Étoile Filante – 2023/24 Open Thread
January 2024 – Squad Review.
The first day of training is little more than a complete mess. I haven’t run a session since my U10s last year, and those boys were borderline incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, much less implementing the tactics I’ve been watching from Sweden.
Strikerless. With an aggressive libero. I figured the other 9 year-olds wouldn’t be able to handle our tactical sophistication.
I was wrong. Billy had the positional sense of a drunken David Luiz — and I mean that in the most positive way possible. His dad (a big Falkirk supporter) was none too pleased, as he’s convinced his lad is the next Lee Miller.
But I digress.
Turning to the task at hand in Lome, I assumed the professional footballers are more ready for my tactical stylings. The media had predicted we would finish 6th, while the bookies had us 5th, at 50-1 odds to win it all.
But we’re rock bottom, away to 2nd-place Doumbe on the weekend. I pull out the tried-but-true, “lads, it’s Doumbe.”
But no one laughs.
They’re dead serious, this lot.
The looks of utter bewilderment as I outline our tactics are plain, as are the hand gestures and caustic remarks in French — a language I do not speak as anything other than a hackneyed pick-up line. (Trust me when I tell you that nothing says “bring the sexy time” more than singing in French with a Scottish accent. Try it sometime. You’ll see)
Between us, though, I don’t think the translator is particularly trustworth, as she was insistent that the lads guffawing at my pronunciation of mezzala was complimentary.
We’re about to test how readily authority can be conjured with little more than strutting jackassery and a sexy Scottish vibe.
While Brendan finds his sea legs, lets take a deep dive into the tactics and squad that he has on offer.
We’re going to start with PM Haaienvuist, mainly because it is more solid defensively than PM Draugr.
We have 29 players at the club. In terms of registration, we are limited to a 25-man squad for the league, with no more than 6 foreign players. After promoting 2 players from our reserves, we are left with the following squad, with less than 4 weeks left in the transfer window.
Our best player? On first glance, it appears to be sixteen year-old Kossivi Diallo, a goalkeeper who has already agreed to join Real Bamako on a free, on his 18th birthday. That alone should tell you all you need to know.
Yaovi Diallo will be our starting libero. Why, you ask? It’s a good question. I hope you’re not expecting an answer, because I don’t have a good one for you, beyond “if you squint, he looks more like a young Beckenbauer than the others.”
Thomas Tonou and Kossi Phillipe Adegnon (who Rodgers keeps calling “Felipe”) will be our starting centerbacks, to the sides of Diallo. Gafarou Zonor will play from the bench — he would take Adegnon’s place, but for his pace.
Farid Segbefia is also in the squad, but I do not expect him to see much playing time.
Our starting wingbacks will be Bachir Sene and Serge Ouro-Yondou. Wingbacks are critical players in this system, and Sene is arguably the field player best suited to our tactics. I considered playing him as a mezzala, but I want his (relative) creativity on the flank. David Donkor and Komi Balgou are our backups.
Our mezzalas will be Komi Dao and Tadjoudine Arouna. Kossivi Akomatsri and Komlan Adika are our primary backups and will play from the bench, with Yaovi Sirakatou and Kossi Diallo also in the mix, and Kodjovi Koudloum out on loan.
As best as I can tell, we aren’t that far off the pace in terms of quality, vis-a-vis our domestic competition. The reality is that they’re also struggling with the monetary limitations in Togolese football, and relative reputation of the Togolese Premier League (which sits 33rd in the competition reputation table).
Our immediate goal is simple. Avoid relegation. We’re 4 points from safety, with 12 matches to play.
If and when our position in the league is secure, we can turn to the real challenge in front of Brendan — building a squad to play our tactics. Once we’ve done that, we should become dominant domestically.
“Should” being the operative word in that sentence…
In the interim, Brendan will be offering contracts to key players and trying to identify free transfer signings, while also building up a backroom staff (aka “give contracts to anyone who claims they can be of assistance”).
I only learn on the morning of the match that our “away” trip is not much of a trip. In fact, we share a stadium with Doumbe…
Meaning that my plan to motivate the squad by watching Braveheart on the way to the match is ruined.
In the end, we blow a massive opportunity to snatch a point, with Bamele smashing a penalty miles wide in first-half injury time. A 1-nil loss. A moral victory? No, thank you.
But, word filters through that TAC smashed Anges, 4-nil. Meaning we move up the table on goal difference. It’s progress. Tangible progress.
Away to SNPT a few days later, we are on the hunt for 3 points. Another Lome-based club means that there is, once again, no time for Mel Gibson. We cannot muster a shot on goal, falling again by a 1-nil scoreline.
Angers draw away to AS Togo-Port, meaning we drop back to the bottom of the table, 7 points from safety.
Why have you foresaken us, Mel?!
Without a competitive match for 4 weeks, we schedule several intra-squad friendlies with the reserves, to try and build up some semblance of tactical familiarity ahead of relegation six-pointers against Gbikinti and Dyto.
It isn’t pretty. When we fall behind by 2 early goals against Gbikinti, it begins to feel like the beginning of the end. But the lads do not give up. And we storm back with 4 goals to claim the first win of my tenure, 4-2. I breathe easy and say a prayer of thanks to Mel, who was with us in spirit if not body.
Against Dynamic Togolais, we again dig ourselves a deep hole, entering halftime down 3-nil. But we storm back with 5 goals, en route to an epic 5-4 win. 3 points are 3 points, lads, but perhaps next time we claim them without giving the opposition a head start, yeah?!
