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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
DONE DEALS (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep124)

I'm growing to learn that having a great academy is both a blessing and a curse. We're getting closer to the end of the transfer window and the volume of bids for our young stars is getting huge. What makes it even more infuriating is that the majority of bids we're getting are just staggeringly low. I'm only going to mention DONE DEALS from now on because there are certain teams from Ligue 1 who've wasted enough of my bloody time this Summer. So the first DONE DEAL of the week is versatile Texan full back Ed Bolton, who joins FC Chambly-Oise for the year. Good luck, Ed. Hopefully he'll come back having played regularly and will be all the better for it.

There are no more DONE DEALS in the run up to our home match against recently relegated Stade de Reims, but we do have a fresh injury to deal with. Mike Kakuba is going to miss 3-4 weeks with shin splints. He's made a good start to life in Auxerre so this isn't ideal.

Stade de Reims have had a shocking start to the season and they seem to have brought their relegation form into this season, which is excellent news for us. They started off by losing 0-3 away to Valenciennes and followed that up with a 0-1 home loss to Bourg-en-Bresse, but have since won their cup match against fellow Ligue 2 side FC Metz and a league match against USBCO, so actually they might be just now coming into form, which is not excellent news for us.

I'm making a few changes from the side that very nearly beat Bourg-en-Bresse. A couple of them have been forced upon me, what with Mike Kakuba's injury and the fact that Loïc Goujon's been suspended for picking up 3 yellow cards in his last 3 matches. The rule in Ligue 2 is that 3 yellows in a player's last 10 matches earns them a 1 match ban, but I think Loïc's set some kind of record there. Mamadou Doucouré and Abdoulaye Sissako come in to replace them. We're playing Project: Meatloaf and I'm also bringing in Phil Foden to replace Zoun and he'll be playing off the right, but I'm putting him in a more central position today while he gets the hang of it, while Aguilar overlaps up the right wing. Corentin Tirard starts on the left wing in Adama Ba's place to give us more width.

We get off to a bad start when Mohammed's corner in the 8th minute is nodded into the net by Mafuala, who was being double marked at the near post by Sissako and Aidir. I'm not best pleased. Just after the 20 minute mark we nearly go level when Hikem's long ball over the top is missed by centre back... erm... Michael Hector. The error by the former Reading and Chelsea man and veteran of the Jamaican national team allows Hicham Aidir to run in behind and go one on one with the keeper, Carrasso. Carrasso comes out to narrow the angle though and Aidir's shot deflects off his shoulder and goes out for a corner that comes to nothing.

After half an hour Mohammed gets free down the right wing and drills the ball into the middle, where Iloki arrives to double the visitors' lead. Still less than impressed I decide that we may as well go for it. We'll attack, be more fluid and roam from our positions. It makes no difference though and we're 0-2 down at half time, although to be fair the first half has been extremely even. I toy with the idea of bringing off Foden and Aidir, who've both been poor today. Foden's been poor in all of his appearances so far actually, which isn't a great sign. I stick with them for now though and we'll go out to control the second half.

Only a few minutes after the restart Doucouré takes a terrible touch and allows Iloki to nick the ball and run through on goal and shoot, forcing a good save from Lenogue. After the hour and with no comeback in sight I bring on Zoun and Ba for Foden and Tirard and we'll go back to a normal 4-2-3-1 with Zoun providing the width and Ba cutting in. The changes almost pay immediate dividends when Fomba's shot from 20 yards deflects through to Ba, but his shot is denied by another save from Carrasso. The keeper's having a great game to be fair.

Andre replaces Aidir with 20 minutes to play but we don't manage to find a way back, succumbing to our first league loss of the season. Weirdly by the time the final whistle blows I've got no complaints about the team's performance. We matched Stade de Reims in the first half and actually came away the more dominant team overall. Goals are the things that matter though and I've got to say that certain players have let us down today. I'm starting to think that Phil Foden might have been a bad buy although he does still need time, Corentin Tirard is showing none of the qualities that made him a key player last year and Hicham Aidir's had an off day. The day that I lose faith in that man is the day that I walk away from management.

Phil Foden actually bruises his head in training during the week. He should be back for our next match but I'm not entirely sure I want to play him.

We do however have another DONE DEAL. I feel like Jim White. 19 year old central midfielder Chancel Kasongo has joined Belgian Pro League B side Tubize on loan for the year. You remember Kasongo, back when I first joined Auxerre I threw him in at the deep end, playing him in all 3 matches as we avoided relegation. With Joël coming in though and with me having more than enough central midfield options, Chancel will go off to test himself with regular football in Belgium's 2nd tier. Good luck mate, let's see if you can do well enough to win back a first team place when you get home.

Our match against rivals ESTAC Troyes has been postponed because Adama Ba, Hicham Aidir and Mamadou Doucouré are all off on international duty and would've missed it. We were due to play them after our next match against USBCO, but we'll now play Troyes in a couple of weeks.

Speaking of USBCO, the predicted relegation strugglers are living up to expectations at present. They've played 5 matches in all competitions so far, losing 4 and winning 1 - A 1-0 win over Red Star FC, which is also the only goal they've scored so far. I feel for them, but I feel like we're starting to lose our way and a home match against a team in this sort of form represents a great opportunity to get back on track.

We'll be lining up with Project: Meatloaf Mk II, with Goujon coming back in for Sissako after his suspension and taking the holding man role where he's excelled so far. I'm also bringing in Zoun and Ba for Foden and Tirard because frankly they've both been awful. Our young loanee Brahim Ferhat starts on the left wing for the opposition today. I made sure that both him and Isaac Sohna at Nîmes had it in their contracts that they were allowed to play against us because I want to see how they do against their parent club.

I really do feel for USBCO. The first thing of note that happens is almost half an hour in when Fomba's tripped by Arnaud Loquet, who just happens to be the only person to be booked thus far. He earns a second yellow and a red, leaving the underdogs more underdoggish than ever. Joël hits the free kick from 30 yards but it deflects through the wall and goes out for a corner.

With 10 minutes to go until half time we counter after USBCO's corner breaks down. Adama Ba runs the ball from our penalty box all the way into the final third. He release Zoun on the right wing, who turns and whips in a low cross. The ball could not be any more on a plate for Joël Soumahoro, unmarked on the penalty spot, but his shot is weak and straight at Thuram-Ulien, who parries it and then smothers the ball before Ba can follow up. Poor from Joël. I want us to make more of our extra man so we need to control the game. We'll play much wider, much quicker, pass into space to use the pace we have up front, we'll be more fluid and we'll close down much more to win the ball back faster and force mistakes from our opposition. Needless to say my changes have no immediate effect and we go in for the break goalless.

At half time USBCO change to an odd 3-2-3-1 formation, with Brahim Ferhat coming off to accommodate the tactical shuffle after a quiet first half. We'll respond by really overloading them at the back. Foden comes on for Zoun and will cut in from the right as Ba does the same on the left, allowing our fullbacks to attack attack attack into the space they leave on the wings. I also bring on Sissako for Goujon to be the ballwinner in midfield.

5 minutes later we string some passes together following a throw in level with USBCO's box. Sissako passes across the edge of the area to Fomba, who lifts his head and plays it on first time through the defence. Phil Foden is in space and is played just onside by one of their centre backs. The young Englishman swings his left boot at the ball first time and finds the net as I let out a huge sigh of relief. Maybe he'll be alright after all.
With 20 minutes to go we win a free kick 30 yards out. Foden passes it short to Sissako, who plays a pass through to Hicham Aidir in the box. Our striker is in far too much space and he punishes USBCO with a deft finish into the near top corner. Andre replaces Ba not long after but the match ends 2-0. Despite our advantage I'm very satisfied with that result.

That result puts us 4th in the league, which I'm more than happy with. We still do have transfer deadline day to deal with though and while I'm not looking to bring anybody in, I think it's going to be a long day of low-ball offers and frustration. The first youngster to leave is Robin Faivre. After some mild interest earlier in the Summer I eventually agree to Marseille's offer of £750k for the 15 year old. We'll also get a big chunk of his next sale as per.

The next lad to leave is Esteban Mercier. Like Robin there has been interest for Esteban before but I hadn't received what I would call any "Serious" offers until AS Nancy Lorraine came in with half a million for the 15 year old midfielder.

I then pick up a knife and fork and get ready to eat my words, because I didn't think I'd be bringing anyone in today but somebody happens to have caught my eye. Bilal Souabni is a player that I've seen before, playing for Morrocco's U20's with Hicham Aidir. He's a 19 year old left back that plays for FUS Rabat in his home country and he's available for free. He looks promising: Pacy, agile, well balanced and able to run all day. He's also a hard working team player which as you'll know is right up my alley. His technical attributes need some work but I'm willing to gamble on the fact that we can get them sorted out. A contract is duly offered which would see him join us on the 1st of December after his current contract expires.

It doesn't take long for Bilal to agree to my offer and what's more, FUS Rabat are willing to let us buy him out of his contract for only £11k so that he can join us now. I willingly pay up.

I quickly dub the young full back Billy and place him on the loan list. I'd put him in a similar category to Isaac Sohna: A young player with undoubted potential but who is not going to get enough football under me this year to progress.

Quite a few bids come in straight away for Billy, most of which are from Ligue 2 sides. I'm half tempted to send him out to Nîmes Olympique so that he can play next to Sohna, but there are a couple of offers on the table that I just can't turn down - Belgian Pro League A sides Eupen and KV Kortrijk, both of whom want to give him first team football. I'll let him choose between them.

He opts for Eupen, who we played in pre-season. It's a solid choice and I look forward to seeing how he gets on in Belgium's top flight.

The next DONE DEAL as we creep closer to the end of the window is another of our 15 year old midfielders, Olivier Lenglet. He'll move to Marseille for an initial £350k rising to £550k with additional fees.

I've spared you a lot of the details over the last week or so, but suffice to say that Bordeaux have been bloody hounding me for Abdoulaye Traoré. With 2 hours to go before the deadline I try to negotiate them up to half a million for the striker but they refuse to pay up. With 45 minutes to go though they bid the half a million. I negotiate them up to £750k for wasting my fucking time. The window closes before they can send the paperwork through anyway though, so the deal's cancelled. What a mess, Bordeaux.

But then I let out another huge sigh of relief. The window's closed. I can finally get some peace without constant phone calls asking if I'll let my academy's top prospects go for a fiver and half a Snickers. There's nothing to focus on now but football.

Derby de la N77 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep125)

"Welcome back, Isaac." I grin as the young Cameroonian steps off Nîmes' team bus.

"Hi, Boss." Says Sohna, taking off his colourful over-ear headphones.

"I've had Crouchie watching your matches, he says you're doing well."

"Yeah I'm doing alright", he shrugs. "The strikers are a lot better than they were in South Africa though." He let's out a chuckle. "I won't be taking it easy on Hicham today though."

"I wouldn't expect you to, mate" I smile. "Good luck." I shake his hand and he falls into line with his teammates, putting his headphones back on as he walks into Stade Abbé-Deschamps.

Just like Brahim Ferhat in our last match, Isaac Sohna is absolutely eligible to play against us today as I want to have the opportunity to see him play against us and judge how he's getting on for myself. We'll be starting with Project: Meatloaf Mk II today and after the success we had in our last match with 2 inside forwards and 2 overlapping full backs, we'll be trying the same thing again. Phil Foden comes in replacing Zoun after getting off the mark as a half time sub against USBCO, but otherwise we stay unchanged. Mike Kakuba's fit enough for a spot on the bench though after his recent injury.

We start the match playing some beautiful football and take the lead after only 20 minutes, when a fantastic passing move finishes with a chipped cross from Faouzi Hikem and a calm but precise volley into the bottom corner from Hicham Aidir. Sohna's hands go straight over his face but mine shoot into the air. Brilliant start.

The rest of the half is pretty quiet and my team talk is just quiet encouragement to keep doing what we're doing. The reaction is better than I expected though as within 30 seconds of the restart, Adama Ba cuts in from the left wing and lets rip from 25 yards, straight into the top corner. It's a great hit to put us 2-0 up.

With 20 minutes to go I bring Zoun on for Foden. He played a part in the first goal but otherwise he's had another quiet game. 5 minutes later we push through the centre and Joël passes to Aidir on the edge of the box, who seems to be double marked by Sohna and defensive midfielder Dimitri Capelle. They both stand off him though, which gives Hicham plenty of time to trap the ball, pick his spot and smash it into the far top corner. Sohna's had a pretty poor game but we've looked absolutely unstoppable at some points. Mike Kakuba gets 10 minutes as a holding man at the end as I look to build his match fitness and the game ends at 3-0.

