A Busy Summer
Preparations for our Ligue 2 debut at home to Brest were interrupted as I was conscripted into an interview with the local paper.
Reporter: Monsieur CMAdventurer, merci for giving up your time for this interview. Are you looking forward to the new season?
CMA: Of course. Last season was historic for Vendee Lucon and I believe we will reach new heights in the coming season.
Reporter: How big a challenge is the step from the National League to Ligue 2 for Lucon?
CMA: It is a tough challenge and not one that I underestimate. The club has been planning for this for some time, long before promotion was mathematically wrapped up, so we couldn't be better prepared. I believe we have made some excellent signings which will make us competitive in the division.
Reporter: Let's switch our attention to your signings, and there are quite a few of them. There were a few eyebrows raised when you splashed out £525k to sign striker Juan Falcon from Metz. Given that he was out of favour last season, what have you seen in him?
CMA: We may have scored plenty of goals last season, but we weren't always ruthless in front of goal. Juan is an excellent finisher and we know that at this level, we will not create opportunities as freely as we did last season. If you get chances, you have to take them, or else you get punished. He is also a real aerial threat.
Reporter: You lost one of your star performers from last season, Jason Buaillon, to Gazelec Ajaccio. How much of a blow was this?
CMA: I was gutted to lose Jason. He is a real rising star and no doubt he has a great future ahead. I could not persuade him to sign a new contract and the lure of playing in Ligue 1 was too much for him to resist. These things happen and you have just got to accept it when they do. I wish him all the best, along with Charly Charrier.
CMA (think): Money-grabbing s!
CMA: However, in Hope Akpan, I think we have found a very capable replacement. He is of course untested in France but it's a calculated gamble that I am willing to take. I was surprised to hear that Blackburn were allowing him to leave for just £425k.
Reporter: Your other big money signing of the summer is defender Jonathan Rivierez, £350k from Metz. What prompted you to bring him to the club?
CMA: At 27, he is pretty much at his peak and he has all the essential attributes for a defender. He has a great positional sense, he's an excellent tackler and his all round fitness is an asset to the team.
Reporter: The area that has undoubtedly undergone the biggest transition is the midfield. You lost a few in the summer but have also brought plenty in.
CMA: Oui, I am delighted to have captured Mohamed Larbi* and Abdoulaye Sane on Bosmans. Larbi is essentially just a much better version of Charrier and Sane is an all round impressive right winger, who will provide some width for us. Hassane Kamara is on a season-long loan from Reims and he gives us another option. He has pace to burn.
Reporter: There has been speculation about your future at Lucon all summer. After Eddie Howe took the England job, you were spotted in Bournemouth and many expected you to be appointed as his successor. Are you looking to move to a bigger club when the right opportunity arises?
CMA: What rubbish! I was clearly in Bournemouth for a beach holiday and nothing more. Eddie has worked miracles there and he will be a very difficult act to follow. I am fully committed to Lucon and there is much more I aim to achieve yet.
Reporter: Finally, is there any truth in the rumour that you are receiving help from an external company called “Zan Corporation”?
CMA: I can assure you that it is pure speculation conjured up by the parasites in the media who just want to sell their so-called newspapers. How about you stop being a twat and ask me a proper question?
Reporter: One of our undercover agents overheard a telephone conversation you recently had with a mysterious caller. He didn't catch all of it but heard that there was something “fishy” going on, or at least something about fish.
At this point, I declined to answer any further questions.
*There is also a midfielder at the club called Mohamed Larby, but not as good, and with exactly the same date of birth. When I signed Larbi, I noticed the name similarities but did not pick up on the DOB until later. It could be another Jordan Mignon/Jordan Mignot situation (see post 13).
Other signings not mentioned in the interview included Belgian defender Mickenson De Pessemier on a free transfer from Hoek and striker Kevin Dupuis from Orleans on a Bosman. Neither were intended to be regulars but would offer some able backup if called upon. I also failed spectacularly to sign Lille's defensive midfielder Adama Soumaoro. I initially negotiated for him to arrive for the start of this season around Christmas time, but it involved a transfer fee. I gambled later by cancelling the deal and trying to negotiate a new one in order to save money but he responded by demanding wages higher than the limit set by the board. If I'd known how big my transfer budget was going to be (over £2 million I think), I would not have gambled this recklessly. Midfielders Ahmed Mogni and Ludovic Ajorque, as well as forward Karim Achahbar saw their loan spells end and none of them were good enough for me to want to renew their loans or sign permanently. With Charrier and Buaillon departed already, this left a big gap in midfield, which was worsened by Julien Valero suddenly retiring... 24 hours after signing a contract until 2019! To say the conversation we had afterwards was far from amicable would be an understatement.
Here's one liking the looks of that new guys!
Slow And Steady
Less than a year ago, my home debut against Bourg-Peronnas was witnessed by just one man and his dog. On 30th July 2016, Lucon's first ever Ligue 2 fixture against Brest attracted 2,487 men and their dogs to cheer us on. What a difference a year makes! Home form would surely be crucial. It certainly won us the league last season as we won all but one game at the Stade Jean de Mouzon. It was a raucous atmosphere and our supporters could sense something special. Wary that Ligue 2 was a step up in quality, I opted for five in midfield, with debutant Hope Akpan performing the “Makelele role”. Another debutant Falcon would start as the lone striker, which was a role I felt he was capable of. There were also debuts for midfielders Larbi, Sane and Kamara, while Rivierez partnered Guillon at centre back. Anthony Martin was still suspended due to his red card against Belfort at the end of last season, so Paul Nicholas deputised in his place.
We knew that Brest would be no pushovers as they had graced the top flight as recently as 2013. The visitors were the better side early on, as we struggled to get into our rhythm. Perhaps the occasion was getting to us a little. Their first opportunity arrived on 12 minutes when Jeremy Quemener headed goalwards from a corner. Nicholas dealt with it well enough but it was a warning for us. Five minutes later, there was encouragement for us as Sane went on a mazy run before laying the ball off to Falcon. His effort was crisp but Donovan Leon kept Brest on level terms with an athletic save. In the 28th minute, Akpan suffered a groin injury which would keep him sidelined for around two months. It was a cruel way to mark his debut. Brest had won a free kick just before Akpan had to be taken off and when play resumed, defender Roderic Filippi let fly from 25 yards. It had Nicholas scrambling to try and keep it out, which was a battle he lost and it marked a disastrous minute for us. We now had to chase the game, which was something we weren't used to in front of our own supporters.