Away to Kotoko, we made it hard on ourselves yet again. A hard-fought, well-earned point is our just reward.
Away to 9th-place Kara, we are hopeful of picking up points and control the match…right up until Sene is sent off in the 38th minute. At which point, we are determined and hold on until the 92nd minute, when Kara snatch the winner, followed by a straight red for Adegnon. An utter disaster.
We proceed to claim a point against 7th-place Maranatha, with a 1-1 draw. But we are starting to run out of time. We need points. There is little margin for error.
We travel to 6th place Koroki. Desperate. And it shows. A ruthless display of finishing sees us claim a vital 3 points with a 4-1 win, to pull ourselves out of the relegation zone, ahead of Gbikinti on goal difference.
The final match of the month sees us hosting Semassi, who sit 3rd in the table. Another hard-fought 1-1 draw. A stolen point. We’ll take it. With 5 matches to play, we have the inside track to survival.
Squeaky bum time in Lome. We claim a comprehensive 4-nil win over last-place Anges, before a tough trip to TAC sees us walk away with a 2-2 draw. Yet, Gbikinti won. Meaning we fall back into 13th place, with 3 matches to play.
We host 11th-place Togo-Port on Matchday 24. A must-win six-pointer, before a record crowd of 652. We claim a 3-nil victory, climbing out of the relegation zone, but Gbikinti also win, leaving 5 teams separated by 3 points.
The final two matchdays, we must travel to ASKO before hosting Doumbe.
We are only 13 points off ASKO in 2nd. For the sake of comparison, we were only 12 points off them in January — our form has been exemplary. But will it be enough? To survive, we almost certainly need a result in one of these two matches. It is a big ask.
The trip to ASKO is an utter disaster. We sleepwalk through the first 45 minutes, falling behind by 3 goals. While we could recover against lesser opposition earlier in the campaign, this is a different matter. We lose, 4-2.
Togo-Port upset Semassi, claiming a 5-nil win. As a result, we fall back into the relegation zone.
We need a win on the final matchday against Doumbe. We also need help. Togo-Port and SNPT are both away.
We fall behind early, but finish strong — hitting 3 goals in the final 15 minutes to claim a 3-1 win. Marantha and SNPT both lose, while Togo-Port draws…meaning we leapfrog all 3 to finish 10th, with all 4 teams separated by only 1 point.
We survive. By the skin of our teeth.
For some unfathomable reason, the Togolese FA have taken to inviting 2 Danish clubs to participate in the Coupe de l’Independance each year, a competition typically reserved for the top 8 Togolese clubs. (I suspect this is intended to be an indirect “**** you” to ze Germans, their former colonial overlords.)
The good news being that the CAF has insisted upon Togolese teams representing the nation in the Confederation Cup, such that when the Danes win the Cup (or reach the final), the league runners-up qualify (instead of the Cup winners).
May 2024 – Continental Review.
In the Champions League, ES Sahel beat Kaizer Chiefs, 2-1, to give us our first newly-eligible team.
Mamelodi Sundowns claimed the Confederation Cup title with a 4-nil win over Ismaily.
May 2024 – Youth Intake.
Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of our youth intake this year.
I genuinely appreciate Kodjo’s enthusiasm and optimism. But let’s be honest. Kodjo is an idiot.
Either this crop of players has immense potential, or Kodjo has been drinking Grandpa’s cough Sizzurp.
The best players appear to be: Jeannot Saibou, who will train as a mezzala; Thomas Abotchi-Eninful, who will train as a ball-playing defender; Emmanuel Abotchi, even though he lacks the pace we need; Abasse “Abby” Agbegniadan-Mawuena, a potential shadow striker; and Kokou Ametokodo, another potential shadow striker.
May 2024 – Season Review.
Several things are clear 4 months into my tenure at Etoile Filante.
First and foremost, the squad was underperforming dramatically upon my arrival. There is no good reason that they should have been sitting on 9 points, in 14th. The squad was capable of much, much more.
Second, there appears to be tremendous parity in the Togolese Premier League. Upon my appointment, we were only 4 points from safety, and 12 points off 2nd place. We proceeded to take 22 points from a possible 42, finishing 1 point clear of relegation and 11 points off 2nd place.
Third, every club in Togo is struggling, financially. We are currently limited to 1-year professional contracts (something that I hope will eventually change). As a result, there is a free-for-all to sign players on free contracts. Meaning that squad building is going to be a challenge unless and until we can gain some measure of financial security.
Taken together, these factors tell me that domestic dominance is not as uphill a battle as I initially expected. That is not to say that we’re on Easy Street. There is work to be done. Having avoided relegation and gained the opportunity to build a squad tailored to my tactics, though, we should have a much more successful campaign in 2024/25.
To that end, I’ve signed 8 young players on free transfer (and offered a contract to a 9th) to replace both the players we have had on loan and certain first-team players whose contracts were not renewed. I believe that most of these players will step directly into the 1st XI (or see substantial playing time from the bench). We will kick off the 2024/25 Open Thread with a close look at these players and their impact on the squad.
The only bad news as the season winds down? The Board cut our wage budget in half, to $4.4k.
If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused… Don’t worry. The basic concept behind the Nearly Men of Africa is explained here. Just need to catch up? Each installment in Brendan Rodgers’ story can be accessed through the Nearly Men of Africa archive.