Not only am I buoyed by the overall team performance, but I think that's the first time I've seen the hype about Faouzi Hikem. Given more freedom as an overlapping fullback instead of a defensive one, he was excellent. Getting himself in good positions, dribbling well, passing well. So much so actually that he's earned himself a place in the Ligue 2 Team of the Week alongside Loïc Goujon and Joël Soumahoro. Hicham Aidir's omitted, which I find odd until I see that US Orléans' striker Yoane Wissa also scored twice in his team's 4-0 demolition of Valenciennes, so it's probably a coin toss.

Our next match pits us against ESTAC Troyes, who were my first opponents as Auxerre manager. The rivalry between the 2 clubs is known as the Derby de la N77, referring to Route Nationale 77, a road that connects Auxerre and Troyes. Our rivals are managed by none other than Benoît Cheyrou, a former Auxerre defensive midfielder of 3 years, although he's most well known for his subsequent spells at Marseille and Toronto. His side are only 2 points behind us in the league so they can climb above us with a win, but off the back of that last performance I'm feeling good about this one.

I'm keeping the same lineup that beat Nîmes so handily. Mike Kakuba's fit again but after keeping 2 consecutive clean sheets I'm in no rush to interrupt the developing partnership between Captiste and Doucouré.

My confidence in that centre back partnership starts to unravel after just 7 minutes when a hoofed ball forwards is nodded on by MBeumo and Adama Niané nips in front of Captiste to control the ball and blast it into the top corner of Lenogue's net. We equalise just 5 minutes later though before the sense of dread really starts to kick in, when Phil Foden's low cross deflects into the Troyes net off the foot of midfielder Bilal Brahimi. I don't care how they go in, so I'll take the own goal with open arms.

ESTAC Troyes come straight back at us after the kick off. The ball's worked around until it reaches the goalscorer Niané and he dribbles past Doucouré before shooting at Lenogue, but our keeper catches it comfortably. Ruben Aguilar twists his ankle after 20 minutes, which worries me, but he'll play on for as long as he can because I don't have a right back on the bench.

On the half hour mark, we win a free kick on the right wing, level with the Troyes box. Foden executes a nice little chip into the area and Goujon flicks the ball on, but when Adama Ba meets it just outside the 6 yard box he gets underneath the ball and sends it looping over the bar. The game continues at a million miles an hour, with both teams quite open and quite eager to get forwards. Phil Foden tries his luck from 25 yards a few minutes after Ba's chance, but he skews the ball wide.

With 5 minutes to go before the break, ESTAC Troyes win a corner on the left. Domingues swings it in towards Brahimi, but just as he jumps for the ball Aidir pushes him in the back. Mr Brisard, the referee, gives a penalty and it seems like the right decision. As good as Aidir is in front of the opposition's goal, his defending could do with some work. I take some small comfort in the fact that the referee decides to just give the big Moroccan a telling off and doesn't show him a card. Niané, the Malian International goalscorer, steps up to take the penalty as Xavier Lenogue jumps up and down on his line, waving his arms to try and put him off. Niané runs up... Shoots right... AND LENOGUE SAVES IT! The Martiniquais International dives the right way and parries the ball away as Hikem sprints in to boot it out for a throw. I feel even more vindicated for putting my faith in Xavier now, after watching our other keeper Kamara not save a single penalty against GFC Ajaccio the other week.

At half time I bring on Mike Kakuba in place of Aguilar, who's really struggling with his twisted ankle. It isn't ideal but Mike's at least decently comfortable as a right sided full back so he'll have to do. 10 minutes into the second half a patient Auxerre passing move culminates with Ba passing the ball inside for Joël, who turns, makes himself some space on the edge of the box with a little burst of pace and fires the ball into the right hand side of the net. We've had some luck on our side but in a match we've largely dominated up to this point, we've finally taken the lead over our rivals.

With half an hour to go Benoît Cheyrou throws me a curved ball, changing from his simple 4-2-3-1 to a flat 3-4-3 as he tries to find an equaliser. We respond by bringing out Project: Burnie Mk III. Kakuba, Captiste and Doucouré will form a back 3, Goujon will awkwardly slot in at right wing back and Hikem will be left wing back. I also bring Abdoulaye Sissako on for Phil Foden as a ball winner alongside Fomba in our central midfield 2 and Joël will be the number 10 behind a front 2 of Hicham Aidir and Adama Ba, who I instruct just to use his physicality to be a defensive forward, chasing down the back 3 and trying to create chances for Aidir. Both wing backs are also instructed to tightly man mark the opposing wingers.

The tactical change does the trick and we nullify ESTAC Troyes' search for a second goal. The match ends 2-1 after a very satisfying comeback. The win also moves us up to 2nd in the league, which I'm incredibly happy with. To say that we've been predicted to finish 7th, apart from a couple of blips we've started this season in scintillating form. I'm feeling good about this year.

Bonus (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 125.5)

I come back to my flat to find my front door ajar. My heartbeat quickens. A burglar? An escaped murderer from a local jail? My excellent mood following the ESTAC Troyes match dissipates almost instantly. Cautiously I push the door open to reveal the living room of my flat. The first thing I notice is that there’s a small children’s paddling pool over by one of the armchairs. There isn’t usually a small children’s paddling pool over by one of the armchairs. Sitting in the armchair, with her shoes and socks removed, the bottom of her suit trousers rolled up slightly and her feet in the pool, is Sylvania.

I look at her, dumbfounded. She looks back at me showing a tremendous amount of excitement, from her Cheshire cat grin to the jazz hands she’s holding out. After a moment to take in this bizarre scene, I manage to say “What?”

“VOILA!” She cries. “I did it!”

“What on Earth could you possibly be referring to? Where are my cats?” I ask.

“Around,” she says vaguely, flourishing her hand dismissively. “I spoke to Auxerre and they gave us a bonus for avoiding relegation!” She squeals, if anything getting even more excited with each word.

“Right... What kind of bonus?”

“Well it wasn’t much.” She says, abruptly dialling it back several notches. “10 of the finest pounds!”

“10... thousand?” Sylvania shakes her head. “10 Hund... A thousand?” She continues to shake her head. “You got me a bonus of 10 pounds?” She nods. “OK... Well first of all, good job for... Getting anything” I start cautiously, “Can I have it?”

“You’re looking at it, Monsieur Franjo!” She beams. I look at her. And then at the paddling pool. And then around the room.

“I don’t think I am.” She nods vigorously, ramping her excitement back up to 11. She gestures down to the pool. I face the truth that I didn’t want to believe. “The pool cost £10, didn’t it.”

“15!” She corrects me, hardly able to contain her misplaced joy. “I had to put some towards it, but I thought you would enjoy it far more! It’s the finest one they had!” I just stare at her, slack jawed. “You do owe me 17 percent though”, she adds, suddenly deadly serious.

“17 percent of what, this pool?! It’ll flood my bloody flat if you try and take a chunk out of it!”

“Not of the pool!” She beams. “Simply pay me the £1.70 I am owed and reimburse the £5 I put towards the pool, plus my travel fees for the day.”

“Which were?” I groan, regretting every decision I’ve ever made.

“About £10 for trains and buses”. I open my wallet, take out a 20 pound note and dejectedly hold it out for her. She stands up and leaps out of the pool, spraying water across the living room as she lands next to me to snatch the note.
 “Merci!” She smiles, as she walks past me towards the front door. “Make sure to call me the next time you need my expertise!”

I scan every surface in my eye-line quickly, but it doesn’t look like she’s left a business card. I doubt I’ll need one though. She slams the door as she leaves but it swings back open. The lock’s broken. I guess I’m out of pocket for that too. And as far as I can see, I’m down 2 cats.

What the fuck is happening?

The Foden Problem (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep126)

I fall back against my front door, slamming it shut. I'm exausted. I slide across the new cranked barrel bolt that the nice locksmith assured me would keep out any would-be eccentric and possibly psychotic intruders. It took me over 2 hours just to work out where Meatloaf and Burnie were hiding and to tempt them out with a packet of dreamies. We're good though. Everything's back to normal, and that means that I can start focussing on our next match - Away at US Créteil-Lusitanos.

Les Béliers are in a sticky patch of form at the minute. Having opened the season with a loss at Strasbourg, they won 4 on the bounce in all competitions but have since lost 4 on the bounce, including twice against Bourg-en-Bresse in the cup and league. Still, they were one of the favourites for relegation before the season started and they're currently sitting pretty in 13th. I'll be sticking with Project: Meatloaf Mk II for this one but I'll need to make a personnel change. After coming off at half time against ESTAC Troyes, Ruben Aguilar has been ruled out for 2 weeks with a twisted ankle.

It just so happens that the yellow card he picked up in that first half took him to 3 in his last 10 games, which means he's suspended for this game anyway. I'm not saying he got booked deliberately... Wink... But it's a happy coincidence all the same. Also banned for this one is Abdoulaye Sissako, who came on as a sub against Troyes and also picked up a booking. So coming in at right back today is Issa Samba, a man that I've not seen too much of so far aside from in our Cup defeat against GFC Ajaccio. Also, I've made a decision regarding Phil Foden and that decision is this: Even though he's undoubtedly been our worst player so far this season, I'm going to give him a run of games. My reasoning is that this is all new to Phil: The regular competitive matches, playing off the right, being in a foreign country. He's been a reserve player his whole career so far and maybe a run in a professional team will jump start him. If it doesn't then at least I'll have tried.

The first real chance for either team comes just before the 20 minute mark, when Hicham Aidir slips a pass through for Foden. He strokes the ball towards goal with his weaker right foot but the shot's easy for Descamps to catch. I actually wonder if he heard me talking before the match because he goes very close after 40 minutes with a free kick from just outside the area. He slams it against the angle between post and crossbar as we continue to knock on the USCL door. Just before the break, Doucouré breaks up a half hearted attack by the hosts and starts one of our own. The ball gets up to Aidir and he lays it off for who else but Phil Foden, who turns, lashes the ball goalwards and it cracks against the bar again. To be fair to him, he's unlucky not to be on the scoresheet.

We head back out for the second half and within minutes, USCL are the ones threatening. Buaillon's corner is nodded on by Caddy at the near post, headed back across goal by Niakaté at the far post and volleyed against the underside of the bar at point-blank range by Zélateur-Pinau. The ball hits the line, bounces off Hikem's foot and is cleared by Doucouré as I wipe the sweat from my brow. We go on the counter after that and with 20 minutes to go we're still tied up at 0-0. I bring on Zoun for Adama Ba and stick him on the right, with Foden moving across to the left. Aidir will be a target man in the middle and we'll go direct to him as we continue to try to find the breakthrough. Within seconds we almost see results when Soumahoro passes long to Aidir on the left wing. Aidir strides powerfully towards goal and shoots, but drags his shot wide of the far post.

I bring on Tirard for Foden for the last 10 minutes in the hopes that an out and out left winger will provide a better outlet, but Tirard offers nothing. The match ends goalless.

As disappointed as I am that we weren't able to score, a draw is probably what both teams deserve from this one. Foden was unlucky not to score, but then so was Zélateur-Pinau. Although granted Foden hit the bar twice from 20 yards and Zélateur-Pinau hit it once from 2. Anyway, let's move on quickly.

AC Ajaccio are next up, not to be confused with GFC Ajaccio who beat us in the Coupe de la Ligue. We're currently 2nd behind the surprising early league leaders Bourg-en-Bresse, who were predicted to finish in lower midtable. We're 3 points behind them and Ajaccio are 2 points behind us in 3rd, so it's a big match.

In the run up to the match I call Phil Foden into my office and let him know that I've been less than impressed with him so far and that he needs to buck his ideas up. Thankfully he takes my criticism well, promising that he can improve and be an important part of my team.

I'm not making any changes at all for this one. Aguilar's still out but Samba gave a decent showing against Créteil, so I'm happy to keep him in place. I'm getting good performances from the rest of the team too so I'm going to leave the lineup alone for the time being. I see a surprising name on the opposition teamsheet though: Benjamin Valette starts for AC Ajaccio. The lad who was probably my brightest midfield talent at the start of the Summer was sold to Marseille, who've sent him out on loan to our opponents. Let's show him that he shouldn't have been so quick to demand a transfer away from Auxerre.

