To Get Lost Is To Learn The Way

2041/42 Open Thread


Equatorial Guinea 2041 – Africa Cup of Nations Preview; Ivory Coast Squad Review.

Here we are.  Looking to win our 4th straight Cup of Nations title, this time in Equatorial Guinea.

But we aren’t just looking at this title.  No, the World Cup kicks off in one year.  We failed to impress the last time around.  We need to do better. 

This is the 23-man squad who I am planning to bring to Greece next summer (assuming that everyone is healthy, of course):

We’re playing PM Haaientand, the 3331/3610 setup that was devised as part of my collaboration with Guido Merry and Gareth Clarke, detailed over at strikerless.

Let’s dive right in…

Goalkeepers

We’ve got a two-way battle in goal, between Franck Gouamene and Moustapha Dah.  Frankly, both are tremendous goalkeepers.  I can’t go wrong with either one.  Gouamene gets the nod, though. 

Hamed Kone is nothing more than a backup, he’ll only see the field if the other two suffer massive internal hemorrhaging.  And even then, I might stick a field player in goal.

Bottom line, we’re completely set in goal for both the World Cup and the foreseeable future. Kone will age-out before the 2046 World Cup, but he really isn’t in the picture.

Defenders

Another really difficult decision here.  Junior Kouadio has been our starter, but his development feels stunted somewhat…and I wish he was slightly taller.  He’s outstanding, he just hasn’t progressed to the extent I thought he would.  Ousmane Kouassi (who you might remember from Partizan) is a more-than-capable backup.  (Franck Niamke and Adjaho Meleke (our libero at Reims) could also fill in, as/if needed, although they’re currently starting elsewhere in our 2nd XI.)

The bog-standard centerbacks in our 1st XI are Bakary Kobenan and Karamoko Fofana.  Kobenan took over for Moussa Keita, who will serve in our 2nd XI with Adjaho Meleke.  Keita isn’t slowing down, its just that Kobenan has a slight edge on him.  Very slight.  But enough.

At wingback, we’ve got Ange Diallo on the right in the 1st XI, with Fabrice Dao as the backup.  On the left, Daniel Sangare will start, with Kevin Kone in the 2nd XI.

We will see some turnover after Greece 2042, given the respective ages of Fofana and Keita.  Diallo may be able to hang on for a while, but it would be a big ask to play as a wingback in our system in 2046.  It’ll be too demanding if his physical attributes start to decline.

Midfielders

Our starting regista will be Adama Traore, a player that I love to bits.  Franck Niamke is his backup, and could easily start at libero or anywhere in our core midfield 4 without us really missing a step.  He’s already a brilliant player, and what further development he has could push him over the top. 

Fabrice Kouao is the roaming playmaker in our 1st XI, with Alassane Dao in the 2nd XI.

Youssouf Meite and Serge Diallo will be our starting mezzalas, with Gervais Traore and Didier Kone coming off the bench.  4 very familiar faces if you’ve been following the save, given that: (1) Meite and Diallo have been with the Ivorians for several years now; (2) Traore had two brilliant years at Reims, while on loan from Koln; and (3) Kone was a key player at Partizan, who have since retrained him to be a midfielder. 

(Frankly, I had been eyeing a move for Kone to come in and lead the line at Reims, but while I could sign him for around $12M – an absolute bargain – he’s on $145k/week, which is 3x what I’m paying anyone at Reims.  I just can’t bring myself to do it.  So I signed a young Croatian prospect instead (more on that later), for only $1.7M and less than 1/100th of the wage.)

Attacking Midfielders

The main man up top is Orlande Kante, who remains a key player for us thanks to Zlatan’s Golden Fountain.  Anicet Toure is the very capable shadow striker in our 2nd XI – he may not be on the level of Kante, but few are. He’s a beast.

Final Thoughts

I was appointed as the Ivory Coast’s manager in July 2034, 7 years ago.

This is easily the strongest side we’ve put together. We should dominate this tournament (again). We should be ready for the World Cup.

It’s just a matter of putting it together, on the pitch.


Equatorial Guinea 2041 – Cup of Nations Review.

Things went about as expected at the Cup of Nations.

