on alphabetical order. Both teams' confidence will be high so it should be an interesting game.

In their first match they lined up with a good old fashioned 4-4-2 so I'll be giving a competitive debut to Project: Burnie Mk III so that our 3 defenders can comfortably take care of their 2 strikers. I'm also making a couple of personnel changes: Isaac Sohna will come in for his debut and Nathan Andre also starts while Adama Ba and Corentin Tirard make way as we won't be using wingers. Sohna will man mark their pacy striker Nuno da Costa and Mike Kakuba will take Edouard Butin, while Captiste acts as the ball player between them, mopping up loose balls and linking up with central midfielders Fomba and Goujon. Wing backs Aguilar and Hikem will be cautious, staying back to take care of Valenciennes' 2 wingers but also coming forward to support attacks when they can. We've got plenty of legs in the centre of midfield and Joël will play behind Aidir and Andre in quite a fluid front 3.

After a cautious start to the match we win a corner just before the 20 minute mark. Faouzi Hikem swings the ball into the centre and Goujon heads it goalwards. As the keeper makes his dive for the ball, Sohna rises at the near post to head it across goal in the opposite direction, but he can't get it on target. We have a bit of a scare 5 minutes before half time when Xavier Lenogue collides with a striker and winds up with a deep cut on his arm, but after some treatment he stays on.

We go in for the break with the scores tied at 0-0 and I encourage Auxerre to keep plugging away. 10 minutes into the second half we get a great chance when Joël spots Aidir's run and plays him in, but the striker's shot is well saved by Kocik and the ball goes out for another corner, which comes to nothing.

With 20 minutes to go I bring on Zoun to replace Joël. In an attempt to find the breakthrough we're going to an Antonio-Conte-esque 3-2-2-2-1, with Zoun and Andre going out onto the wings to add extra width. We also go more direct in an attempt to get us attacking with a bit more pace. 10 minutes on we're still goalless and I bring on young Chassaing for Goujon to add a bit more creativity into midfield.

In the last couple of minutes, Osei-Berkoe cuts in from the left wing and takes a pot shot at our goal from 25 yards, which gives me a very brief panic attack before the ball flies over the bar. We enter injury time and the match seems destined to end as a bore draw, until Aidir drags a centre back out of position and creates space for Zoun to run into. Andre spots him and fires a pass into his path, which Zoun takes in his stride. The winger runs through on goal and slips the ball into the bottom corner. There's not even any time for Valenciennes to come back at us as the ref's whistle blows almost straight after kick off. Bloody magnificent.

That's a massive result for us. Valenciennes came into this match on a high after demolishing a team that's come down from Ligue 1 and just like La Berrichonne, we completely nullified them. Truth be told I would have been happy enough with that and a goalless draw, but we've sneaked all 3 points. I know it's early days but I think this Auxerre side might have even more potential than I thought.

Nerve (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep123)

It's with mixed feelings that I watch Isaac Sohna's taxi pull away from the Centre de Formation. I'm 90% sure I've made the right decision in sending him on loan to Nîmes, but that 10% is niggling me. He gave a decent account of himself against Valenciennes after all. Nevertheless, it's a done deal. Sohna's gone and it's up to him to train well, perform well and develop. Good luck, Isaac.

Another player on the move is 18 year old striker Serge Bamba. He's pretty quick, fit and tricky with good technique and a free kick or 2 in his locker. Swiss Challenge League side Le Mont LS want him to be a regular starter for them this season and I accept their offer. Hopefully he too will benefit from a year away playing regular football.

Yet another player off on loan is 18 year old American full back Ed Bolton. He's an interesting player and strikes me as a future versatile squad player as he can hold his own physically, works hard, has a good team ethic and can play with either foot and at either full back position.

There's a reason that we have several Americans like Ed coming through our ranks, having grown up in Texas or Colarado, and that's because we have deep roots in both of those States, having been linked with both Colorado Rush and Texas Rush for the last 12 years. We get the first option on both clubs' players and we also bring some of their junior players over to gain experience in a top French academy, with the happy byproduct of some of them breaking through into our Under 19's.

Anyway, Ed's attracted a tremendous amount of interest from his home nation but I'm sending him to FC Chambly-Oise in the French National League. American players, unlike most African players, count towards the Non-EU player limit so it's in my interest to keep him in France so that he can continue to work towards citizenship. Plus, Chambly-Oise are one of the favourites for promotion so if they can pull it off that'll be good experience for Ed.