The half continued at a frenetic pace as both sides continued to attack. Germann came close for us with a crisp volley, while Brest twice hit the crossbar just before the interval. At half time, I told the team to go out and express themselves a bit more, rather than being overawed by the occasion. They responded well and in the opening minutes, Falcon forced a save from the keeper and also went close with a header. Brest still remained a threat on the counter attack and Nicholas kept us in the game with an excellent save from Samassa. Five minutes from time, a Brest corner was cleared and we had an opportunity on the break, Hassane Kamara fed Germann, who had space to run into. His through ball found Jordan Mignon in acres of space on the right side of the penalty area. He opened up his body, gave their keeper the eyes and rolled the ball past him. Unfortunately, it was also a long way past the far post and the chance of salvation had vanished. The visitors probably edged it overall in fairness and the game confirmed the gulf in class between the National League and Ligue 2. Not the start we were hoping for, but we still gave them a good game, so no need to panic yet.
The Felix Bollaert stadium in Lens was the venue for England's Euro 2016 highlight – a dramatic 2-1 victory against Wales – in an otherwise disappointing campaign. It was also where we were to head for our first away game at this level. Lens had been widely labelled as promotion favourites by the media, so it was not the ideal fixture to try and bounce back in. We were under the cosh for most of the match but we emerged with a commendable goalless draw. It was definitely a confidence booster which we could take into our home clash against Auxerre. Things started well as Germann scored our first ever goal in the second tier inside ten minutes, while Juan Falcon scored a stunning solo effort five minutes later to double the lead. Auxerre improved after the break and pulled one back on 54 minutes. There were some heart-in-mouth moments but we repelled everything they threw at us, and recorded our first win of the season.
I still felt we were a player or two short, so the scouts remained on the lookout. I had all sorts of suggestions but not all were credible. One scout even recommended signing a player I sold because I deemed him to be too crap for us when we were in the division below!
In the end, I brought in this guy from Standard Liege for £425k.
Yatabare had a quiet debut at Evian, as we went down to a single second half goal. This league was clearly not easy. Our first fixture against a fellow promoted side followed as Strasbourg came to town. It's often said that these are the games you have to win to stay in the league, so things did not look too good when Jeremy Blayac scored for the visitors with barely ten minutes played. It took us a while to settle, but Mohammed Larby got us back on terms after half an hour. Strasbourg shocked us again just after the break by retaking the lead and we struggled to muster a response. With nothing lose, it was time to switch to a 4-3-3. Strasbourg were forced to defend and we were creating chances. We made one count on 74 minutes when Germann headed in Falcon's cross. 2-2 would have been a good result having twice been behind but Falcon had other ideas. Deep into stoppage time, a slick Lucon move ended with the ball falling to the Venezuelan in the area. His first time effort beat the keeper and sent the entire stadium into ecstasy! Strasbourg protested about the amount of time added on but they only had themselves to blame for wasting so much when they were 2-1 up. We had registered an improbably victory, which would hopefully be the start of a consistent run.
The visit to Nimes started well and we were 2-0 up in no time, with Yatabare scoring his first for the club. Nimes had yet to win a game, so it was a shock when they pegged us back to 2-2. We retook the lead after half time, only for the hosts to respond again. Despite us being handed a man advantage with nearly half an hour to play, we could not find a fourth goal, spurning numerous chances in the process.
The away win was proving to be elusive, but we did at least keep our home run going, by coming from behind to beat Troyes. So far, there has not been more than one goal separating the sides in any of our matches. We may only be seven games in, but if you had to sum up this league in one word, “tight” or “compact” would be many people's choices.
Next, we travelled to Dijon for what would be my 50th match in charge of Lucon. We had the better of a poor game but neither side could break through. Our home form remained strong and we dominated against Paris FC, with Germann giving us the lead six minutes before half time. Despite our dominance, we had to wait until stoppage time for Abdoulaye Sane to put the game beyond doubt.
Could we break our hoodoo on the road? Clermont seemed determined to keep us waiting as they took the lead just past the half hour mark. However, Jordan Mignon immediately pulled us back on level terms. He scored twice more just after the break to complete a hat-trick. At 3-1, we were bossing the game but we squandered a two-goal lead on the road against Nimes to draw 3-3 not too long ago. Surely it wouldn't happen again. On 76 minutes, Clermont pulled one back to keep our nerves jangling. With the referee about to put his whistle to his lips, the hosts won a free kick mid-way inside our half. The initial ball was cleared, but it dropped to Faris Boulaya on the edge of the box. His first touch was excellent, leaving Guillon for dead and his second touch was smashed past Martin via a slight deflection to leave us deflated. Five away games and no wins, albeit with four draws. I was happy enough with the performances on the road but we had to learn to see games out. I felt it was only a matter of time before we put things right.
We put the disappointment behind us and recorded an impressive 4-1 victory against Reims a week later. We were now on the fringes of the promotion places (top three) and just needed to turn some away draws into victories. We were furious that we had not yet away and we took our anger out on Angers. A goal in each half from Juan Falcon ended the jinx. It was a completely dominant performance and we should have had five or six, while Angers were lucky to get nil.
Early second half goals from Germann and Yatabare saw off Le Havre and we won another away game eight days later, 1-0 against Niort. Again, we absolutely dominated but did not do ourselves justice in front of goal. We made it 11 games unbeaten with a 2-0 home victory over Colmar thanks to a Mignon brace.
The unbeaten run had to end eventually and although we took the lead against Laval, they were the team to end it. It turned out that defeats were like buses, as we lost again against Sochaux by a goal to nil. Despite this double setback, we remained in the promotion places.
It was a relief to be back on home turf, as Tours were the next visitors to the Stade Jean de Mouzon. It turned out to be a remarkable game. Jordan Mignon superbly volleyed in Adam Chicksen's corner on 9 minutes for the perfect start. We had the early advantage but Tours soon had a man advantage. Loic Guillon was shown a straight red card for a professional foul, even though TV replays showed that Guillon never touched the cheating Tours striker. Despite this, we doubled our lead a few minutes later when Terriere's cross was turned in by Falcon. It was a goal we desperately needed after Guillon's dismissal. On 39 minutes, with the game threatening to boil over, Adama Coulibaly stupidly pushed Diakite to the ground right under the nose of the referee and we were down to nine men with more than half the game still to play! There could be no complaints about this decision, although Coulibaly was not too happy about his fine after the match. All we could do now was defend. The visitors really should have been all over us from this point but they created surprisingly few chances. That was a real tribute to how well we defended. Tours did pull one back to set up a nervy final 20 minutes but we kept our composure admirably. The celebrations from what was left of our team after the final whistle told you everything you needed to know about our team spirit.