Our 2nd XI kicked off the Group Stage with a comprehensive 3-nil win over Rwanda. The 2nd XI secured our passage into the knockout rounds with a 7-nil win over Zambia, before closing out the Group Stage with a scoreless draw against DR Congo, albeit one we utterly dominated.

We drew Sudan in the Second Round, which I had planned would be a match for the 2nd XI. As expected, it was an extremely straightforward match, with the Libyans sitting absurdly deep. This resulted in a weird phenomenon that we sometimes see in this tactic, where a highly-defensive opponent starts to accumulate possession, passing the ball between its defenders, for no purpose whatsoever. (The natural response is to push our lines higher so as to disrupt this. But it still results in goofy statistics.) In the end, we won 2-nil – a scoreline that did not come close to matching the game.

In the quarterfinals, we faced Libya who rode their luck against Nigeria in the previous round. They also sat deep and accumulated possession, to no purpose, but we ran away with a 4-nil win, to secure passage through to the semifinals.

Burkina Faso waited in the semifinals, a side that we had no reason to fear. I deployed the 2nd XI, who took care of business. The result was never in doubt. 2-nil, heading into the final to face Cameroon.

(Of course, some argued that using our 2nd XI in the semifinals was a sign of disrespect to Burkina Faso. But, if anything, isn’t it actually a sign of deep respect? When you really think about it?!)

In the final, Cameroon sat deep. They didn’t play to win. They played to not lose. We struggled to break them down in the final third, and were thus reduced to the lottery of penalties. Frank Gouamene repeated his heroics from the 2038 World Cup, saving 2 penalties to ensure that we took home our 4th straight Cup of Nations title.

We our finishing wasn’t particularly sexy, there’s no question that our passing was.

Once again, we were the dominant side at the tournament. 7 matches. 18 goals for, zero against. (Interestingly enough, we have not lost a match at the Cup of Nations during my tenure. We also have not conceded at the Cup of Nations since June 20, 2039 — a run of 14 straight matches.)

It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. We’re ready for the World Cup. That is the only thing left for Les Elephants.


July 2041.

The Champions League draw has become far too theatrical. It’s the Third Qualifying Round, not Eurovision. I don’t understand why Shakira and Gerard Pique had to do a duet.

Even Cristiano looked bored. But when he oiled up his abs and started pulling balls from the hopper…I can’t deny that my heart started racing. Hold on…that’s not what I meant. The draw was exciting, that’s all.

And the draw could not have gone better. We’re going to Belgrade, lads. Drinks at the Itchy Kitty will be on the house if we can eliminate **** Star.


August 2041.

The breakthrough was a long time coming in the first leg. It was nothing less than we deserved, but the margins were far narrower than I’d like.

A similar story in Belgrade, even if the hosts were more aggressive. We held them at bay, a solid defensive display capped by a late goal from Simon. 2-nil. More than good enough. I’ll take it.

We’ll face Feyenoord for a spot in the Group Stage.


August 2041.

We’re facing the same problems that I tend to face at one point or another, at most clubs in this save.

We’re young. We’re immensely talented. Brimming with potential. But we haven’t met that potential yet. And that means we struggle (at times) to break down defenses.

We need to score more. That much is clear. But when your main goalscoring threat is a largely untested 17 year-old, who only joined the side recently…that could be a challenge. Above and beyond any issues we might have with creating chances in the final third.

Gerc, Gerc, it rhymes with Krauftwerk!

I know. It’s a wonderful “problem” to have. “My wonderkids haven’t developed yet.” Boo-****ing-hoo.

The thing is, I can see how good this time can be. In time. And, I’m impatient.

A 1-nil win at the Auguste-Delaune, followed by a 1-0 win in Rotterdam. We were in complete control of both ties, but need to develop a killer instinct.

Especially since we’ve drawn Matthias Kaltenbach’s Partizan, Marcelo Gallardo’s Milan, and Laurent Koscielny’s Athletic in the Group Stage. Our eyes are on 3rd, and a spot in the Europa League knockout stage.


August 2041.