With a heavy heart I also agree a fee with Marseille for Benjamin Valette, our incredibly talented teenage defensive midfielder. Their initial offer is around £900k but I want £2M for him. We compromise in the end, with Marseille paying £500k up front and another £2M over the next 2 years. I don't plan on spending much more in this window anyway so the staggered payments don't bother me. We also put in a clause that'll give us 50% of his next fee, because obviously.

Amidst all the outgoings, we do manage to bring in Mamadou Doucouré though. I'm very happy with this deal as the Senegalese International has got tremendous pedigree and has the quality to be in or around our first team.

We reject a few more offers, like Nancy Lorraine's £450k bid for winger Alessandro Bassani and LOSC's and Stade Rennais' barely improved bids for skilful striker Abdoulaye Traoré.

And before my first Coupe de la Ligue match, Bamba's loan move to Le Mont and Valette's permanent transfer to Marseille are both tied up. It's a shame to lose Benjamin but I think we've at least done some good business there.

Anyway, as I say it's time for us to start our Coupe de la Ligue campaign. GFC Ajaccio are our opponents today, a semi pro side in the French National League. It may feel like I've been here for a while at this point but I still need to get to know some of these players and this match presents the perfect opportunity.

As per my usual first season mentality, I'm not overly fussed about this cup competition and will be fielding the players that either need to bed in, that haven't had a real chance under me so far, or that I've been less than impressed with and want them to get a kick start against easier opposition. We'll be playing a fluid attacking variant of Project: Meatloaf as even with our reserves we should have enough quality to see off a side from a lower tier. Bingourou Kamara starts in net. He was L'AJA's starting goalkeeper for most of last season but has yet to feature for me. He'll be protected by right back Issa Samba, centre backs Godspower Tower and debutant Mamadou Doucouré and left back Jérôme Mombris. Abdoulaye Sissako and Raf will take the centre of midfield with Phil Foden cutting in from the right, Corentin Tirard out on the left and Amine Chassaing playing behind striker Nathan Andre. In the absence of both our captain and vice captain who have been left out of the squad, Samba takes the armband for us today.

10 minutes into the game, Raf plays a long ball onto the right flank for Phil Foden. The former City man takes the ball down well, cuts inside and has a pop, but the keeper catches it. Not a bad first effort.

A few minutes later the ball's down the other end. Ajaccio's right winger Zoubir capitalises on some hesitant defending by Mombris and nicks the ball off him. He crosses from the byline to the near post where Miquilan can't quite get his shot away. He eventually manages to roll the ball across the face of goal looking for a team mate but fortunately Samba's there to hoof it clear.

With half an hour gone the visitors are matching us better than I expected and I drop us back slightly to just try to control the game. Not long after, Andre picks the ball up from deep and dribbles forwards before having a crack at goal from 20 yards, but he puts it wide.

For the second half I want us making better quality chances so I urge the lads to patiently work the ball into the box. It makes no difference though, we make next to no impact on the second half. Tirard, who started today after his fairly alarmingly poor performance on the opening day, has not done himself any favours today and I hook him after the hour with Foden scooting across to the left wing and Zoun coming on and taking the right.

With 10 minutes to play, Foden too makes way. Hopefully Bassani can save the day. Alas the young winger's no more able to score than any of our other players were before, and I'm so fucking bored by this drab match that I'm starting to break out the sodding rhymes.

Puel has a pot shot for the minnows in the dying seconds of normal time but he nearly puts the ball out for a throw. We go to penalties. It's been a while.

"Who wants them?" I ask my players, who're surrounding me in a tight circle on the edge of the pitch. Nobody's overly enthusiastic but we eventually get 4 names down. Striker Nathan Andre and midfielders Amine Chassaing, Abdoulaye Sissako and Raf. "Anyone else?" I ask, starting to worry. A hand cautiously raises itself into the air. I turn around to face the volunteer.

"I will take it." Says Mamadou Doucouré, our debutant centre back. I can't hide my surprise, but I'm impressed too. This lad's got some nerve.

"You're in," I smile. "Last up."

There's a hush around the ground as the 4000-odd Auxerrois fans watch ballsy young striker Nathan Andre place the ball on the spot. Andre runs up left footed, puts the ball high down the centre and the keeper flaps at it, unable to stop it from bulging the back of the net. Good start. By contrast, Cédric D'Ulivo's walk to the spot is accompanied by a loud chorus of boos and whistles. The centre back steps up confidently though and slots the ball into the bottom left corner, leaving Kamara grasping at thin air.