We then hit Ajaccio for six, before Tours came visiting again, as we had drawn them in the League Cup. This time we managed to keep eleven on the pitch and it resulted in a far more comfortable 3-0 victory. Our reward was a trip to Ligue 1 Lille, but the tie would not take place until the new year.
We're now at the half way stage in the league and things are starting to look rosy. We have a five-point cushion on the promotion spots and are now just a solitary point off the top. Lens started like a house on fire but they have crumbled with three successive defeats. Guess who we're playing at home next!
Great away win at Ajaccio mate, and right in the title hunt!
Any other jobs come up you've been interested in or as you said in your pre season interview are you fully committed to Lucon?
Plenty of jobs have come up abroad but I've been rejected every time. I don't think my world reputation's high enough yet, so I'm probably stuck in France for the time being. Not many top flight clubs appear to be getting rid of their managers and most of those who are seem to have won the league before. There are a fair few in the top division who have yet to win it, so patience is the key.
Should you believe everything you hear in interviews?
A Crucial Period
The biggest game of the Ligue 2 season attracted a big crowd, with just 48 vacant seats. Despite their stuttering form, we knew that Lens would provide a stern test, so concentration had to be high throughout the match. We had no injury or suspension concerns, so I stuck with the same 4-3-3 formation and starting XI that had brought us so much success recently. We knew that victory would see us overtake our opponents at the summit but nothing would be decided today. Lens were rather more cautious and flooded the midfield. One of their star performers of the season, attacking midfielder Wylan Cyprien was missing for them, which was good news for us.
Roared on by the vocal home crowd, Lucon started on the front foot. Germann stung the palms of visiting goalkeeper Joris Delle on 11 minutes and it would not be the last time he was called upon to keep Lens on level terms. Falcon was next to try his luck with a low strike. Delle could not keep hold of the wet ball and Yatabare was quick to pounce on the rebound. However, Delle somehow recovered and spread himself sufficiently to keep him out.
Lens offered no goal threat whatsoever in the first half and you could tell they had come for a point. It's not surprising given their dismal recent run. As poor as they were, they were on course to get it and it was up to us to increase the tempo. Although we pinned them back, I ordered the players to move the ball more quickly and really give their defence the runaround.
After a quiet start to the second half, we created another opportunity just before the hour mark. Rivierez played an exquisite ball over the top of the Lens defence and Yatabare connected sweetly. Luckily for the visitors, the ball was just inches wide of the far post, with the goalkeeper stranded. We remained the better side but it was clear that Lens were in the contest far more than they were before the break. Their first serious sight of goal came moments later, as Mathias Autret found space in the box and a vollet sat up nicely for him. Thankfully for Anthony Martin, who had been a spectator until this point, it was straight at him, but it was a warning. We went straight up the other end and Falcon brought another excellent save from Delle. We were back on top and Yatabare spurned two decent openings. Lens nearly made us pay when Autret again found space in the area. His shot was fierce and Martin had to be at his best to keep us level. With time running out, the match looked to be heading for a goalless draw. However, three minutes from time, the decisive moment arrived.
A week later, we comfortably beat Dijon 3-1 in the French Cup, before travelling to Auxerre for our next league assignment. It was another great performance, with goals from Falcon, Germann and a first Lucon goal for Kevin Dupuis sealing a comfortable three points.
The year ended with two home games against Evian, first in the league and then the French Cup. We dominated the league clash, with Hope Akpan smashing us into a half time lead. We should have been out of sight and I feared that we would end up paying for missed chances. In the second half, my fear looked set to be realised as Evian equalised totally against the run of play on 64 minutes. However, we regrouped, with a Mignon header regaining the advantage for us. We were unable to find a killer third but we didn't need one, as we held on for our fifth straight league victory. We were similarly dominant in the cup encounter but this time we were more clinical. Kamara, Falcon and Germann helped us to a 3-0 win and we rounded off 2016 in style. Niort away awaits us in January.
Going into the winter break, things are looking very good for us in the league now. We remain well on course for another promotion and possibly even another title. There is still plenty of work to do and we must not be guilty of complacency.
With no fixtures for three weeks, I turned my attention to Brazil, as their league season was over. The top four were Cruzeiro, Botafogo, America (MG) and Corinthians, who would compete in the playoffs to decide the 2016 champion. All except America had been crowned champions previously, so I was hoping for one of the other three to come out on top. America produced an impressive display away to Botafogo, winning 3-1 and a goalless draw in the return leg was enough to see them through to the final. Cruzeiro beat Corinthians 4-2 on aggregate and I had to pin my hopes on them. America had home advantage in the first leg of the final and came from behind to take a 4-2 lead to Cruzeiro. The hosts pulled one back just before half time to leave the title on a knife edge. In the last minute, America broke and Luis Felipe scored the goal that sealed their first ever title. Congratulations to them, but a minor setback for me as it means I can't manage them in this challenge now. Still, at least there are plenty of other teams I can do it with.
As we were approaching the end of the year, it was time for a number of awards to be handed out. One in particular caught my eye.
1-0 to the Lucon Boys
For the League Cup 2nd Round, we faced a daunting trip to Lille. I knew they were red hot favourites, so I just told the players to go out, give it their best shot and enjoy the occasion. We intended to have a good go at them and early on, Germann's volley was superbly kept out by Vincent Enyeama, which was an ominous sign for us. Moments later, Lille punished us as an excellent team move finished with Junior Tallo waltzing through our defence to give them the lead. Both teams had their chances in an open game but the sucker punch arrived just before half time with Tallo scoring his second. We refused to give up but Enyeama was having one of those days, as he denied us time and time again. The score was harsh on us and the lads could hold their heads up high.
Two weeks later, our French Cup run ended as Niort beat us 2-1. Again, we missed some glorious chances and Niort capitalised. Just promotion to concentrate on now.