The other transfer that has been brewing all summer is with youth academy graduate Ibrahima Sory Soumah, who had played in our 2nd XI. He was repeatedly agitating for a pay raise (into the 30k range), which is far beyond what I would consider, especially given his ability and role in the squad. He threw his toys out of the pram when I rejected a few offers, so enough was enough — I negotiated a $10.75M fee (rising to $18M with add-ons), plus a 50% sell-on clause with Cristian Zapata’s Stuttgart, and off he goes.

(Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid had actually made a higher bid, but Soumah elected to go to Stuttgart. Speaking of Zidane…check out his managerial CV as of August 2041, 20 years after he was sacked by Madrid at the end of the 2020/21 campaign. He’s on his 5th overall appointment at Madrid, with virtually nothing to show from the last 20 years. Now, where was I…)

We’ve replaced Soumah in the 2nd XI with Sergio Alonso, on a flat $7.5M fee from Alaves. He’ll play as the roaming playmaker in our 2nd XI.


September 2041.

Following the Ivorians’ dominance at the Cup of Nations, we’ve risen to number 4 in the world rankings.

I cannot wait for the World Cup. And with performances like these, we’re definitely going to make waves — the 1st XI smashed Nigeria 5-nil, with the 2nd XI winning 6-nil in Rwanda. Just look at those sexy heatmaps. Fierce.


September 2041.

A massive night in Belgrade. A hero’s welcome, for Dobias, Meleke and the managerial team, prior to the match.

But for 90 minutes, no quarter was given. No punches were pulled. And we walked away with all 3 points, courtesy of Hassan Sellami.

It was an open bar at the Itchy Kitty when we eliminated **** Star just a few short weeks ago. We cannot expect any such hospitality tonight. You can feel it in the air. A change in the wind.

We’ve got a long way to go still. But a new day is coming.

We leave Belgrade with all 3 points, after a quick game of #HideTheSellami in the 8th minute.

(Full disclosure: Immediately after I posted this, I left the match and FM crashed. Fortunately, I am on weekly autosaves and only had to replay this match and the Nimes match that immediately preceded it. We won the replay, 2-1, on Instant Result. Ugh.)


October 2041.

The frustration is real, as we create enough chances to win the game on matchday 2 against Milan but cannot find the back of the net. The supporters’ songs about Gerc have gone from cheeky and fun, to slightly more malevolent, as his scoreless run continues.

While our staring shadow striker isn’t scoring, we are still top of Ligue 1. 22 goals for, only 1 against — the only blemish being our 2nd XI’s shameful display against Caen. If Gerc can start producing…

The Ivorians finish World Cup qualifying in style, beating Nigeria 2-1 in Abuja, followed by a comprehensive 1-nil win over Libya. The scorelines don’t reflect our dominance. The World Cup cannot come soon enough.


November 2041.

My brain is mush tonight after a long, long day. So let’s get right to it.

An incredibly frustrating night in Bilbao on matchday 3. We had our chances and didn’t take them, dropping all 3 points in a 2-1 loss. Back in Reims, however, we fought to the bitter end, securing a massive 3-1 win over the Basques to see us move to the top of a 4-way tie in Group C.

The saga of Donato Gerc has continued on, although he was unlucky not to score against Bilbao. The Basque keeper pulled off at least 3 big saves on him. Brutal, brutal stuff. Finally, in his 16th appearance for the club, Gerc broke his duck, kicking off the scoring in a 4-1 win over PS-****ing-G. It’s about time, son.

Two quick friendlies for the Ivorians close out a brilliant year, straightforward wins over Colombia and Tunisia, and we’re that much closer to the World Cup. For the moment, though, our focus can be on Stade de Reims.


November 2041.

I’m just going to leave this here.

#GTL? Get. That. Ligue.

December 2041.

December began with the World Cup draw for the Ivory Coast — we’ll face Scotland and Australia. I’m pleased, although I’m getting a little impatient for it to start.

After the incredible campaign we’ve had thus far with Stade de Reims, we end 2041 with a loss to Toulouse. Frustrating, but those are the breaks.

Matchday 6 in the Champions League Group Stage was a tough one — a 3-1 loss, away to Milan. A fair result on the night, albeit a frustrating one. In the end, I’m not upset. We’ll be playing Champions League football after the holidays, which is more than I’d hoped for at the start of the season, and certainly more than I expected once the Groups were drawn.