We look lively in the first couple of minutes and while latecoming fans are still taking their seats we put together a brilliant move that ends with Aidir teeing up Adama Ba, who catches the ball beautifully and whacks it against the far post. With 6 minutes gone Aidir sets Phil Foden away down the right, but he's perhaps overly eager to impress me and shoots with his weaker right foot from a narrow angle, sending the ball into the sidenetting.

20 minutes later, Samba gets some space in the final third on the right wing and chips a cross in. Pavlovic heads it away but only as far as Lamine Fomba, who takes a touch and tries an audacious outside-of-the-foot shot from 20 yards, which - Any guesses? - Comes back off the underside of the bar. Bloody hell, if only hitting the woodwork counted as a goal, eh? Sensing that we're the better team after our early play we push on slightly, looking to control.

With seconds to go before half time, Fomba hoofs the ball into the air towards the right wing. Aidir controls it well and cuts inside onto his trusty left foot, continuing to run to the edge of the box. When he gets towards the centre he lashes a shot at goal, but Ajaccio captain Riffi Mandanda, younger brother of Steve, parries it well. Ba keeps the ball in though and we keep plugging away. Ba sends a cross in, it's headed away, sent back in, controlled by Joël, laid off for Ba who chips it in again and Aidir volleys it home. Finally. I was beginning to think we wouldn't score again for the rest of the season.

We drop back to a standard mentality at half time and within 2 minutes of the second half we've doubled our advantage. A well worked move from a throw in sees Foden pass inside to Joël, who squares it across to the penalty spot, where Ba's waiting to clip the ball into the bottom corner. This is more like it. I can barely remember the sound of the ball hitting the bloody woodwork.

I give Mike Kakuba 20 minutes in place of Doucouré as I want to keep him as match fit as possible and with 10 minutes to go Zoun replaces Joël and takes the right wing, while Phil Foden drops back into midfield. With just a few minutes to play Ajaccio pull one back through a well struck free kick from Prince Vincent, but it's too little too late. The match ends 2-1 to Auxerre.

Is it annoying to lose your clean sheet in the closing stages? Yes, of course it is. Sometimes the positives outweigh the negatives though and this is one of those times. Solid performances throughout the team, including Phil Foden, quality performances from Adama Ba and Joël especially and what's most pleasing of all is that this was billed as a high pressure game. I saw zero nerves from this Auxerre team today. This is a team of winners. I'm a very happy man tonight.

Haunting (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep127)

"Monsieur Franjo!" A journalist's hand shoots into the air. "You're unbeaten in 5 games and comparisons have been made between your good start to this season and your surprise title win with SC Angrense in 2018. Do you think that you can keep up this kind of form and replicate that achievement with AJ Auxerre?"

"Look, with all due respect, we're 9 matches into a 38 match season," I smirk. "We've had a good start to the season and obviously we want to finish as high up the table as we can, but for the moment... I've still only been here for a few months and there are still things that we're working out as a club. A title push isn't on my radar at the minute."

I am happy with that record though. In our last 5 matches we've won 4, scored 9 and conceded 2. We're in brilliant form and I want us to carry that on today when we travel to US Orléans. Orléans have had a distinctly average start to the season and they play with a 4-4-2, so I'm torn on whether I want to stick with Project: Meatloaf Mk II, which has seen us play so impressively recently, or swap to Project: Burnie Mk III, which I designed specifically for use against formations like theirs. In the end I go with Project: Burnie Mk III. I think we'll be more comfortable with a back 3 against their front 2. Adama Ba and Phil Foden come out, although I haven't forgotten about my pledge to give Phil a run of games, and Mike Kakuba and Nathan Andre come in. Kakuba will mark their 6'5" target man Nathaël Julan and Mamadou Doucouré will take the more industrious Yoane Wissa, who's in good form having scored 6 goals already this season. Wing backs Issa Samba and Faouzi Hikem will man mark their wingers too.

Our first chance comes after 23 minutes when Fomba passes inside to Joël and the Ivorian playmaker turns and shoots, but Desprez dives to his left and catches the ball pretty comfortably. Desprez boots the ball upfield quickly and Julan rises to beat Kakuba in the air and nod the ball down the unguarded left wing. Barreto leaves Samba for dead and runs to the edge of the area, drawing Loïc Goujon across to meet him before chipping the ball across to the unmarked Wissa, who volleys Orléans ahead. Our defending in the last 10 seconds has been utterly, utterly diabolical. Nobody apart from Kakuba was doing what I asked them to and even he failed in his job.

5 minutes later we win a free kick on the edge of Orléans' box, courtesy of our former right back Khamis Digol. Aidir and Joël stand over the ball but it's Aidir who takes it, smashing the ball over the wall and past the flailing keeper to equalise. Our celebrations don't last long though. Just as the clock ticks past the half hour Livolant gets free of Hikem on the right and drills a cross in that goes all the way through to Julan at the far post, who bundles the hosts back ahead. We go on the counter after that as Orléans are really punishing us on the counter themselves, but the rest of the half is quiet.

In fact pretty much the rest of the game is quiet. Sissako and Foden come on for Goujon and Joël with 25 minutes to go and 10 minutes after that we go on the attack. The only good chance created is with 5 minutes to play, when Julan looks up in his own half and plays a superb ball into the channel for Wissa to chase. Doucouré manages to force the Congolese striker wide enough that his shot flies into the stands, but apart from a short Zoun cameo and a knock picked up by Sissako, that's all she wrote.

I'll hold my hands up partially for that one. Yes, if I hadn't changed a winning system we might have got something out of the game, but equally if we had played the system properly we might have come away with something too. I cannot get over our defending for the first goal. It'll haunt my dreams tonight.

The late injury suffered by Abdoulaye Sissako is a twisted knee that'll keep him out for 9-12 days. He's not really impressed me so far. He picks up that many yellow cards when he does get on the pitch that he seems to be constantly suspended or injured, which isn't a good quality.

Zoun, who apparently has fucking awful timing, chooses now as the time to tell me that he wants to join Nice in Ligue 1. Not when we were on an unbeaten run, but straight after we lose. I humour him and we chat about a potential move. He thinks his value is £2.6M and I heartily disagree, valuing him at about £5M. He isn't happy.

Godspower Tower also thinks that this is a prime time to come and see me, making me check my trusty grey coat to see if someone's stuck a "Bother me while I'm pissed off" sign to my back. Tower wants first team football, which is reasonable as he's only played in our cup loss so far this season. Luckily for me, Captiste steps in and uses his Super Captaincy Powers to calm the big centre back down.

And just to pour some salt in the wound, Adama Ba's named in the Domino's Ligue 2 Team of the Week. On the face of it this might seem like good news, but he's won the accolade after his performance against Ajaccio in midweek and I dropped him for the very next match because I changed to a system that doesn't use wingers, so for me this is just rubbing in my poor decision making.

Ba's also won the Goal of the Month award for his lovely effort from 20 yards against Nîmes Olympique. It was a brilliant strike to be fair.

And while we're on the monthly awards, Hicham Aidir was the runner up in the Player of the Month award behind Wesley Saïd. Our striker's had a terrific month, bagging 4 goals in 5 games and taking his overall tally to 8 goals in his first 10 matches for Auxerre, which is just phenomenal.

After our next match against FC Metz some of our players will be heading off on International Duty. On loan full backs Billy and Ed Bolton are off to represent Morocco U20's and USA U20's respectively and Zoun, Raf, Ba, Lenogue, Aidir and Doucouré are joining up with their full national sides.

But let's make sure we have something to smile about during that 2 week break by beating FC Metz at Stade Abbé-Deschamps. Like our last opponents, Metz have made a distinctly average start to the season and currently sit in 11th place on 13 points. We should have these, surely.

I'm swallowing my pride and returning to Project: Meatloaf Mk II in the hope that we can recapture that good form. I want us to prove a point today though so we'll be attacking and play with more fluidity from the off. Foden and Ba are back in for Kakuba and Andre to take their places cutting inside from the wings. Aguilar's back to full fitness but to be fair Issa Samba has played very well in his absence, even against US Orléans (Aside from their opening goal, but I blame the entire defence equally for that), so I won't be dropping him today.

Metz set up to swamp the midfield with a flat 4-5-1 and it catches us by surprise. After 3 minutes Aidir runs into a brick wall when trying to run through them and they counter through lone striker Santini. He dribbles forwards and then plays the ball through for Millet, who runs through on goal. The midfielder tries to stroke the ball into the far top corner but he gets it ever so slightly wrong and the ball comes back off the underside of the bar and is cleared.

After that we start to settle into the game though and before a quarter of an hour's passed, we get a throw in on the right, level with the Metz penalty area. Samba throws it to Fomba, who gives it straight back. Samba looks up and passes inside to Phil Foden, who drills a cross into the centre. I think everyone, including Faouzi Hikem, is surprised when the ball falls to Faouzi Hikem's feet 8 yards out, but when it does he makes no mistake, blasting it into the bottom corner to put us ahead.

7 or 8 minutes later, Aidir dribbles forwards through FC Metz's half, but Paul Millet, clearly still upset about his earlier miss, hacks him down maliciously and earns himself a straight red card. Metz go to a narrow 4-1-3-1 and bring on defensive midfielder Soudani for left winger Bazile, and the substitute tries to rally his team a couple of minutes later with a shot from 20 yards, but on reflection it wasn't a good idea. The ball goes ballooning into the Stade Abbé-Deschamps crowd.

With 10 minutes to go before half time, Joël picks out Samba on the right in acres of space. Samba arcs a beautiful cross in to the far post and Ba arrives to meet it, but his headed effort hits the inside of the near post and rolls across the line, only to be cleared. A minute later we win a corner on the left and Foden goes across to take it. He curls a flat cross right onto the head of Lamine Fomba, who powers it past Dejanovic to open his account for the season. At least, that's what I think happens at first glance. What actually happens is that Lamine Fomba heads it goalwards and Hicham Aidir, stood right in front of the keeper and played onside by the defender marking the post, glances it into the net with the subtlest of touches. It's a poacher's goal but I won't begrudge him it. A top striker wants to get on the scoresheet whenever he possibly can and Hicham certainly fits that description. As we go into injury time he tries again after Phil Foden lays him off, shooting from the edge of the area and forcing a good save from Dejanovic, but at half time the score is 2-0.

Adama Ba comes into the changing room complaining about his calf. He must have tweaked it in the dying seconds of the half, so I bring him off as a precaution and bring Nathan Andre on in his place. Andre's not much of a winger so we change to a narrow 4-2-3-1 with Andre, Joël and Foden behind Aidir.

Just before the hour mark we get our third when Faouzi Hikem gets clear down the left wing and pulls the ball back for Phil Foden, who arrives on the edge of the 6 yard box and slides the ball home. I punch the air when that one goes in. With every goal or assist Phil racks up, his confidence will get slightly higher and hopefully he'll be able to put together some consistent good performances.
Muratovic has a weak attempt at our goal 20 minutes from time but FC Metz already look defeated. The sending off really destroyed them I think, although I would've still backed us to beat them with 11 men. I give Raf a cameo a few minutes later, but nothing else of note happens before the final whistle.

Today was a sneak peek of Phil Foden on top form and it was brilliant to watch. A goal and 2 assists sees him receive the Man of the Match award, just edging out Faouzi Hikem, who I've also had doubts about and who also had a fantastic match. If I can get these 2 playing like this consistently then we've got a couple of very good players on our hands.

Fundamentally Wrong (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep128)

The 2 week International break is a chance for me to collect my thoughts after a hectic start to the season. We've really made a better start than I could've hoped for. Everyone's pulling their weight and even Phil Foden's starting to show why I broke my personal transfer record to bring him in, although not consistently. Overall I'm really happy. And why shouldn't I be, we're 2nd in the bloody league!

There was some good news and bad news to come out of our 3-0 win over Metz. I took Adama Ba off at half time as a precaution after he tweaked a muscle in his thigh and it turns out that he strained it, so he misses the entire International break, which is good timing if you think about it. On the upside though, we had 4 players in the Domino's Ligue 2 Team of the Week. Phil Foden and Faouzi Hikem are both in after they had fantastic games against Metz and I mentioned after the match how pleased I were that they were starting to show their undoubted quality, but the other 2 pleasing inclusions are Issa Samba and Mamadou Doucouré, who I really had pegged as back up players about a month ago. Doucouré's been spurred on after his debut penalty miss though and is putting together a mean partnership at the back with Captiste, while Issa's barely put a foot wrong since coming in for the injured Ruben Aguilar.