So no joy in the cups, but the league was a completely different story. Our league programme resumed at Strasbourg, which is always a tough place to visit. They had dismantled us at their place at a similar stage last season, so I was very wary of their potential threat. We edged it on chances created and Loic Guillon's header from a corner just before half time was enough to seal a hard-fought victory. On paper, Lucon v bottom club Nimes, who had still yet to win, was a home banker and more of a case of how many Lucon would score. Yatabare produced the breakthrough on 29 minutes and it looked as if the floodgates would open. We should have had more but one was enough for another win.
The visit to Troyes looked set to test our resolve. The hosts were chasing promotion and really had us on the back foot early on. We survived and after a tactical switch to five in midfield, we began to wrestle control from our opponents. Jordan Mignot latched on to Adam Chicksen's pass just after half time and coolly slotted the ball past home keeper Danny Ferreira. It was an advantage we never looked like surrendering and we had overcome a promotion rival on their own patch. Three 1-0s in a row in the league became four against Dijon but it was a tight game. The visitors had their chances too and we had to rely on Martin to make a couple of great saves and keep the run going. By now, the media had labelled us as “boring and uninspiring”. There is nothing boring or uninspiring about seeing your team win nine league matches in a row.
Could we make it into double figures? To do so, we had to pass just one more test: a trip to Paris FC. We had fond memories there, as last season, we slaughtered them 4-0 to wrap up promotion and the result helped us to the title. Pierre Germann took less than two minutes to open the scoring last time, this time he took a minute longer. In the 41st minute, he had the audacity to head in a second and ruin the streak of 1-0s. It was a very comfortable first half for us and we were just 45 minutes away from the perfect ten. Paris came out with a renewed purpose and pulled a goal back within ten minutes, to end our run of clean sheets. We regained our composure and Falcon's excellent strike seven minutes from time made sure of the landmark victory.
How long could we keep this up? Who would be the team to ruin it? Clermont came to town and they had us worried briefly when they took a shock early lead. We reacted by scoring four of our own, with all three of our main strikers on the scoresheet. It was another superb performance.
All good things must come to an end and although we led at Reims at half time, they came back strongly in the second half to earn a share of the spoils. They probably deserved it to be fair. Still, eleven's not bad and we had still emerged with a point against a good side on their own patch. Lens have continued to flop and it's now a case of when we win promotion and the title, and not if.
Planning for the Future
Promotion was imminent and the prospect of Lucon taking on the likes of PSG, Monaco, Marseille and Lyon felt unreal. With PSG so dominant, winning the league any time soon with our resources would be virtually impossible, so I decided that the time was right to contact Agent Zan via telephone.
AZ: Who is this? It had better be important enough to make me interrupt my daily meeting with the rest of the Zan Corp staff.
CMA: This is your client, CMAdventurer. I need a new job.
AZ: Are you saying you are not up to the challenge we have set you?
CMA: I'm still committed but PSG are going to be hard enough to topple without being handicapped by a stadium with a capacity of 5,000 and no room for expansion, as well as such crappy training facilities. There was nothing in my contract that said I had to win Ligue 1 with Lucon.
AZ: I'll let my boss SuperZan be the judge of that.
AZ: Do you not remember him? He's like me but with superhuman powers. And far more mysterious. You do not want to get on the wrong side of him. If you do, he will turn you into a newt, or if you're extremely unlucky, Sam Allardyce.
CMA: The name does not ring any bells and I do not fear SuperZan.
AZ: Alternatively, failure to comply with SuperZan may result in being assassinated by one of his thousands of cousins, SniperZan.
CMA: If you can persuade SniperZan to massacre the entire PSG squad, I'll be happy to remain at Lucon. At least the rest of the league might be catchable in a few years.
AZ: Oh no, that would be too easy! I will contact SuperZan and then I will help you find a new job. You had better deliver, or else you will face the full wrath of SuperZan!
CMA: Of course I'll deliver, thanks for your help!
While Agent Zan was (hopefully) doing his best to find a new job for me, I was still contracted to Lucon, who were on the brink of a historic promotion to the top flight. We hosted struggling Angers in the 30th round of fixtures and those who were present certainly got their money's worth.Spoiler!
Our fans responded with chants of “Boring boring Lucon”, aimed at the media after the unfair criticism that followed our recent streak of 1-0 victories. We followed this up with another emphatic win, 3-0 at Le Havre. Only Troyes, Laval and Lens were in with a mathematical chance of catching us now and three more points would seal promotion. Our home game against Niort would have to be played at a later date, due to our opponents' cup commitments. We could have wrapped it up without playing had Angers beaten Laval in the intervening period but Laval claimed all three points. It gave us the opportunity to do it on our own terms when we visited Colmar. If we could match either Troyes or Laval's result, or better Lens's, we were up.
Five minutes in, a Bergkampesque turn by Juan Falcon put him in the clear and it's an opportunity that he did not waste. It was the perfect start but Colmar were not easy opponents and they equalised just eleven minutes later. That was how it stayed until half time. On 55 minutes, Yatabare played a perfect through ball to Falcon and the outcome was inevitable. We were back in front but only for twelve minutes. Henry Gbize headed in Colmar's second equaliser to leave us frustrated again. Chances came and passed for both sides as we headed for a draw. News filtered through from the other games concerning us. Troyes and Laval were both winning but Lens were losing 4-2 at Reims, despite having led at half time. It meant that the point we had would be enough to seal promotion, but if we were to find a winner, we would also secure the championship. There was a late goal. Gbize got to the edge of our penalty area and laid the ball off for Christopher Joufreau, who smashed it into the back of our net. I could not believe it! The champagne would remain on ice for a little longer, while our unbeaten league run spanning 14 matches was in tatters. In the minute plus stoppage time we had left, we did our best to salvage it. Late on, we won a free kick on the right of the area. Guillon's delivery was met by Jordan Mignot and he directed his header past the Colmar keeper and WE HAD DONE IT!!!!!!! What drama! Promotion was done and dusted, while we extended our unbeaten run. Tiny Vendee Lucon Football will be playing in Ligue 1 in the 2017/18 season! “Paris Saint-Zlatan, we're coming for you!”, sang the travelling supporters.
Just two more points from six games were required to guarantee a second straight title and our next three were at home. As fate would have it, the first of those was against one of the teams who could still theoretically catch us: Laval. We may have been on an 15-match unbeaten streak in the league but incredibly, the visitors had managed to go one better! There was a good chance that one of those would end here. It was a very even game but Abdoulaye Sane's 70th minute strike was enough and we were going up as champions!