We will face Frank Lampard’s Schalke in the First Knockout Round.

Overall, thinks are going as well as we could realistically hope for. We’re top of Ligue 1, leading Ligue 1 in both goals scored and goals against. Monaco and Lyon began the year as the favorites for the title, but they keep dropping points. There is a lot of football to be played, but things are looking good.


March 2042.

Watching Fat Frank Lampard cavort about the touchline, dabbing with Pitbull after their early goal, fills me with rage. The arrogance is astounding. Sure, we gifted them the goal, early in the 1st leg, but we had the last laugh. Especially given the comical nature of our 3rd goal, a deflection leaving Guerreiro helpless in Ze German’s goal. We’ll take a 3-1 win over the Bundesliga-leading Smurfs any day of the week.

We always knew the return leg was going to be a battle. An away goal, all but necessary. Junior Konate delivered in the 23rd, with Geoffroy’s 88th-minute header securing our passage through to the quarterfinals. Zlatan couldn’t help himself. He dabbed in front of Lampard, setting off a post-match scuffle that has captured headlines everywhere. The young upstarts from Reims have done it. Schalke are out. We’re moving on. Anything can happen.

The first knockout round is over, and no “easy” draws remain. We’ll ride this as far as we can, but the reality is that we’re already doing far better than I’d hoped for.

As much as I want us to make a run in the Champions League, I want to make sure we don’t lose our focus domestically. The Ligue 1 title is ours to lose, and we could use the 1st seed for next year’s assault on the Champions League.

We draw Velicko Kaplanovic’s Roma.


March 2042.

The World Cup cannot come soon enough. We’re ready.


April 2042.

We could not have asked for more. 90 minutes where we were not at our best, but we were good enough. Good enough to take a two-goal lead back to Rome. The pundits may say we’re living on borrowed time, but we’re alive. Gloriously alive.

At the Olimpico, Deble headed home a corner from Sellami in the 11th minute, sending the traveling support into raptures. A vital away goal. But Roma were not done for. A brilliant finish from distance brought them level on the night, while Ales Maly pounced on an errant backpass from Dobias shortly before the half. 45 minutes, all to play for.

A quick game of #HideTheSellami in the 46th minute meant Roma needed two more. We were resolute. We held firm.

A Cinderella story. The neutral’s favorite. Playing champagne football…most of the time.

Into the semifinals, to face Raul Valbuena’s Wolves. While we hold a 7-point lead in Ligue 1, with a game in hand.

Best hope we don’t turn into a pumpkin any time soon.


April 2042.

8 points, 5 matches. The 2nd XI found a narrow win away to Saint-Etienne, but the 1st XI drew against a defensive Brest.

We definitely have the harder run-in. A three-match stretch…a murderer’s row.

But first things first. Wolves are coming to town…then Nice…then to England. We’ll see where we are at that point.

I don’t want to think too far ahead…but I can’t believe we might be 180 minutes from the Champions League final.


May 2042.

A hard-fought 90 minutes in Reims. If only we’d made it through the full 94.

Wolves found the 93rd minute winner, against the run of play. A bitter pill to swallow.

We have it all to do in the Black Country.


May 2042.

The dream is over. We weren’t good enough. The better team won.

But we will not rest on our accomplishments to-date. The planning for next season’s campaign began on the flight home. The 2nd XI beat Nice, 3-nil, so we’re on the verge of the Ligue 1 title.

In terms of personnel, decisions must be made. Zlatan has been dispatched to Sweden to run the rule over a young Norweigan-Icelandic prospect with a ridiculous name. They’re a match made in heaven.

To be continued…

If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused… Don’t worry.  The basic concept behind the Nearly Men save is explained here.  Just need to catch up? Each installment in Nicolaj Bur’s story can be accessed through the Nearly Men Archive.

And if you just can’t get enough…join us for The Ballad of Toothless Bob, a series conceived and co-authored by Seattle Red and Oriole that explores the world of Nicolaj Bur, away from the pitch. What is Project Arcturus? What lies beyond the twisted redstone door, deep in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabéu?


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