I then get some more bad news though and it really is pretty bad. The jewel of our academy, Nathan Andre, slips a disc in training and will miss up to 3 months. This is bad news on a number of levels: Firstly, he's an excellent prospect and I don't want to see his development hindered, and secondly he was my backup striker in the absence of Florian Ayé, so it's looking like until the New Year we'll be relying solely on Aidir and possibly our functional target man Romain Montiel to score the goals. Romain's a nice lad, but if Hicham gets injured before January our attack will be about as threatening as a crayon drawing of Bob Ross in a Pikachu onesie.

Anyway, the rest of the squad come through the break unscathed and are raring to go by the time our visit to Niort rolls around. Chamois Niortais have had a rough start. They were predicted to finish safe in midtable but early signs are that they're in serious trouble. They're currently propping up the League having won 1 and lost 7 of their first 11 matches.

They need to be respected though of course. Besides the fact that their luck might change and propel them back into mediocrity, they play with a narrow 4-3-3, the prospect of which always makes me anxiously furrow my brow slightly. The match will come a few days too soon for Adama Ba so Corentin Tirard will come in and have another chance to show me that he deserves to be here, although my patience is waring thin with him. We'll stick with Project: Meatloaf Mk II but we'll play very narrow as we do against these narrow formations.

After 10 minutes of the match, Tirard gets on the ball and does actually contribute, playing it inside for Joël. The playmaker dribbles to the edge of the box but shoots just wide of the far post. The rest of the half is nothing much to write home about aside from a chance about 7 minutes before half time, when Fomba squares the ball to Aidir. He plays it on to Tirard, who thwacks it at goal first time with his weaker right foot, but Allagbé pulls a save out of the top draw, tipping the ball against the post at full stretch. To be fair to Tirard, he's certainly caught my attention so far.

The second half is even less action packed than the first, believe it or not, and with 25 minutes to go I bring Tirard off, replacing him with Zoun to stretch the defence as they tire. He'll go onto the right flank and Foden will swap over to the left. With 10 minutes to play I also hook Hicham Aidir, who's been quiet as a mouse all game. I could do without that kind of performance from him after Andre's recent injury. Montiel comes on in his place as we trudge towards the final whistle.

Seconds later though, Fomba gets on the ball and looks up, assessing his options. Chamois Niortais have over-extended somewhat while looking for the breakthrough and are furiously pack-pedalling as our midfielder plays a direct ball forward to Montiel, who plays it first time into the acres of space in front of Zoun on the right wing. The 400 travelling fans roar with appreciation as the Burkinabe winger strides into the box, while 4 white shirts arrive just behind him. Zoun pulls the ball back towards Montiel on the penalty spot - But the pass is just behind the target man. There's a half-second of silence as the chance appears to be gone, before another white shirt arrives. Zoun's pass wasn't meant for Montiel, it was meant for Phil bloody Foden, who strokes the ball into the bottom corner of the net to score what turns out to be the winning goal.

After the initial jubilation dies down, I'm not quite sure how I feel about that performance. We scored an 81st minute winner against the team at the bottom of the league at the end of a so-so match. On reflection though, our defenders all impressed and restricted the opposition's 3 strikers to pot shots all day. Plus, I'm not going to overthink this one. We did dominate and although Hicham had an off day, we managed to find the net. I was impressed with Montiel's part in the goal too, receiving the ball with his back to goal, playing it quickly into space for a quicker man and sprinting into the box to try and get on the scoresheet. Maybe he'll be decent backup after all.

I get collared by a couple of my fringe players in the week leading up to our next match. Bingourou Kamara's the first to come to me complaining about first team football, but luckily Captiste's with me and manages to calm him down instantly. I don't know how he does it. He's like Phoebe in that one episode of Friends where she has a knack for breaking up with people. Just a couple of seconds of quiet conversation, then hug it out and everything's sorted before you can say "Clunky popular culture reference".

Amine Chassaing's also unhappy with his playing time and he tells me that he wants to go out on loan. As Captiste opens his mouth to fucking hypnotise him or whatever he does though, I hold out a hand to stop him because I think it's a brilliant idea. Chassaing could do with regular football and he won't fit into my team at the minute, so I agree to try and sort him out with a loan move.

Our win over Chamois Niortais hasn't gotten us any closer to table topping Bourg-en-Bresse, which is annoying. They're keeping a 4 point cushion over us as they continue their fantastic 12 match unbeaten run. All we can do to try and catch them is to keep winning and wait for them to slip up, so I'm expecting us to beat Red Star FC in front of our own fans today. Red Star are doing fine so far in the League, currently sitting 6 places above their pre-season predicted place in 10th. They're in decent form but so are we. And we've kept 2 clean sheets in a row.

Red Star play a narrow 4-1-3-2, which is an interesting formation. There's not much sense playing narrow like we do against, say, Chamois Niortais' 4-3-3, because this particular narrow system shouldn't overload us that much going forwards, but will probably be quite difficult to break down. With that in mind I'm breaking out the Meatloaf. We're the home side so I want us to dominate and peg them back in their own half. We've got the quality to find a way through if we can get them under the thumb. Adama Ba's fit again so he'll come in for the pretty ineffective Tirard on the left, cutting inside with Foden while we get our full backs overlapping again and helping to dominate the final third.

We're behind within 15 minutes when midfielder Coulibaly chips a lovely ball through for Crnicki, who shows great technique in half-volleying the ball into the bottom corner of Lenogue's net. The next 20 minutes are a pretty even affair but our situation worsens as we approach half time, when Loïc Goujon recklessly trips Red Star striker Bailly as he holds the ball up, earning a second yellow and a red. I respond by dropping Joël back into midfield alongside Fomba and giving our full backs more attacking responsibility. We will now go a bit narrower and exploit the flanks with those attacking full backs.

At half time it's still a level game in every aspect but the scoreline and the number of players on the pitch. For the second half we'll go more attacking as we need to find a way back in. On the hour though we've still not found an equaliser so Aidir becomes a target man who'll hold the ball up as we build up play around him. We'll also go more direct to him. For all my tactical tweaks, we're 2-0 down less than a minute later when Cros chips the ball up for Crnicki on the edge of the box. It's a nice little lay up and Crnicki capitalises, fizzing his volley into the bottom corner to double his side's advantage.

With just over 20 minutes to go, Fomba and Berthé challenge for a header in midfield and Fomba pushes him right in the back needlessly. My head's in my hands as the referee shows him his second yellow and Auxerre's second red. "Get off the fucking pitch" I spit as our midfielder shuffles towards the tunnel, shaking his head in disbelief. He glances up at me gives me a dismissive look as he goes past. I'm furious. This is the first time while I've been at Auxerre where I feel like I've actually been out-thought by my opposite number. My tactics were wrong from the start and that's why we're losing, but having 9 men certainly doesn't fucking help. Certain that the game's already over, I rejig our formation with little confidence that it'll improve our situation. We swap to a pretty pathetic looking 2-2-3-1 formation with a centre back pairing, 2 attacking wing backs, a midfield trio of ball winner Sissako, subbed on for Ba, and playmakers Joël and Foden. Aidir cuts a lonely figure up front.

We go route one from that point on and it only takes 5 minutes for the changes to have an effect. A pretty nice looking Auxerre move ends with Joël picking out Hikem in space on the left wing. The wing back gets to the byline and whips a delicious cross in to the far post, straight onto the head of Aidir who's standing a couple of yards out. He nods it wide as the 5000 Auxerre fans groan in unison, echoing my feelings. I'm going back to my flat. This has been a remarkably frustrating day.

Somehow the match was still very very even if you look back over the match stats. We and Red Star both managed 12 shots and 5 on target, we had 51% of the ball, but we fouled nearly twice as much as they did. It gets me thinking. I don't tell my teams to go out kicking the opposition about, but we do pick up a lot of cards and my Santos side broke the record for number of booking points picked up in a PSL season. The only explanation that I can think of is my philosophy. I like battlers. I like players who'd rather stick a foot in than shy away from a challenge. Maybe days like this are inevitable when you approach football like I do. Maybe my approach is fundamentally wrong, I don't know. All I know is that even with 11 men we would've been beaten fair and square today and I've got to do better.

Tribune Leclerc (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 128.5)

I'm sitting in the Tribune Leclerc stand in Stade Abbé-Deschamps. Right at the back of the balcony against the back wall. I can see the entire pitch from up here without even turning my head. Why is it that Managers don't sit up here? Why don't we direct the match from on high where it's easier to see the shape of the teams? I stroke Burnie, who's curled up asleep on the seat to my right. Not sure where Meatloaf's got to though, somebody let him out before.

"I wouldn't worry about me", says Meatloaf. Or... Is that Meatloaf? I turn my head to the left to see that it is indeed him strolling on his hind legs up the row of seats towards me: A 6 foot cat in full victorian English garb, top hat and all. "May I?" He asks as he reaches me, gesturing to the adjoining seat. I pull it down for him and watch him sit. I've always liked the markings on Meatloaf's fur. He's mostly light brown but with dark stripes all over his face and body, including two v-shaped lines above his eyes that resemble eyebrows. And then there's the white trail from his chin down to his big white belly and the trademark white hourglass shape above his nose.

"Do you want to know your problem, Franjo?" He asks casually. I say nothing. "You're too reactionary, my friend. Your emotions too often rule your decisions." I look at him quizzically, but not wanting to piss off what is by definition a "Big Cat", I wait patiently for him to continue. He takes off his hat and holds it on his lap as he looks into my eyes sympathetically. "Take this afternoon for example: You lost a football match and questioned your own philosophy on the game as a result. Stick by your convictions, for crying out loud. If you want battling footballers, you've got to accept the rough with the smooth. You're going to pick up more points from losing positions than you would with other less..." He clears his throat as he searches for the word and a fur ball the size of a tennis ball plops out, bounces off the top of his hat and splats onto the ground. "...Combative players," He continues as if nothing had happened, "But they're also going to bloody battle, aren't they?"

"But I don't want to be a Manager that sends his side out to break legs and pick up 10 cards a game, that's not how I want to win."

"Have you explicitly told one of your sides to do that?" Asks Meatloaf, raising his 'eyebrows'.

"Well, no... Well, maybe... A couple of times at most, but no. No, not usually."

"Then there's a world of difference, isn't there. You aren't creating the new Crazy Gang, you just surround yourself with players who want to win and aren't afraid to put their bodies on the line to do it." He puts a paw on my shoulder. "Don't overthink this one, old friend." He winks and gives me a broad smile. I smile back at my over-sized moggie.

After a moment, I ask "How do you know about the Crazy Gang? You were born in... 2012-ish?" Meatloaf looks taken aback.

"Wikipedia mainly", he replies curtly, drumming his claws absent-mindedly on the top of his hat. I nod slowly and we sit in silence for a moment. If anything his answer raises more questions. I turn back to him, ready to ask another, when without warning he leans over and licks me right on the bridge of my nose. His breath smells of fish and his tongue is unpleasantly coarse.

"What the fuck are you..."

"MOW?" he squeaks, his eyes suddenly wide and glazed over. "MOW!" he cries again, almost impatiently. As he leans over and licks my nose a second time my eyes open to see Meatloaf, the real Meatloaf, looking down at me curiously.

Seeing me wake, he jumps softly down from my chest onto the floor and starts padding away to his empty food bowl, where he turns and waits patiently for me to follow. I swing my legs out of bed and check the clock on my phone. 1am. Pretty much spot on. I can't have been asleep very long. I stand up and shuffle over to fill the food bowl and Meatloaf digs in delightedly. I give him a scratch behind the ear and smile. He doesn't know it, but he's spot on.

Surprise Heroes (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep129)

I've been in a surprisingly good mood this week. Since I showered off that filthy display against Red Star I've remembered it only as a blip. A single ugly brush stroke on the masterpiece that has been Auxerre's start to the season. I've been in such a good mood that I tied up new contracts with several players: Backup goalies Bingourou Kamara and Anthony Gasnier, right back Issa Samba, who I started the season unsure about but who has proved his worth, and Mike Kakuba, who for some reason I had only given a 2 year contract when he signed a few months ago.