That could so easily have been my last match in charge of Lucon. Agent Zan got back to me and he had found another French club willing to take me on. Knocking PSG off their perch is not going to happen overnight, so potential is the key and this club certainly had more than Lucon. The problem was their position at the time. Troyes were looking good to join us in Ligue 1 for next season but they were far from certain. They had four games to play and I think they were about six points clear of 4th-placed Lens, who had a game in hand. Interestingly, outgoing gaffer Michel Der Zakarian departed to join Montpellier, who looked doomed to relegation from Ligue 1. I sensed that the top flight clubs in France were beginning to recognise my talent. Monaco offered me the manager's position back in February (I applied just to see if I'd get it) but of course they have won the league several times, so are inelligible. The thought of winning promotion with two different clubs in the same division in the same season was exciting, but I did not want to risk the embarrassment of having won promotion so convincingly, only to unnecessarily reverse all of the good work. I would probably be given a chance elsewhere in the near future. It was tempting, but after some careful consideration, I decided to stay put... for now.
On the pitch, I decided to play around with tactics. A single Yatabare goal was enough to see off Niort and we were back into our 1-0 habit. At home to Sochaux, a first half Falcon strike put us in control but the visitors scored twice in the second half and the run of 17 games without defeat was over. It was our first setback on our own turf since the opening day and our first league defeat since we lost to the same opponents in early November. A second successive defeat followed at Tours, so I abandoned the tactical experiments and reverted to what I knew worked for us. Relegated Ajaccio were to be the final visitors to the Stade Jean de Mouzon and it would be a day of celebration for us. Of course we wanted to finish on a high in front of our own supporters but we could look forward to the trophy presentation once the football was over. I suppose it was fitting that we finished with our recent speciality: the 1-0 victory. Falcon scored early and we had numerous chances to win more handsomely but a win is a win. Our next home game will see the club welcome a top flight team, but would I be leading them? We still had one more game away to Brest. Although they beat us 1-0 at our place on the opening day, their fortunes have been in stark contrast to ours and they needed something from this game to stand a chance of survival. It would be the second season running that we would have the chance to send our opponents down on the final day. Pierre Germann did just that with the only goal of the game, which earnt us just our tenth 1-0 victory of the season, with nine of those coming in the second half of the league season! Victory for Angers meant the hosts would have been relegated regardless of the result. At the end of the match, we saluted our fans after they had played a vital role in another successful season. I gave out a brief wave, before heading off. Would it turn out to be a farewell wave?
On an exciting final day in Ligue 2, the team I so nearly joined won promotion, despite a home defeat to Reims. Had Lens beaten Laval, they would have gone up in their place. Laval also made it as runners-up. Valenciennes, Guingamp and surprise 2012 champions Montpellier were relegated from Ligue 1. It means that there are ten teams other than ourselves contesting next season's top flight who have never been champions: Bastia, Caen, Gazelec Ajaccio, Laval, Lorient, Metz, Nancy, Rennes, Toulouse and Troyes. Gazelec's stadium capacity of just 6,000 makes them by far the least desirable destination but the rest are probably at least worth considering should they become vacant. I was actually offered the Nantes job without applying for it but of course they're not on the list. Eventually they hired Roberto Martinez. It looked like none of the aforementioned clubs were willing to part with their manager, so I would be preparing to start next season with Lucon, but would also be confident of finishing somewhere rather better.
2016/17 Season Review
Team of the year
The gaffer's view
Another fantastic season for the club! We had a fairly ordinary start, after which I could not have envisaged us running away with the title in the way we did. For me, the key match was the dramatic victory against Strasbourg early in the season. Trailing 2-1 at home, I switched to a 4-3-3 and it transformed our fortunes, producing two late goals. From then on, we rarely deviated from it and never looked back. Other key moments included our first away success against Angers and the late win at home to title rivals Lens which propelled us to the top of the league for the first time. Scoring six on two occasions (Ajaccio away and Angers at home) was also a nice bonus. We sealed promotion in very dramatic fashion at Colmar and then the title against eventual runners-up Laval in our following match, which was perfect. And who can forget the 11 league matches won in a row or the run of 17 unbeaten? Lots of 1-0s during the season, particularly later on, but that's what champions are made of.
We remained solid defensively and actually conceded fewer than we did last season. That is always a good foundation to build on. We were not as free scoring in this campaign but were still good enough. Juan Falcon knows where the net is and Sambou Yatabare was probably the key signing for enhancing our creative play from midfield. If you get it right at both ends of the pitch, the chances of success are always very high.
Next season will be a huge test and we must strengthen again in the summer. I may not be here for much longer but even so, I want to leave my successor with something to work with. But obviously not enough for them to be able to finish above my next club if I remain in France. PSG won the league with an absolutely ridiculous record of played 38, won 33, drawn 5, lost 0, for 107, against 26, 104 points! Nearest challengers Marseille's 78 points tally might have been enough in years gone by but this time it saw them finish 26 points adrift. If I win the French league next season, I think I'll announce my retirement from the game.
Elsewhere in Europe
Man City recovered from a poor previous season to win the league by five points ahead of their neighbours. Barcelona won La Liga by twice as many ahead of their arch rivals. Bayern secured a fifth consecutive Bundesliga title but were pushed hard by Bayer Leverkusen, who finished six points behind in second place. Leverkusen are one of the few German teams of any sort of calibre not to have won the league, so it was a relief to see them miss out this season. Of all the clubs I could manage in this story, I think that would top my list. Finally, Inter ended Juve's five-year reign as top dogs in Italy, edging out Fiorentina by four points.
Last edited by CMAdventurer; 10-08-16 at 07:31 AM.
Great season! Some big clubs in Ligue 2, like Lens and Auxerre, so that's a huge achievement! Don't see anyone toppling PSG any time soon, so maybe the next move needs to be abroad You can always come back in five years or so when Zlatan and co have retired!
Will catch up properly on this tonight, but in the mean time great work on the Ligue 2 title!
Staying or Going?
I had barely left Brest'S stadium following our final game of the season, when Agent Zan contacted me.
AZ: CMA, have you heard that Hoffenheim have just sacked Martin Gisdol?