GFC Ajaccio continue to match us after that. Chassaing scores to the bottom right, then Hamadou scores to the top left. Sissako scores down the middle, then Puel scores to the bottom left. Raf scores to the bottom left, then Zoubir scores to the top right. It's sudden death from now on. 4-4 after 8 penalties and the only question is who will blink first, us or them. Mamadou picks up the ball and walks calmly to the penalty spot, where he places it down carefully. He counts his steps backwards and prepares for the run up. Come on mate. Make it a debut to remember. The referee's whistle blows... The keeper dances on his line... Doucouré runs up... He slams it down the middle as the keeper dives to his right... But his trailing hand shoots up to bat the ball away. Bollocks. Mbae steps up for Ajaccio's 5th penalty and dispatches it into the top left hand corner. GFC Ajaccio win 5-4 on penalties.

Why on Earth did I let Doucouré take it? The deciding penalty and I gave it to the debutant. What a stupid fucking decision. To be fair it was a very good save by the keeper, throwing out a strong hand after already committing himself to diving away from the ball, but still. I've let Doucouré down there. His confidence, barely above rock bottom after being frozen out at his parent club, is now through the floor and we're out of the cup at the first hurdle. I know I want to focus on the League but I was hoping to at least turn over the team from the division below in our first bloody game.

There ain't no rest for the wicked though. The wicked of course being AS Nancy Lorraine, who are the next team to identify one of our young talents and insult us with a really awful low-ball bid. Esteban Mercier is a defensive midfielder that I quite like. He's miles away from being the finished product but at 15 years old that's probably fair enough. What impresses me though is his bravery. That's one of those things that you just can't coach. Either you have it or you don't and this lad has it and some to spare.

Nancy's £82k bid is swatted away without comment as I'm interested to see how he develops, along with another bloody bid for Bassani from FC Lorient.

Moving on from our Coupe de la Ligue disappointment then and after 2 games it'd be naive of me to read too much into our status as league leaders, but today we make the trip to take on Bourg-en-Bresse 01, who are breathing down our necks in 2nd. We both have 6 points out of a possible 6 but we have a slightly better goal difference with 4 to their 3.

We'll go with Project: Meatloaf Mk II for this one as I'm uncertain about going up against a side who've also won both of their matches without a holding man. Unsurprisingly I'm also making the full 11 changes from the side that lost to Ajaccio; Lenogue in net, Aguilar, Captiste, Kakuba and Hikem at the back, Goujon as the holding man, Fomba and Joel in the middle and Zoun and Ba on the wings supporting Aidir. Let's get back on track, shall we?

The first 40 minutes or so are pretty quiet, with the best chance coming after a quarter of an hour when Joël tees up Aidir but his shot is charged down by Bourg-en-Bresse defender Sangaré. With a couple of minutes to go before half time though Zoun runs the ball forward into the opposition half. He passes inside to Lamine Fomba, who sends it on to Hicham Aidir. Hicham bursts past his marker and toe pokes the ball from the edge of the box, sending it into the far bottom corner of the net.

As we go into the second half Bourg-en-Bresse start to show their intentions of pushing forwards and equalising, so we'll pass into the space that they're leaving behind. After an hour we win a corner on the right and Faouzi Hikem goes across to take it. He swings a fantastically vicious ball into the centre of the box and surprisingly it's Adama Ba that rises to meet it, but he can only get enough contact for a glancing header that sends the ball wide of the far post.

Over the next 20 minutes I make a few changes and tweaks: First Foden comes on for Zoun and will cut in from the right, so both full backs will be encouraged to get forwards on the overlap past him and Ba and help us put the game to bed. For the last 10 minutes Sissako comes on replacing Joël, adding more steel to midfield.

We so nearly make it to full time unscathed, but Bourg throw the kitchen sink at us and it finally pays off when Ba is caught sleeping and Rabeasimbola plays a through ball behind him for right back Damour. Damour drills a cross in from the right touchline and Bègue's there at the near post to apply the finish, levelling the game in the 91st minute.

Let's be fair, Bourg-en-Bresse have taken 2 late points from us exactly a week after we gained 2 late points from Valenciennes. They say that these things even themselves out in football and it seems like this time they're right. Besides, despite the fact that we've fallen below AC Ajaccio to 2nd in the table, 7 points from our first 3 matches is fine. It's better than fine actually, it's still a brilliant start so I'm staying optimistic for the time being.

You are reading "Franjo: A Journeyman Story (New Episode Every Week Day!)".

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