To brighten the mood even further, the draw for the French Cup 7th round is drawn too, with Auxerre pit against AS Tiercé Cheffes, a small semi-pro side. Putting aside the fact that we've already been dumped out of one cup by lower league opposition, this is a really kind draw for us.

And then my good mood plummets when head physio Mathieu Debain walks into my office with a rain cloud over his head. We've suffered yet another long term injury to one of our young stars, this time Alessandro Bassani, our sought after left winger. A broken ankle. He hadn't made it into my team so far but with my faith in Corentin Tirard ever dwindling, he was getting closer. He's now out for 4 months, which is a big shame for a young lad with a lot of potential.

So that's sufficiently brought me down ahead of our away match at Clermont Foot, who are 9th in Ligue 2 and only 4 points behind us. Clermont manager Corrine Diacre is the only female manager in the league and she's something of a local hero, having been in charge of the club for over 7 years and making them almost a nailed on top 7 side.

Unsurprisingly I've got some changes to make today after my usual central midfield partnership both got themselves a 1 match suspension with their sendings off last week. Sissako and Raf come in to replace Fomba and Goujon while I heed the advice of my cat Meatloaf and stick with the system that I named after him.

39 seconds. 39 seconds is all it takes for L'AJA to put together a passing move, for Phil Foden to cut inside with the ball, to lay it off and for Abdoulaye Sissako to fire us ahead from 12 yards. 39 seconds. 2 minutes and 58 seconds later we're 2 up. While I stand gobsmacked on the touchline, Joël tees the ball up for Sissako again and the midfielder takes a touch and smashes it goalwards from 20 yards. Unfortunately the ball takes a wicked deflection on the way into the net off centre back Nathan Dekoké and goes down as an own goal, but Sissako clearly has a point to prove today.

As the half hour mark approaches we're still winning 2-0, but Clermont are trying to find a way back. Doucouré switches off for a second while marking lone striker and former Lazio, Aston Villa and Czech Republic player Libor Kozák and he times his run through the defence perfectly just as Jobello feeds a pass through to him. Kozák stabs the ball at goal but Lenogue makes a good save, sending the ball behind for a corner. We go slightly narrower to try and prevent that kind of chance from reoccurring and the scores remain unchanged at half time.

The second half is a quiet one. Hicham Aidir has now turned in 3 goalless performances in a row, which normally wouldn't make me bat an eyelid, but he's Hicham bloody Aidir. I bring him off on the hour to give Montiel another run out, while Tirard comes on for the last 15 minutes. In the end though an extremely dominant performance allows us to come away from Clermont with a 2-0 victory.

Abdoulaye Sissako, who I didn't think much of yesterday, has turned heads with that performance. Arguably 2 goals in 4 minutes, a Man of the Match award and a Team of the Week selection all from a day's work makes me want to keep a very close eye on him.

We're meant to be playing our Cup match against AS Tiercé Cheffes during the international break in a couple of weeks time, but I request to have it postponed. Zoun, Aidir, Raf and Lenogue have all been called up by their respective countries and although our striker and keeper are probably due a rest, the other 2 could well feature and I want them available.

The good news in regards to our position in the league is that Bourg-en-Bresse have only taken 1 point from their last 2 matches, which has allowed us to emerge from the chasing pack and just about catch up with them, only 2 points behind. The bad news is that our next opponents are the only team so far that have been able to beat them: Groupe Sportif Consolat, who join us for a "Fan Day" in Stade Abbé-Deschamps.

They're 6th and performing far above their predicted level, having been one of the favourites to go down this year. They were very nearly relegated last year too, but stormed back from a 1-2 home loss to win the relegation playoff 5-3 on aggregate against GFC Ajaccio.

Adama bruises his shin in training the day before this one, which is annoying as it coincides with a suspension for Faouzi Hikem, who picked up his 3rd booking in 10 games as we beat Clermont Foot. Our entire left side needs to change and I'm already worried about this rejuvenated Consolat side. The play a narrow diamond 4-4-2 so we're going to Project: Meatloaf Mk II. We'll play ultra narrow to counter their strategy as we so often do, and in terms of personnel Mike Kakuba starts in defence for the first time since his injury 2 and a half months ago when he was ousted by Doucouré, who will move across to left back where he's fairly competent. Tirard will come in on the left wing, where he'll provide width while Doucouré just stays back and keeps his defensive position as I don't want to overstretch him. You'll also notice that Lamine Fomba and Loïc Goujon are back from suspension and will be watching from the bench. Let this be a lesson to everyone else that fancies an early bath.

I knew we'd be in for a scrappy match and the first 25 minutes is predictably tight. I want us to take control though so we'll push on slightly. It nearly works after just 5 minutes when Samba wins the ball 25 yards out on the right and chips a lovely cross to the far post on the turn. Of all people Joël rises to get his head to the ball and sends it looping back across goal towards the top corner, but it clips against the bar and falls to Phil Foden, before Bozic steps in and scoops the ball into his arms. Consolat have their own chance a minute or so later when striker Umut Bozok hits a pot shot from about 25 yards and sends it oh so wide.

With 6 minutes to play before the break Sissako drives forward into opposition territory. He spots Phil Foden in a central position 25 yards out and fires the ball into his feet. Foden controls it well and shows good vision by playing a little reverse ball to Tirard, who's in space on the edge of the box. The winger gets the ball out of his feet and boots it straight down the centre of goal, but it has enough power to take it past Bozic and into the net. Well I never. It may only be temporary, but Corentin Tirard's just put us top of the league.

The second half, much like in our last match, is quiet. Again, Montiel comes on for the worryingly subdued Hicham Aidir, but the match ends with only a single goal scored.

The board are disappointed that the fan day game wasn't a 5-4 end to end barnstormer of a match, but by definition most of the crowd got their tickets for free so they got what they paid for.

That sort of thing won't cause club attendances to skyrocket, but do you know what will? AJ Auxerre sitting on top of Ligue 2 with 15 games played, separated from 2nd place Bourg-en-Bresse by 3 goals. Now we just need to stay here for 23 more games. How difficult can that be?

Nightmare Fuel (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep130)

"Franjo, rumours have been circulating in the papers that you're under consideration for the Montpellier job, is there any truth in that?"

"Well you'd have to ask Montpellier that, wouldn't you?" I smirk. I quite enjoy riling up the press, especially young reporters that are still wet behind the ears. The young man goes bright red.

"B-but they do need someone with your experience in fighting relegation?" He replies. It's more of a statement than a question.

"They certainly do need someone, but my cats have only just finished marking my new flat with their scent, so I'd feel bad about leaving at the minute." A chuckle goes around the press conference.

I've heard the rumours, of course I have. Montpellier have sacked their former defender-turned-Manager Daniel Congré with the club in 18th, having just lost 0-3 3 games on the bounce. To be fair those matches were against Lyon, PSG and Monaco so I think it's a bit harsh. I've got no interest in the job though. I don't see why I would leave a club so clearly on an upwards trajectory for one in free fall.

This is yet another problem with International breaks. In the age of social media and 24 hour news, 2 weeks without football sends fans into catatonic states of boredom that the media combat by making mountains out of molehills, by which I mean making news out of rumours. I don't mind them though, it's quite fun watching the press grope around for any kind of clue they can find. The only news I care about is AJ Auxerre news and after playing in his 15th game for the club, Ivorian playmaker Joël Soumahoro has received a small pay bump. Nice one, Joël.

The next lip smacking piece of gossip making it's way around the Centre de Formation is that the French 8th round draw has been made. We're still yet to play our 7th round tie but if we win we'll be up against Derby de la N77 rivals ESTAC Troyes, who I've already seen off twice since I arrived in France.

There's good and bad news on the injury front: 4th choice striker Romain Montiel sprains his ankle in training and will miss up to 4 weeks of action. This isn't ideal as he joins Florian Ayé and Nathan Andre on our list of injured strikers and at the moment Hicham Aidir is on an uncharacteristic dry spell. The good news is that Florian is back in light training after his horrific achilles injury, but the other bad news is that he's still a long way off being ready to play. Even after he rejoins full training he's going to need nurturing back to fitness.

I then get a rap-rap-rap on my office door. It's Marc François, a versatile forward from the academy. He's unhappy with his game-time and wants a loan move, but Captiste talks him round with one of his trademark hypnotic captain's speeches. It's ironic that Marc came to see me about his lack of game time actually, because with my 3 back ups injured, he's next in line and will actually be on the bench today as we travel to Stade Malherbe Caen.

Stade Malherbe Caen have without a doubt been the League's biggest underachievers so far. They finished 18th in Ligue 1 last year, only 3 points from safety and were predicted to win Ligue 2 at a canter as they bounce straight back, but with over a third of the season gone they're sat in 10th place below several teams that were predicted to struggle, like Groupe Sportif Consolat, Red Star and US Orléans. This is one of those situations that feels like a trap though. The predicted title winners lying dormant in midtable, lulling me into a false sense of security before suddenly switching it on and battering us.

I only make a couple of changes after our generally fine performance before the break. Faouzi Hikem is back from suspension and replaces Mike Kakuba, who struggled at centre back on a rare start, with Mamadou Doucouré sliding back into the centre to accommodate Hikem. I also bring in Lamine Fomba for Joël, who picked up his 3rd yellow in 10 matches last time out and is suspended for this one. Adama Ba's fit again but is kept out of the lineup by Tirard, who might actually be ready to show me why he was touted as one of our best players when I joined and as I mentioned before it's a first call up the match day squad for Marc François.

As I feared, Stade Malherbe Caen come roaring out of the traps. With just 3 minutes gone they put together a fine passing move on the edge of our box and Abergel ends up with the ball at his feet in space to the left of goal. He shoots for the near top corner with Lenogue hideously out of position but luckily the ball bounces back off the post and is cleared by Samba. 5 minutes later we push forward ourselves. Fomba slides the ball forward to Aidir 25 yards out, who turns and chips it beautifully into Foden's path. Foden just needs to direct the ball into either corner and we'll take the lead, but he fires it straight at Didillon, who palms it around the post. We go on the counter as aside from that chance, the hosts have been pushing hard so far.

10 minutes later Caen find themselves with a corner on the left and their Egyptian former Anderlecht winger Trezeguet goes over to take it. He swings the ball over to the far post and Portuguese centre back Pedro Mendes rises above his marker Aidir to head home the opening goal. Another 5 minutes pass before we win a free kick on the left wing, level with the opposition box. Tirard whips a cross in which Sissako flicks on, sending the ball looping over defenders and onto the boot of Phil Foden, who volleys it against the bar from 6 yards. This might not be our day. It's definitely not Phil's.

It's not Trezeguet's either. He gets stretchered off with only 27 minutes on the clock and it looks like a particularly nasty one. He was sprinting into our half with space all around him before suddenly hitting the deck, howling in pain. Fingers crossed it's nothing too serious. At half time I bring off Raf, who's still pretty knackered after spending the last 2 weeks playing for Madagascar's National side. Goujon comes on in his place and we head back out to attack.

10 minutes after the restart I hook Tirard, who's been quiet again. I can't give him many more chances. Ba comes on and as he and Foden will be cutting in we'll have our full backs charge up the wings beyond the 2 wide men. The change takes only 8 minutes to pay off, when Ba holds the ball up in the centre, plays ahead of the rampaging Hikem and he floats in a brilliant cross to the far post, where Foden arrives to head in the equaliser. Game on.

With a quarter of an hour to play I bring François on for his debut in place of Aidir, who's in the middle of a really bad spell at this point. The game is still tied at 1-1 heading for the end of 90 minutes, but then something utterly terrible happens. Bouzat receives the ball on the left wing and plays what I can only describe as a "Pea-roll-cross" straight at our near post. Lenogue has a howler, misjudging the shitty, trickling little pass and letting it bounce off his shin and out to Osaguona, who tucks the ball into the empty net from point blank range.

Lenogue feels the full force of my wrath in the changing room after the referee's whistle confirms our 1-2 defeat. Top of the league and minutes away from a good point against one of the best quality squads in the league and we're undone by a stupid mistake like that. I'm fuming.

Malherbe Caen's victory came at a huge price I'm afraid. Trezeguet's injury is about as serious as they come - He's damaged his cruciate ligaments and is almost certainly out for the season. It's never good to see something like that, even happening to a rival. At least we get to blow that result away with a nice easy Cup tie against lower league opposition though. Our last cup match didn't go all that well but that was against a side that narrowly missed out on Promotion to Ligue 2, whereas Tiercé Cheffes are down in the regionals somewhere.