CMA: Hoffenheim! Now that's a job that I would love to have! Very good team, even though they badly underachieved this season, an excellent youth setup and lots of money to spend. I will get them challenging Bayern in no time.
AZ: Don't get too excited. When you signed a contract with Zan Corp, you agreed to take the challenge on our terms. Part of the deal was entering a world that is different to the one you know. It's SuperZan's latest crazy experiment. For instance, you remember the Kingsley guy you strangled to death on your first day? SweeperZan collected his body and brought him back to life. Anyone can now come back from the dead provided that their body is collected by SweeperZan. For years, he has been overworked by Kingsley, who has killed AMC hundreds of times. SuperZan decided to teach Kingsley a lesson by sending him to Carpi with restrictions on tactics and transfers and since then, he has behaved himself.
CMA: Fascinating stuff, but what has any of this got to do with my chances of getting the Hoffenheim job?
AZ: Oh yeah, I was just getting on to that. Unfortunately, part of the experiment went wrong and it resulted in chairmen becoming extremely racist. You've got no chance of acquiring a job abroad if you're not the right nationality.
CMA: Bloody typical! Why couldn't you just let me manage in the real world rather than some stupid fantasy world for your own enjoyment? I'm going to have to manage in Germany at some point. You've got me into this mess, what are you going to do to get me out of it?
AZ: It was you who signed the contract. Do not fear, for SuperZan has agreed to forge a German passport for you.
CMA: I'm not prepared to break the law.
AZ: You killed Kingsley.
CMA: Well, yeah. Go on, then. I suppose I really want this job and it's unfair that I can't be considered just because of my nationality.
AZ: You are learning fast. I will inform the club of your interest.
I was not overly confident of success, even with a fake German passport. My reputation may have been very high in France but I had yet to enter the top 400 for the world reputation rankings. In the end, the job went to Markus Weinzieri, who had previously guided Augsburg to relegation from the Bundesliga. In fact, relegation was not on his CV, as he was sacked before it was confirmed, with 23 points after 30 games. It looks like Agent Zan was right about chairmen being racist.
With no more suitable jobs on the horizon, it was time to prepare for Lucon's top flight debut. With defensive stalwarts Loic Guillon and Adama Coulibaly ageing, it was imperative that I improved this area of the pitch. Miguel Britos isn't exactly youthful himself but he should do just that. He arrived from Watford for £575k. Remy Duterte should also provide some decent cover and is also capable of playing as a midfielder. Just £55k was needed to secure his services from Boulogne. Quentin Lecoeuche left for Ajaccio on a Bosman as his contract had expired. No big loss, he couldn't even get into the side when we were in the French National. I don't know why I held on to him for so long. Several other players were transfer listed but there was not much interest in them.
Up front, Slovenian Robert Beric looks capable of terrorising defences and I was amazed that Saint-Etienne were willing to part with him for just £1.5 million. Gaetan Charbonnier's movement should also cause defences some problems and he arrived on a Bosman from Reims. Gregoire Defrel was brought in on a season-long loan from Sassuolo. The new arrivals made Jordan Mignot feel that there was no place for him anymore, so he left the club on a free. Pierre Germann may have been an integral part of both title winning seasons but I could no longer guarantee him a place in the starting line up. He did not take kindly to this and requested a transfer. I reluctantly accepted but no one has come in for him to date.
Goalkeeper Mike Maignan joined on loan from Lille for the season.
To bolster our midfield options, in came Thomas Deparmentier from Dunkerque. He may or may not work out, but at £80k, he's worth a punt.
Hassane Kamara's loan deal expired and I was not interested in renewing it. The signing I was most thrilled about was defensive midfielder Ogenyi Onazi from Lazio, who are now managed by Brendan Rodgers.
You'd think a team who had just finished 13th in Serie A would want to hold on to him, or at least demand an awful lot more than the £1 million that we coughed up. Amazingly, the Lazio boss appeared to be even happier than I was, judging by his tweet moments after the deal was struck.
As we were preparing for a pre-season friendly away to Sochaux, who did the league double over us last season, Agent Zan interrupted and made me aware that Rolland Courbis had suddenly retired. He had been in charge of a Ligue 1 club and they had not won the league before. I was so excited and could hardly watch the game properly. It resulted in a 1-1 draw, while new signing Britos was sent off. Immediately after the game, I submitted my application to the club in question and it became a waiting game.
With just over a week to go until the start of the season, I still had a job to do for Lucon. Would I be in charge for their first ever top flight fixture at home to Rennes? Business continued as usual until the eve of the game. Then, I dropped a bombshell by announcing that someone else would guide Lucon through a landmark season in the club's history. Players and fans alike were stunned but I think most of them understood. It would be difficult to take Lucon much further with the club's limited resources. I had started to notice that the poor training facilities were having a detrimental effect on the players and you cannot be successful under these circumstances. The new club will offer much better in this area, as well as the entire infrastructure in general. I only intended for Lucon to be a stepping stone but I was still sad to be leaving. I was mobbed by the emotional players, including Germann, despite our recent spat. I think he recognised how I had transformed his career, which went for most of them. I would be leaving the club two divisions higher than when I started. My record at Lucon read: played 85, won 59, drawn 9, lost 17, scored 177, conceded 78, which was something to be proud of. A taxi transported me away from the ground and it was on to pastures new.
Last edited by CMAdventurer; 11-08-16 at 07:49 PM.
That'll give you little chance to prepare your new club for the upcoming season.
Interesting development indeed, even if they do stand a better chance against the mighty PSG it must be an emotional farewell to Lucon.
Going back to last season that run of 11 wins really did the business, and come the draw against Reims, promotion and the title already looked secure. Just a shame about them two cup exits close to each other as well as America (MG) winning their maiden title, still there's plenty of other jobs out there like you say, but for now it's to pastures new in France!
Going to be tough for you to play Lucon next season mixed emosh on that one. I'm slightly sad as Charbonier looks like a beast up front.
I guess that PSG (btw I liked the editting of the Zlatan award ) will still have the best players, but if you can build a decent squad, tactics can beat players.
The artist formally known as The Eejit
Cheers all! I'll always have fond memories of my time with Lucon but my departure was long overdue. When I face them with my new club, I will be desperate to beat them like any other opposition.
Also, good to have you back.
So here I was. Despite being advised by some of my blog followers to move abroad, staying in France was the only feasible option for now. I arrived at the reception of my new club and was immediately greeted by two girls.