I'm that confident that I'm making 11 changes again. Kamara starts in net so that Lenogue can spend some time in the stands thinking about what he's done, while Aguilar, Kakuba, Tower and Mombris make up the back 4. Fomba and Basauri are our central midfield duo with Zoun, Chassaing and Tirard behind François. We'll look to control the match and play some fluid football with Project: Meatloaf. I 100% expect a victory.

We get off to a good start under 10 minutes in when Zoun releases Captain-for-the-day Aguilar down the right, who sends a cross into the 6 yard box. Romero heads it away as far as Zoun, who chips it back into the mixer again and this time François powers a header against the bar, but when the centre back Ugo Henry swings a boot to clear the ball he smashes it against his team mate Gérald Lafon. The ball bounces straight past the keeper to open the scoring. The own goal's credited to Henry, which really confuses me as he was the one specifically kicking away from the goal. Best not to overthink it though

10 minutes later after Tirard's free kick is cleared, Zoun crosses the ball into the Tiercé box again and Kakuba heads it goalwards, but it's blocked by a defender on the line. With 5 minutes to go before the break we go close again when another Aguilar cross is once again headed against the bar by full debutant François, but seconds later Mombris drills a low cross into the box and Zoun's tripped as he goes to latch onto it, winning a penalty. Tirard dispatches it coolly into the bottom corner to double our lead.

If I were the Tiercé boss I'd want nothing more than an opportunity to regroup at the break, but being the complete set of bastards we are, we don't let them get there. With under a minute of normal time to play Zoun drills a low cross in from the right byline. In an attempt to hoof the ball clear, Lafon, who contributed to the opening own goal, smacks the ball - Against fellow centre back Thibaut Bonnet, sending it careening into the bottom corner. Oh lads.

I'm willing to bet that our half time team talk was a lot more laid back than our opposition's. In all fairness they look more resolute after the break and it takes 18 whole minutes for us to add our fourth. An outswinging Tirard corner is headed back across goal by Zoun at the far post and nodded in by Lamine Fomba. Job done, I bring off Chassaing and introduce Hicham Aidir in the hopes that he'll break his goal drought. He doesn't, but you can't blame me for trying. 4-0 it ends.

This match will have been nightmare fuel for a lot of the Tiercé players, especially Gérald Lafon, who orchestrated both own goals without being credited with one. We'll be facing our rivals ESTAC Troyes in the 8th round, which I can't wait for. We can win that. We can keep progressing. Even though we've slipped back down to 2nd in Ligue 2 below new chart toppers Angers SCO, which is clear evidence that I should focus on the league, I can't help but wonder if this could be the year that I finally get my hands on a cup. I mean, it's almost certainly not as Monaco and PSG seem to keep this particular trophy between them on some sort of timeshare scheme, but I can still dream.

Hicham's Hurdle (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep131)

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Hicham,” I reassure him, handing the striker a cup of tea and taking my own round to the other side of my desk. “Every striker goes through a bit of a quiet spell. And every winger, midfielder, defender, keeper... Everyone has rough patches. Did I ever tell you about a certain 3 months of my spell in Katowice?”

“I think so”, he replies, blowing on his tea to cool it down, “No wins?”

“Not a one. It’s frustrating but you do come through it eventually. Unless you’re Nikica Jelavić. Nikica Jelavić is the only one I can think of who never came through it.” I grin at Hicham, who chuckles quietly before taking a sip of his tea. “I just wanted to have a chat and make sure you’re not beating yourself up over it, that’s all.”

Hicham nods. “It is frustrating but I’ll come through it. Thanks boss.”

I don’t worry about Hicham Aidir. I know full well that he'll be banging them in again soon as long as he backs himself. For the time being though I’m going to give him a bit of a different role for our next match against RC Strasbourg. Strasbourg are down in the relegation zone after a difficult first half of the season in which they were projected to finish in lower midtable. We’ll be starting with a standard Project: Meatloaf with Lenogue in net, Samba, Captiste, Doucouré and Hikem across the back, Fomba and Raf in midfield and Foden, Joël and Ba behind Aidir. Seeing as Aidir’s not scored and frankly hasn’t played at all well in 4 games now, he’ll play as a target man today. If he isn’t scoring we can at least get him involved and use his physical presence to hold the ball up so that he can play in his team mates. We'll need to get plenty of bodies around him as Strasbourg play with an intriguing 3-2-3-2 featuring a sweeper, so if anything they have too many players in defence.

Their 8 man defence doesn't help them in the early stages. It takes 7 minutes for us to break Strasbourg's resolve when Hikem's outswinging corner is headed clear as far as Issa Samba. The right back takes the ball down well, steps into the box and clips it into the top corner. The early goal settles us down nicely and we dominate the first half hour with the visitors barely able to get a look in.

With 10 minutes to go before half time, Foden whips a cross in from the right and Ba arrives at the far post to get a header on goal, but Konaté heads it off the line. He does well but not well enough, as he realises when the ball bounces straight back to Ba and he volleys in our 2nd from close range. Less than 2 minutes later we go 3 up courtesy of a long Foden ball from a deep free kick that's nodded on into the 6 yard box by Captiste and tucked home by the unmarked Faouzi Hikem. What a first half.

Strasbourg start the second half much better but don't really manage any good chances. The next best chance is ours once again when Foden hits a free kick from 25 yards out, curling it against the bar. The ball's cleared but we work it back up to the box where Foden gets back on it. He squares it for Joël, who puts his laces through the ball from the edge of the box, sending it fizzing into the bottom corner for 4-0. This is an absolute massacre. I give a run out to François for the last 20 minutes and we come away from the game with a resounding win.

While we were busy giving Strasbourg plenty of kick off practice, 3rd place Bourg-en-Bresse were defeating League leaders Angers SCO, which suits us perfectly as we were previously below Angers on goal difference and above Bourg on goal difference. That result lifts us back up to the top of the table, with Bourg-en-Bresse snapping at our heels just 7 goals behind. Angers actually slip down to 4th below Stade de Reims, who beat CS Sedan Ardennes to join the top 3 party. Seriously though, the top 4's starting to break away from the rest and it's getting pretty heated up here.

Unsurprisingly over half of that dominant Auxerre team make it into the Ligue 2 Team of the Week, including the entire back 4 of Samba, Captiste, Doucouré and Hikem, who are joined by Joël Soumahoro and Adama Ba. It's actually a bit disappointing that Phil Foden isn't thought to warrant a place as he had a great game, and although Hicham Aidir's performance as a target man was much better than he's turned in in a few weeks, there's no room in the league's elite side for him either.

Next up is CS Sedan Ardennes at their place, fresh from the aforementioned defeat against Stade de Reims. Our form's still a little bit hit and miss so another win today would be much appreciated. 3 wins in a row would represent some much needed consistency and momentum.

We'll be without last match's first goalscorer Issa Samba as the booking he picked up against Strasbourg took him to 3 in his last 10, so Ruben Aguilar comes in. Other than that though we're unchanged.

It's a scrappy start with both teams prodding and testing each other out in the opening stages. The first decent chance is Aldo Kalulu's pot shot 25 yards out from our goal, but he puts it wide. 10 minutes later though Ardennes' centre back Milan hoofs the ball into our box for Kalulu to chase and as he gets to the ball, he's tripped by Captiste. The home side have a penalty. Kalulu steps up himself and powerfully converts the spot kick to the top left of Lenogue's goal. 0-1.

We were undone by a long ball into a channel while our defence was pushed a bit too high, so we go on the counter and play a bit narrower after the goal, but at half time we're still trailing. I try to give the lads some quiet confidence by telling them that they've been unlucky, but 15 seconds after the restart Kalulu tees up Konaté on the edge of our box, who drives the ball low at goal and forces a good save from Lenogue. That could've been game over.

10 minutes later we still aren't getting a sniff apart from the odd pot shot. Faupala barges down the wing past Aguilar with power and whips a cross in from the left byline, which Bettoni meets at the far post, nodding the ball into the back of the net for 0-2. Bollocks. We go all out attack from that point on, pushing our defensive line further up, closing down more to try and win the ball back further up the pitch. None of it's to any avail. I bring on Zoun for Foden on the right as an extra injection of pace, but still nothing.

With 25 minutes to go Kalulu plays a fantastic ball into the box for Bettoni. The winger's 12 yards out and has the whole goal to aim at. He has to score - But he skies his shot. That's the last real action of the match and the only positive to come out of this game is that it finishes 0-2 and not 0-3, because it really should be.

I feel like I'm digging a hole on the beach while the tide's coming in. At times it seems like a perfectly good hole but then a wave comes along, fills it half back up with sand and I'm just left to shrug my shoulders and start digging again. It's quite infuriating that we can't put a run of results together. Don't get me wrong, that loss leaves us in 2nd place in the league and that still absolutely eclipses my earlier expectations for this season, but when you've got a squad of such clear quality you need consistency. I don't know, maybe I'm overthinking it again, that's only our 5th loss in almost half a season after all. Time will tell I suppose. We've now got 3 matches to go before the winter break and I want 9 points on the board so that we can take some momentum into 2022. Let's get it done.

The Swedish Behemoth and The Man on Fire (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep132)

Faouzi Hikem's really starting to grow on me, you know. When I came in he was overhyped maybe a little too much, leaving me underwhelmed with what I saw in person. Like Avatar. I watched closely and beneath the obvious positives I saw the flaws in his execution. A lot like Avatar. When you think about it, Avatar just wasn't that good a film. Faouzi's had a pretty good start to the season though and has had a good November in particular, which sees him scoop 3rd place in the Ligue 2 Player of the Month award, with the winner and runner up both having had fantastic months for Angers.

With the winter break mere weeks away it's time to play our French Cup 8th round tie against our rivals ESTAC Troyes, a side that I've enjoyed playing against very much in my Auxerre career so far. The match at the Stade de l'Aube also happens to be my 200th in football. Where does the time go, eh? The local media are trying to hype it up a bit but to be honest it's just another match for me. The French Cup represents our last chance of having a good cup run this season and I want a professional performance to see off our pesky neighbours.

Troyes recently booted their manager Benoît Cheyrou after their not so stellar run of games left them languishing near the bottom of the table. In his place I'll line up today against former Le Havre stalwart Thierry Uvenard, who's taking control of the first team until a new manager is appointed.

Thierry's got his own ideas about how the team should be playing and will set up with a novel narrow 4-1-2-2-1 formation against us today. In response I'm going to be mixing things up a bit myself. We'll go with a narrow variant on Project: Burnie Mk III, but instead of a flat back 3 I'll be pushing one of the centre backs forward into the base of midfield, giving us a sturdy 2-1-2 in the centre to take care of the potential threat of those 2 attacking midfielders. I want us bombing up the flanks through our wing backs as it's where the home side will be most exposed. The full team is Lenogue in net, Captiste and Doucouré at the back, Samba, Raf and Hikem in front of them, Fomba and Goujon in the centre of midfield and we'll have Joël behind the 2 strikers. Except we don't exactly... Have 2 strikers, do we? We have 1 out of form target man and 3 injured back ups. Still, this seems as good a time as any to go with a front 2 as maybe it'll help Aidir out to have someone up there with him, so I'm dead set on the idea. After careful deliberation I decide to throw Abdoulaye Sissako up top. I mean, yes he's a midfielder, yes he's never played a game as a striker in his life, but he is a hard worker and a good physical presence. All I want him to do is close down the defenders and play in Hicham, so he's only really an elevated ball winning midfielder.

20 minutes in we're handed a gift wrapped chance when a bad back pass from Martial leaves Sissako one on one with Troyes' keeper. He steps around Bernardoni and tries to clip the ball in from a narrow angle, but he can only hit the outside of the post. I think that's probably a good indicator of how this little experiment's going to turn out, isn't it.

We are at least dominating the first half though and as the half hour mark edges closer we put together a patient passing move that ends up back with Captiste on the half way line. He brings the ball forwards in acres of space before firing it over onto the right wing, where Samba's waiting to nod it inside. Joël controls the ball well and brings it past the centre back, leaving him clear to drill it into the far bottom corner. Get in, Joël. 1-0.

In first half injury time Troyes get the ball in the back of the net themselves when an Azamoum corner comes into the mixer. Dingomé does his best Maradona impression and palms the ball skilfully into the net, but it won't count. We've had the upper hand so far so I tell the Auxerre team at half time to close down the opposition more to force mistakes and really make our domination count.

With nearly a quarter of an hour of the second half gone we're playing some really nice football. Goujon passes to Joël 25 yards out and he pauses on the ball just for a beat to draw the defensive midfielder out of position. Then he slips the ball through the central channel for Hicham Aidir, who places it first time into the bottom corner. I've never done the robot before believe it or not, but when the ball hits the back of the net and Aidir sprints away with a broad smile of relief across his face, me and Crouchie... Well... We have a bit of a dance.

With our 2 goal cushion nicely in place I give Lamine Fomba a rest for the last half hour, with Gaizka Basauri coming on to replace him. We have a bit of a scare 10 minutes from time when Azamoum squares the ball for Niané on the edge of our 6 yard box, but he hits the post. Chassaing too makes a late cameo as we come through the match unscathed.

My 200th game in football has gone absolutely swimmingly, especially thanks to Hicham Aidir's first goal in over 2 months. 8 long matches. It was a massive relief to see him tuck the ball away with that ice-cold precision I've become so accustomed to over the last 16 months. He's timed it well as my experiment to try Sissako as a striker has not gone very well. He tried though, bless him.

Our 3rd consecutive victory over ESTAC Troyes has also sealed us a place in the 9th round of the French Cup, where we'll play Sportive Granvillaise, so sayeth the draw.

Our next match is a biggie. Angers SCO are 3rd in Ligue 2 and on the same points as us, with a goal difference of 12 to our 14. With Bourg-en-Bresse 3 points ahead of both of us at the top of the table, this is a great opportunity for both sides to catch up to the league leaders as we come to the half way point of the season.

Unfortunately we'll be without Faouzi Hikem though as he's strained his abdominal muscles in the gym and will miss both of our last 2 matches before the winter break. On the upside though, all signs are that strikers Florian Ayé, Nathan Andre and Romain Montiel are just days away from rejoining full training.

Call me a boring sod but I'd be happy not to lose this game. Of course a win would be ideal but I'm not going to push too hard for it. We'll line up with our standard, steady Project: Meatloaf Mk II with Phil Foden and Adama Ba coming back in for Loïc Goujon and Abdoulaye Sissako as we get our inside forwards back onto the wings. Mike Kakuba will come in for Hikem and I'll once again be looking to Mamadou Doucouré to fill in at left back. With full training looming and after half a season on the sidelines with ligament damage, last year's top scorer Florian Ayé makes the bench for the first time.

Much of the match is a tense, scrappy affair. In fact in the first hour the only decent chance from either side is 25 minutes in when former Sunderland stopper Mika catches the ball from a Samba cross and promptly rolls it straight out to Phil Foden. The Stopfordian midfielder tries his luck from 25 yards but hits his shot straight against a defender's legs. Gripping stuff.

Despite our efforts to control the game in the second half to put the visitors under a little pressure, we're still goalless with 20 minutes to go. I have a choice: I can keep us as we are and drift through to the goalless draw that I would have taken before kick off, or I can roll the dice and try and nick a winner. Against my better judgement I signal for Florian Ayé to warm up. We're going for it. Joël comes off and Florian finally steps onto the pitch to start his season, alongside Hicham Aidir in a 4-2-4 formation. We'll exploit the wings, float crosses into our 2 big strikers and play direct to them. Come on lads.

Sometimes everything just comes together exactly like you hoped it would. Sometimes you roll the dice and come up with 2 sixes. This isn't one of those times. 3 minutes after our tactical change, Trincão holds the ball up 25 yards out and draws out Captiste. Just for a second, our defence falls asleep and that's all the time Josué needs to slip between Raf and Kakuba and dart into the space that our Captain's left inside the box. The former Porto and Basel midfielder takes a touch and fires the ball low into the far corner. It's 0-1.

I let out a groan. I've done this. Me and my greed. We could have escaped with a very good point but now we're behind and in danger of falling behind the top 2. We go on the attack. A couple of minutes later Angers hit us on the counter attack and Trincão gets to the left byline before drilling a cross in to the near post. Pépé arrives but can only head the ball into the side netting. It's a very close call.

We can't lose our heads. I tell the lads to start closing down like they've never closed down before. I don't want Angers to get a sniff of this ball for the rest of the match. 75 minutes turns to 80, then 85, then 90. And then Phil Foden plays a clever pass to Ayé on the edge of the box, who plays it through to Aidir, who slams the ball into the back of the fucking net from 12 yards. He's back. He's officially bloody back.

That was far too close a call and honestly I've got my players to thank for getting us out of that mess. I went into the match wanting a draw and either cockiness or boredom got the better of me. Note to self - Try not to scare me like that again.

So with 19 games played we're officially half way through the season. Bourg-en-Bresse are still leading the way with 39 points after helpfully only getting a draw themselves in the last round of fixtures, while Auxerre and Angers are still 3 points behind, both with superior goal difference to the leaders. Stade de Reims still have to be kept an eye on though as they're only 1 point behind us. We've still got 1 match left before the Winter break and as such can still technically go into the new year at the top of the table. We're playing Valenciennes away.

Mike Kakuba and Lamine Fomba will miss this one through suspension after picking up the usual 3 yellows in their last 10 games, but Andre and Mounier are back in full training as I'm suddenly spoilt for choice for strikers. Well not quite as 3 of them are still massively lacking in fitness, but it still makes a nice change. I'm also ambushed in the corridor by my mountainous centre back Godspower Tower, who thinks that his name deserves to be on the teamsheet more often. Whilst I agree in principle that his name should be shared far and wide and maybe put up in lights somewhere, he's just not going to get a look in for me. We agree that he'll be sold in the January transfer window.

“Franjo are you confident for tomorrow?” Pipes up the first journalist at my press conference.

“Yeah, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be confident. We’re in good form and if we play like we have been doing Valenciennes will have trouble stopping us.”

“Do you think that it’s good timing, playing Valenciennes after they’ve sacked their manager Laurent Dufresne?”

“Perhaps. Obviously things haven’t been going well for them but I think we need to expect a reaction. I’m sure the Valenciennes players will want to impress any prospective new managers that are...” I’m silenced by Manon Penot, Auxerre's Press officer, holding one hand out across my mouth while the other holds her mobile to her ear. We sit in silence for a moment. “Are we live?” I mouth to one of the cameramen. He nods, looking as confused as I feel. Manon nods in acknowledgement of her phone and leans right in to my ear.

“They’ve signed Zlatan.” She whispers.

“Excuse me?” I mutter back.

“Valenciennes have appointed Zlatan Ibrahimovic as their new manager” she says, quite breathlessly. I look across the room of journalists, all of whom are looking down at phones, tablets and laptops and muttering to each other.

"He's not a manager", I hiss.

"He is now" she whispers back, "And you're his first opponent."

I've got to say I'm more than a little bit surprised. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has completely dropped off the planet since he left Manchester United and retired in the Summer of 2018. Well, apart from the odd bit of guest punditry for BT Sport. His appointment's knocked me for 6 if I'm honest. I mean, I'm taking on Zlatan in his first ever match as a football manager. How do you approach something like that? What the bloody hell am I meant to expect? I had planned on lining up against Valenciennes' 4-4-2, which was about as predictable as the pissing sunrise, with Project: Burnie Mk III: My go-to formation against such shapes. Now I'm second guessing myself with the new man coming in. Ordinarily I'd say that a smart Manager would just keep his side playing the same shape until he's had a bit of time to figure out what he needs to change, but knowing Zlatan he could just as easily drop some kind of horrifically unpredictable tactical bomb on us that's been 3 and a half years in the making and is powered by sheer self-confidence, charisma and 35 yard fucking bicycle kicks.

In the end I stick with the plan and it's a good job too. Zlatan does stick with the same 4-4-2 system that his predecessor used, so my first sigh of relief of the day is when I see the team sheet. For us, Lenogue starts in net, Captiste, Goujon and Doucouré form the back 3 with Goujon charging out both to break up attacks and to play the ball, Issa Samba and Ruben Aguilar are our wing backs, with Ruben starting on the left because Hikem's out injured and is still faster than our backup left back Mombris, so why the hell not. Sissako and Raf form the midfield duo and Joël plays behind Aidir and Ayé, who gets his first start of the season. I'm taking a bit of a gamble on him as he's still short of fitness, but he could also make all the difference. Captiste will tightly man mark Zlatan's inherited target man Jordan Siebatcheu while Doucouré will mark out his more rounded team mate Nuno Da Costa, and we'll play a fluid counter attacking game. Nathan Andre's back on the bench.

Out on the touchline, I shake hands with Zlatan. It's an odd moment, seeing his moustachioed face smiling down at me in the flesh. Once upon a time, when I was not too much more experienced than he is now, I used to have nightmares that this Swedish Behemoth was punching me in the face, ridiculing me for my inexperience in management and subsequent failure to keep my team afloat. Oh, how the tables have turned. The boot's really on the other foot now, isn't it Zlatan? Watch and learn young rookie as I give you your first lesson in Football Management.

After only a minute the hosts win a corner, but we clear the ball after a poor cross and start a counter attack through Joël, who plays it forward for Aidir. Aidir drives forwards, drawing a centre back over to the left before pulling the ball back into the space inside the box, but Joël calmly places the ball straight at the keeper from 6 yards out, who saves it. Sissako is the first to get to the rebound and tries to finish it from a narrow angle, but Cabezas slides in well to knock the ball against the post and out.

A quarter of an hour later we're playing some nice patient football in Valenciennes' half initiated by Joël and Aidir. We massively outnumber them in the centre and it's showing as we pull them from side to side with our short passes and good movement. Eventually Sissako slides the ball perfectly through the defence and who else but Hicham Aidir chips the ball first time past the keeper. That's 3 goals in 3 games for Hicham now. He's gone from absolutely useless right back to a man on fire.

A couple of minutes later we counter attack once again and once again it starts with some nice interplay by Joël and Aidir. We toy with the Valenciennes midfield and defence before Sissako finds Aidir again on the edge of their box. Aidir darts towards the left hand side of the box with the ball and loses his marker, but drags his shot wide. 10 minutes after that we counter attack for the umpteenth time and again Sissako threads the ball through for Hicham Aidir, who's having an excellent time linking up with the midfielders so far. Aidir takes a touch into the box but Kocik dashes out and catches what turns out to be a tame shot from the Moroccan.

Frustrated by 40 minutes of chasing the ball and tracking back to get back into position after yet another of his side's moves breaks down, central midfielder Abdoul Kaboré sees red before half time for tripping Sissako while he's already on a booking. That can only be good for us in the second half.

The first 20 minutes of the second half are quiet, and then Zlatan makes the change to a narrow 4-3-2. I don't want us to get overpowered in the centre so I bring off Florian Ayé, whose done his fitness the world of good with 65 minutes of football, and replace him with Foden, who drops into midfield to match Valenciennes' trio. We'll focus down the flanks where they're now vulnerable and I tell Captiste to stay on his toes and keep his distance from his marker, because the lumbering and ineffective target man Siebatcheu has been replaced by pure speed machine Terry Osei-Berkoe.

As I said in our previous match, sometimes everything just comes together exactly like you hoped it would. Sometimes you roll the dice and come up with 2 sixes. As I also said in our previous match, this isn't one of those times. For fucks sake. Just 3 minutes after both sides make their tactical changes, Valenciennes work the ball into the box with Da Costa and he's felled by stand-in centre back Loïc Goujon. Penalty. Goujon receives a booking and in front of the home fans, Da Costa blasts the ball straight down the middle from 12 yards to equalise.

In my eyes that equaliser is absolutely undeserved and I'm quite livid. I tell Phil Foden to push forwards alongside Joël for the last 20 minutes. We'll roam from our positions and we'll pass the ball into space to try to unlock the home side's tiring defence. With 5 minutes to go it very nearly pays off - Aidir holds the ball up after we counter from a Valenciennes corner and then slips the ball into space for Joël, who's bombing forward to his right. Joël gets into the area and if he lifts his head he'll see Sissako and Aidir rushing forwards alongside him with absolutely nobody between them and the goal. He keeps his head down and fires a shot wide of the near post. Livid. We go on the attack.

With 90 seconds to play of normal time we win a free kick 35 yards out from goal. Foden plays it short and we work the ball around the box. Joël... Aguilar... To Goujon... Back to Aguilar... AGUILAR!!!