Girl 1: Bonjour, Monsieur CMAdventurer. J'aime appelle Nancy.
Girl 2: J'aime appelle Lorraine.
Both: And together, we're Nancy-Lorraine!
CMA: Bonjour, ladies. Do you work here?
Nancy: Oui, we take care of the finances.
CMA: Great, I'd like to speak to you both on Sunday.
The original club, FC Nancy was founded in 1901, only to go out of business in 1965. AS Nancy-Lorraine was formed two years later, meaning that they are currently in their half-centenary year. What better way to celebrate it than by appointing the greatest football manager of all time?
Nancy have yo-yoed between the top two tiers of French football throughout their history. Their crowning glory came in 1978 when a Michel Platini goal against Nice won the Coupe de France. In 2006, Nancy added the Coupe de la Ligue to the trophy cabinet and coincidentally, Nice were their opponents in the final once again. This is the club where a certain Arsene Wenger began his managerial career in 1984. He had very little money to spend during his three years in charge, which was probably what attracted him to the job! Wenger oversaw relegation in 1987 but he was still snapped up by Monaco shortly after. More recently, relegation from Ligue 1 in 2013 ended an unbroken eight years in the top division. After two failed promotion attempts, gaffer Pablo Correa left to manage Uruguay (in this save) and replacement Rolland Courbis steered the club to promotion as runners-up, behind Valenciennes and ahead of bitter local rivals Metz. Courbis guided the team to a respectable 13th-place finish in their first season back in Ligue 1, comfortably clear of relegation, before suddenly announcing his retirement just over a week before the start of the season. I would have appreciated it if he'd gone a little bit earlier to allow me more time but that's the way it goes.
Home games are played at the Stade Marcel Picot, which has just been expanded to a capacity of 35,000, previously holding just over 20,000. It also has an artificial playing surface. I thought that was a thing of the past, particularly in developed nations, but clearly not.
Traditionally, Nancy play in red and white. I think Kingsley will be interested to know that their nickname is “Les Chardons”, which translates to “The Thistles”. I know I'll never make them as good as the proper Thistle, but I'll do my best.
You can see the resemblance!
Nancy is located in the north east of France, meaning I had to travel quite some way from Lucon. The city is situated on the left bank of the river Meurthe. Landmarks include the square Place Stanislas and Nancy's own Notre-Dame cathedral.
There was not a huge press gathering as the appointment had taken them by surprise. Those who anticipated it did manage to get a few questions in before I headed for my new office.
Q: How does it feel to be the new Nancy-Lorraine manager?
A: It is the greatest honour anyone could have.
Q: Will you still be looking out for Lucon's results?
A: I don't really have much choice, they're in the same league as us. I really wish them all the best as long as they lose twice to Nancy and of course finish below us.
Q: What are your expectations for your first season?
A: I'll let you know when I've seen the squad.
Q: Finally, your last action as Lucon manager was to cancel the loan deals of Mike Maignan and Gregoire Defrel. Can you explain why?
A: Erm, well I didn't cancel them. They just didn't want to remain at the club after such an awesome manager had departed. It's quite simple, really.
My new club certainly had a far more professional feel than Lucon, which was a good start. There was no time to admire my new surroundings, though, as Nancy's Ligue 1 opener at home to Troyes was less than 24 hours away. I had done some research on the squad once I heard of the vacant managerial post but for the time being, I would be relying on my assistant's input. I had seen a few of Nancy's games before, but not enough to know the squad inside out. I would have liked my first action as Nancy boss to have been to hold a meeting where I would outline my vision for the club, but the match would have to take priority. The meeting was therefore postponed until Sunday. That's when the talk on how to topple Paris Saint-Zlatan would begin and both Nancy and Lorraine would be involved. Now to meet my assistant and the squad I would have to work with for the time being.
Good luck with the new club. Not much time to allow you to plan anything, I guess you will just need to plug a few holes for this year.
Good luck also with both Lorraine and Nancy
Nancy boys will never make it at the "Real Thistle" (and can we have this seasons strip please)
The artist formally known as The Eejit
Best of luck being a Nancy boy!
Still think toppling PSG will be too tough, unless you're willing to wait until the big names start retiring, but you've probably got a better chance at Nancy than at Lucon
I think the French league will be by far the most difficult to win a maiden title in. That's partly because PSG are so strong, but in a few years, it should be more of a level playing field. Big clubs may mess up in the transfer market, while lesser clubs tend to get much richer over time.
Ultimately I probably would have preferred a move abroad at this time, but it certainly makes for an intriguing challenge.
Squad Analysis & First Game
The day's training session had finished, so I would have to wait until after my opening match to witness one. Luckily, my assistant Vincent Hognon provided me with a DVD of all players in action. It meant a long night but I was glad to be able assess the players immediately.
Cameroonian international Guy Ndy Assembe looks to be the pick of them, although player comparison rates Gauthier Gallon as a much better keeper. Louis Souchaud and Alex Vencel are reasonable alternatives and there's probably not an awful lot between the four of them. Assembe will probably get the nod for now but as one of the highest earners at the club, he may not feature in my long-term plans. My number one at Lucon, Anthony Martin, may well have been better than all four of them.
Serbian international Uros Spajic is clearly the standout defender in the squad. Credit must go to my predecessor for capturing him from Toulouse for a bargain £550k. He can speak fluent French, so he will be an obvious contender for skipper. He can also play as a sweeper, which seems to be a dying breed, so if Kingsley gets the sweeper formation at Carpi (again) and Serbia, he knows what to do. We also seem to have a rising star in 19-year-old Nordi Mukiele, who can play in defence or midfield, in the centre or on the right. Right now, he might be my preferred choice to partner Spajic. Michael Bosqui and Modou Diagne are both adequate backups. However, the latter is transfer listed by request, so I'm not sure if his heart is in it. Moroccan international Mickael Chretien Basser looks like a decent right back but at 33 and earning £9.5k a week, it may be time to seek a replacement. Left back is a choice between Tobias Badila and Faitout Maouassa but neither of them are great. Maouassa could develop into a half decent player, though.