I feel no shame as I sprint down the touchline, hands held aloft. To some it would seem like quite the faux pas to openly celebrate defeating somebody at something you've done 201 times more than they have, especially when it's their first time. In the moment though I couldn't care less. There have been times this season where we've missed that winning mentality. Where we've rolled over and accepted our fates. Not today though. Today the ball fell to our usurped right back, filling in as a makeshift left wing back. Today he was left unmarked just inside the box and had a clear shot at goal. Today he gave me the kind of headache that I love. The kind of headache that you get when you have too many fantastic players to fit into your team.

Here's your lesson, Zlatan: Some days you can do exactly what you need to do. You can even fight back with 10 men, but don't be surprised if the referee's whistle blows and you're left crying in the corner, miserably contemplating the unfairness of life as you watch somebody else have the time of their lives at your expense. You'll get used to it pretty quickly.

Winter Break (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Meta-sode 132.5)

Sorry guys, that time's come again!

It's a busy week for me and I've had to rush even to finish today's episode on time, so I'm going to take the week before I come back with the Winter break episode. We're bloody 2nd. (2nd!!) in the league and we've got just less than half a season left to make sure we stay there, so it should be an interesting 5 months when I return!

Thanks once again for reading and for all the feedback, I appreciate every message, email and comment I get about this story massively. Anyone wanting to email can get me at [email protected]!

Anyway yeah... Bit weird to start a break on a Wednesday but let's give it a go. I'll be back on Wednesday 13th of March. See you then!



...And We're Back (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Meta-sode 132.5.5)


So apologies first of all for my prolonged break from the story. Long story short the last 5 weeks have consisted of me staying with a couple of mates while I’ve gone through a break up, looked for a place to live, spent my days at work and my evenings at viewings, actually moved etc. So I’ve not had a lot of time and to be honest I’ve just not been in the mood.

BUT starting Wednesday (18th April) I’m back and we’ll be picking the story back up for the second half of the 2021/22 season, fresh from our narrow triumph over managerial newbie Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I'm still a little bit smug about that.

See you then!



Tribune Leclerc - Part 2 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode

I'm sitting in the Tribune Leclerc stand in Stade Abbé-Deschamps. Right at the back of the balcony against the back wall. Burnie’s still curled up on the seat to my right, just a black furry mass, fast asleep. Meatloaf and I have spent a while talking. In all fairness our discussions on tactical shapes and styles haven’t been very enlightening at all as he’s merely a feline figment of my imagination outfitted in full victorian garb, but I’ve been glad of the company. I come here most nights and it can be a quiet and peaceful place, but a lonely one too. Still, after a while we run out of things to talk about.

“…And the penguin says: ‘He’s not an eggplant, he’s retarded!’”

“I don’t get it” says Meatloaf, raising one of the markings on his head that resemble eyebrows.

“No, me neither”, I reply dejectedly. “I thought you might. I heard it on…” My voice trails off as I watch Meatloaf’s eyes start to wander away from mine. He seems to be looking right over my shoulder.

“I have to go, old friend. I’m sorry.” He whispers, suddenly quite panicked. He dons his top hat, stands and hurries away down the aisle, glancing back occasionally.

“What?” I call after him. “Why? What are you…” I turn my head in an attempt to see what spooked the poor moggie and my voice trails away once again. At first it seems as if Burnie has woken up and is looking at me from the adjoining seat with a wide smile. I’ve not seen the 6 foot dream-version of him before but the features check out: Thick black fur, white belly, inexplicable victorian garb, but there’s something not quite right about the way this cat’s looking at me. There’s something familiar about that smile.

“You are doing the finest job, Franjo!” It whispers excitedly. Realisation hits me immediately.
“What the fuck are you doing in my dream, Sylvania?” I growl.

The black cat giggles. “Oh, but you are confused!” She says. “Here!” Before I can respond the cat raises a paw behind it’s head and slaps me hard across the face, leaving my cheek stinging.

I sit bolt upright in bed, my cheek still stinging as my eyes dart around uselessly in the inky black bedroom. I lean over to the bedside table and press my phone’s home button, which illuminates the room with all the subtlety and finesse of a flash bang grenade. I recoil from the light but once my eyes start to adjust I note from the lock screen that it’s 3:30 in the morning. It’s 3:30 in the morning and it’s freezing fucking cold in here. Too cold. As the light of my phone dies away I pull the quilt tighter around myself and survey the room, now able to make out basic shadows.

“There, that’s better!” Squeals one of them.

“Yeah that’s much better actually, thank you.” I reply, keeping my voice as level as I can. “So let me rephrase: What the fuck are you doing in my flat, Sylvania?”

“Our promotion bonus!” She squeals once more, and with that she darts towards the bed and smiles that sickly Cheshire Cat smile. “You are doing the finest job in France, Franjo. We need to discuss our bonus for your inevitable promotion to Ligue 1: Home of the finest football teams in the World!”

“And you thought that inside my flat at half past fucking 3 was the ideal time and place to conduct this meeting, did you?”

She nods vigourously. “I could not sleep, Monsieur Franjo! I was far too excited…”

“CORRECT!” I cut her off loudly, causing Sylvania to jump. “There’s a good way to tell if you’re far too excited about something, Sylvania, and that’s if you’re so excited that you keep breaking into my fucking home.” I swing my legs out of bed and stand up, revealing my Everton branded pyjamas. I watch the corner of Sylvania’s mouth flicker as she sees them, but her expression turns back to shock within a split second. “Now you need to leave.” I say firmly. As my eyes continue to adjust to the darkness I glance through the open bedroom door and notice that the front door of my flat is ajar. “And how do you keep getting in here for fucks sake? After last time the locksmith promised me…” My voice trails away once more as I continue to look around and make another realisation. One that makes my heart drop right through my stomach. “…And where are Meatloaf and Burnie? Where are my fucking cats?”

A Cat-less Christmas (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep133)

6AM, day after Christmas. I throw some clothes on in the dark. It's been about a week since I last saw Sylvania and since I last saw Meatloaf and Burnie. I searched my flat from top to bottom that night but eventually accepted the conclusion that the 2 cats had slipped through the open door and disappeared into the night. After the locksmith came to put 3 brand new and incredibly sturdy types of lock on my front door I installed a cat flap too, in the hopes that they'd reappear. They haven't though. They've not even returned in my dreams. I've been cutting a lonely figure at the top of the Tribune Leclerc stand.

I wasn't really in the mood for Christmas to be honest. I got a couple of texts from members of the Auxerre team but that was about the extent of my Christmas day. I was even less in the mood for certain French tabloids that were linking me to the Caen job, who are the latest club struggling in Ligue 1. I made my intentions to stay perfectly clear.

But today is Boxing day and in order to keep the squad sharp for our cup match against Granville next week, I've lined up a friendly against our B team. Now that our players are starting to come back from an extremely injury hit first half of the season, it's an interesting opportunity for the fringe players to show me what they've got. They seem extremely determined to make the most of it too when a Florian Ayé goal and a Zoun double put the reserves 0-3 up after 33 minutes. We fight back though with goals from Joël and Phil Foden before the break and Hicham Aidir equalises in the second half. With 35 minutes to play I expect us to complete the turnaround, but a late Abdoulaye Sissako strike wins it for the reserves. It's an interesting match and I'm certainly impressed with what I've seen from some of the winning side.

Another undesired opportunity presents itself a couple of days later when I'm linked with the vacant Stade de Reims job. To be honest though I feel like even though they were recently a Ligue 1 team, I'd be taking a step down by joining them. I publicly deny that there's any truth in the rumours, which makes the board so happy that they offer me a year's contract extension. I sign happily. This is the offer I wanted.

There's a little bit of transfer activity before the Granville game: Zoun's wanted by FC Lorient in the top tier and they put down a £1.5M bid, but I reject it. I'm still waiting for him to impress me but I know that there's still a lot more to come from our pacy Burkinabe winger. I do accept a loan bid from Belgian Pro League side Cercle Brugge for Nathan Andre though. The young striker was unlucky in slipping a disc and being ruled out through a time when I would have gladly given him an extended run in the first team, but now that Aidir's remembered where the goal is and Ayé's back from his injury, I think Nathan's development will be boosted by a spell in Belgium's top flight.

And so it's time for the French Cup 9th round: A glamourous away tie against French CFA 2 side US Granville.

I want not only a win today but a good performance to boot. We're going with a fluid attacking variant of Project: Meatloaf. The lads that were suspended for our last match are back and Hikem's back from injury too. We are missing Raf, who's suspended and Tower, who's picked up a virus though. Kamara gets a rare start in net and will be protected by a back 4 of Samba, Captiste, Doucouré and Hikem. Sissako and Goujon form a battling midfield and we'll have Joël behind lone striker Florian Ayé, with Foden cutting in from the right and Zoun doing likewise from the left. I'm pretty interested to see how our in-demand winger takes to the position having never played there professionally.

We get off to a great start when little Phil Foden curls a close range free kick in over the wall only 8 minutes into the match. 13 minutes later he plays a part in our second too, taking an indirect free kick short to Joël, who plays a defence-splitting pass through to Ayé in the box. Ayé takes a shot first time on his weaker foot and finds the back of the net to double our lead.

10 minutes from the break Florian nearly bags his second after another fantastic ball from Joël gets him in behind the defence. He jinks past a challenge but drags his shot just wide of the far post.
With the match looking pretty much done with half an hour left I hook 2 of our booked players, Samba and Goujon, and bring on Aguilar and Fomba. A few minutes later Ayé gets his head to a Kamara goal kick and nods the ball on for Foden, who runs through to the edge of the area and shoots. The ball hits the post, comes back, hits the goalkeeper on the back of the head and bounces out for a corner. It's a decent chance but the resulting corner comes to nothing.

With 5 minutes left Auxerre put together a great passing move and Foden plays a through ball into the box for Ayé, who drills it into the net to make it 3-0. It's a one sided game all round and I'm pleased with the performance and the result.

The French Cup 10th round draw pits us against Bordeaux, which is an extremely exciting prospect. A high profile match against a big Ligue 1 club is just what I was hoping for.

The next week or so is heavy with minor transfer activity. Fabien Fonrose is a player that I thought I might use as a backup centre back this season but I'm not sure he's set foot on the pitch yet. He's allowed to move on loan to Strasbourg.

There are also loan moves for young striker Abdoulaye Traoré, who joins French National side SO Romorantin, as well as Daniel Garza and Paul Mullan, 2 youngsters who I don't think are longed for the Auxerre first team. They travel back to their native North America on loan with Ottawa and Phoenix respectively.

Corentin Tirard, the forgotten man to some extent after his standout performances in last year's appalling Auxerre side, is unhappy with his recent lack of first team football. I sit him down and tell him that Adama Ba's playing too well on the left wing, which is a bit of a stretch to be fair, but Corentin seems satisfied with my explanation. I'm fairly sure I'll be letting him go in the Summer anyway.

I set up another friendly against the reserves to see what we've learned from our new attacking variant. Aidir, Raf and Lenogue come into the first team as we tear our second string apart. Zoun gets us off to a flyer and then after Florian Ayé equalises, Hicham and Foden both score quick fire braces to give us a glossy 5-1 win.

Romain Montiel is then ruled out for 7-9 weeks with shin splints. I'm a bit gutted for him but again, he's not getting anywhere near my first team unless we have another injury crisis so we should be OK.

A couple of players that won't be leaving right now are Ruben Aguilar, who we receive 3 bids of around £1.5M for from Eibar, Alavés and Atlético Pamplona, and Godspower Tower. True, Aguilar hasn't been a regular starter since the unbelievable and unpredictable rise of Issa Samba, but if I'm going to let Ruben go it'll be for a substantially higher price.

Godspower does want to leave as he's also not featured as much as he'd like. The only offers we've received though are a non-negotiable £325k bid from Freamunde, which isn't enough, and a loan offer from Clermont Foot, but they only want him as back up and that's only going to decrease his value in the long run. I'm holding out for a higher fee or a loan with a promise of more regular football before I let our towering centre back go.

Bourg-en-Bresse are our next opponents in a 1st v 2nd title showdown. It's unfortunate for the league leaders that they're our first opponents in Ligue 2 since my own personal diabolical Christmas period, because I've got a lot of frustration to take out on them. I've not seen my cats in weeks and a win over Bourg-en-Bresse would be extremely therapeutic for me. Let's get the second half of the season started off right, shall we?

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