21-year-old Youssef Ait Bennasser looks to be the pick of the bunch. The board see him as an indispensable member of the team and I agree with them, for now at least. Winger Yves-Marie Kerjean definitely has some skills. His dribbling and movement are of the highest quality but he does let himself down in other areas. His crossing is nowhere near good enough for a winger, while his passing could be better. I'm sure he will still get plenty of game time, it's just a question of how to best utilise his strengths. Arnaud Lusamba and Nathan Fourdiner are alternatives in the centre, with Fourdiner the more attack-minded of the two. Other options include Uruguayan Jonathan Iglesias, who is transfer listed by request, Mauritanian Diallo Guidileye who is unhappy and Cameroonian Albert Baning, who can also play at the back but does not justify the £10k a week that he's on, at least not compared to what other players are earning.
I was less than impressed with what I saw on the DVD. The club lost veteran Moroccan striker and last season's top scorer Youssof Hadji in the summer and have not replaced him. Clearly previous gaffer Courbis had planned his retirement in advance and did not bother doing any maintenance on the squad. Maurice Dale is arguably the best of a bad bunch but at 33 and another one eating away at the wage bill, his days could be numbered. He can also play as a left winger and in midfield. Jean-michel Joachim is one of the club's highest-valued players at around £2 million but I don't really rate him and it may be worth cashing in on him. Abdou Coulibaly will make an OK backup, while Alexis Busin is only 21, but I don't see him developing into a top player. I don't see where the goals are going to come from, so signing a top class striker is an absolute must.
Overall, I was expecting more from the squad. There are clearly some gems such as Spajic and Ait Bennasser but there are too many players who are distinctly average. It's also quite a young squad with an average age of just over 23, including the reserves. Hopefully I can improve the team before the transfer deadline in just over a month, especially up front. I think they did well to finish 13th last year.
I will have to make do with the current squad for now. For some reason, the club decided to hold a friendly just 48 hours before the Ligue 1 opener (a 3-1 home defeat to Trabzonspor), meaning that many of the players were knackered. This affected the team selection. Luckily, Troyes played one only 24 hours earlier than we did, so they were not in the best physical shape either. I opted for a rather conservative 4-1-4-1 formation, with Lusamba acting as the holding player. I instructed the midfielders to pass to Kerjean as much as possible, who would make runs mostly down the centre, due to his inability to cross the ball. Alexis Busin may have been my fourth choice striker, but the rest were in poor condition, so he played as our lone forward. I normally favour a pressing game but due to the tiredness of the players, I instructed them to conserve their energy on this occasion.
I was given a lukewarm reception by the Nancy faithful prior to kick off. It was a huge disappointment to see the newly-expanded stadium barely half full, but that was probably a reflection of what fans were expecting for the season ahead. You could hardly blame them. After all, there had been no major summer signings and their manager had abandoned ship less than two weeks earlier. Pundits were impressed with my tenure at Lucon but pointed to my lack of experience in Ligue 1. Actually, I did have a brief spell at Marseille in my previous story. Had things panned out differently at the end of last season, I could easily have found myself in the opposing dugout for today, so let's hope I was right to turn Troyes down.
Troyes were first on the attack. Reynald Lemaitre's cross from the left wing was inviting for Laurent Agouazi but he was on the stretch and headed into the side netting. It was an early warning for us. We quickly responded with an attack of our own. Fourdiner's precise diagonal ball was headed on by Coulibaly to Bennasser. The Moroccan showed a glimpse of his talent by driving past a couple of Troyes defenders into the left side of the penalty area, before crossing the ball to the far post. It was perfect for Busin who time his run perfectly, to meet it on the half volley and he couldn't miss! We had the lead inside five minutes. It was the first Ligue 1 goal of the new season and we were top of the league!
The early goal appeared to galvanise us and three minutes later, we came close to doubling our advantage. Kerjean went on a run that I knew he was capable of, before sliding a ball through to Busin. His fierce strike was tipped round the post by visiting keeper Yohann Pele. Back came Troyes and Agouazi tested Assembe with a fine long range effort, which the Cameroon stopper did well to hang on to. After that, there was only one team who looked like scoring in the first half. Kerjean had a couple of chances, while left back Badila also tried his luck, but all were off target. The visitors were happy to go into the dressing room only a goal down at the interval.
It was a good first 45 minutes for us but I stressed the importance of the second goal. A 1-0 lead is always precarious, at any level. We started the second half determined to kill the game off. Bennasser was given space on the edge of the area and his drive was beaten away by Pele. Busin was quick to pounce but the goalie made a brilliant recovery to deny him a second. Would we be made to pay for our inability to find a second goal? On 54 minutes, Valentin Eysseric delivered a fine ball into the area for the visitors and Lacina Traore was on hand to squeeze the ball past Assembe for an equaliser against the run of play. That happens so much in football. But wait a minute...
So, a real let off for the team. It was a reminder that we really needed a second. On 62 minutes, we won a corner. Bennasser overhit it but Coulibaly did well to prevent it from going out of play. He picked out Busin with his cross. He controlled it on his chest and a sublime touch bamboozled the Troyes defence. His strike was crisp and Pele had no chance. It was a superbly taken goal and we had some breathing space.
We never looked like surrendering our lead. Troyes rarely threatened, while we actually came closer to a third goal through Kerjean, but Pele prevented further damage. 2-0 was the final score and our half-full stadium celebrated with a rendition of “Are you watching, PSG?”. Slightly premature, I'd say but it was the first step on the long road to dethroning the seemingly untouchable French champions. They were not in action until the following day, so we could celebrate being above them. In fact, we were joint top with Lille, who beat Caen by the same scoreline.
I may have had my reservations about some of the individuals in the squad, but as a team, I could not have asked for more. Busin was deservedly awarded man of the match and a 10 rating, while none of the starting XI were rated lower than a 7. A very satisfactory first match in charge but we must not get ahead of ourselves. Troyes are not the greatest side in the world and I think I'll have a better idea of where we're at after our next game, which is a tricky trip to the Stade Velodrome in Marseille.
The following day, which was a Sunday, would not be a day of rest. It was the day when the talks on how to turn Nancy into French champions would commence.
I think that you have underrated Joachim. It would be foolish to get rid of him before you have a decent replacement. I hope that Busin has done enough to stay in your plans, but I agree that the forward department needs some prompt attention. Goalkeepers are OK, but I think you can easily do better.
Overall, you have the makings of a first team, but not much depth. A good win to start your reign with, but I suspect that there are harder challenges to come.
The artist formally known as The Eejit