Étoile Filante – 2024/25 Open Thread
July 2024 – Transfers.
No rest for the wicked. Having escaped relegation in the final minutes of the 2023/24 campaign, we must not rest on our laurels.
We’ve spent several months working to secure signings for the new campaign — signings that will improve the XI, not merely fill blank spots on the depth chart.
All together, we’ve made 9 signings on a free transfer, six of whom will step directly into the 1st XI. We have also promoted 2 players from the 2024 youth intake to the senior squad, to play from the bench with our 1st XI.
Let’s take a quick look at these signings and promotions, and how they will affect the 1st XI. After all, little else has changed since our full-blown squad review 6 months ago.
In goal, Kodjo Tchadenou arrives to take over in the 1st XI. While Kossivi Diallo has been our most promising player, he is leaving in one year’s time and Kodjo is not only an upgrade, he has solid potential. Bottom line: why should I develop Kossivi for another club, stunting Kodjo’s growth? Komlan Komla also arrives — he will spend the year with our reserves, before stepping in as our backup in 2025/26. (Last year’s primary backup, Franck Ouattara, will be allowed to leave on a free.)
Carlos Pires arrives to fill an empty spot in our 1st XI. He is our most complete ball-playing defender. Koffi Dekpo is another new arrival, who is expected to play from the bench behind Thomas Tonou. Dekpo’s relative physical and technical attributes are solid, but I worry about his mental attributes in a league where the margins are so thin. Worst case scenario, he provides both depth and potential.
Kossivi Pessinaba narrowly claims the open starting mezzala position, paired with the returning Komi Dao. Kossivi Akomastri returns; he will play from the bench with youth academy graduate Jeannot Saibou. Sirakatou will be allowed to leave on a free.
Emmanuel Gbodui has also arrived — initially, to provide depth at mezzala. However, with Saibou’s emergence, he will primarily provide cover for Bachir Sene at right wingback.
All told, I believe this is a notable improvement on our first-team squad. Of course, we have to wait until November for our first league matches.
August/September 2024 – Odds & Ends.
As Champions League and Confederation Cup qualifying commences, the CAF mafia intervene and award qualifying places to teams in both Mozambique and Zimbabwe based on their current league standings, instead of the 2023 results.
Interestingly enough, the qualifying spots for Ghana are allocated correctly.
Because reasons. That’s why.
I think we can all agree that it will be better if we don’t think about it.
Our share of the Togolese television rights for the 2024/25 campaign? $4.9k.
No, not per month.
I’m not the only one who feels the 2-month pre-season is excessive. At least the league will commence in mid-October this year, instead of in early November like it did for 2023/24.
There is a limit to how much Mario Kart one man can play.
An observation that is confirmed by our season ticket sales, which climb to 176 (up from 171 in 2023/24).
At long last, football returns.
We learn nothing new in a full slate of pre-season friendlies, but have apparently impressed someone. The media and bookies are predicting a third-place finish, naming 3 of our new signings in the “Dream XI” — Tchadenou, Gakpe and Zakaria.
We kick off the campaign away to promoted OTR (“Office Togolaise des Recettes”), who are tipped for relegation. Suffice to say that we did not bring our shooting boots. The result was never in doubt, but a 2-nil win does not do us justice — other than the fact that we couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, much less find the back of the net. Maybe the lads were simply trying to avoid a thorough tax audit…
On a day of debuts, Saibou becomes the youngest player in club history.
A much sterner test awaits against Semassi, our home-opener. But Placca Fessou is nothing if not up for it, chipping the onrushing keeper after 18 seconds, as Zakari found him attacking the space behind our guests’ high defensive line. It is the fastest goal in club history. Sene makes it 2 in the 8th minute with a thunderbastard that nearly took Kombe’s head off, to crush the visitors’ spirits.
We’re running out easy winners, up 3-nil, when in the 66th minute Semassi’s Dansou sees an opportunity and pounces. A poacher’s instinct from the towering centerback, as he utterly annihilates a sitter from close range, smashing it into the roof of the net with authority.
A perfect October is thus on the cards if we can see off cross-town Dynamic Togolaise. Yet, Dansou’s emphatic finish has stayed on the lads’ minds, and each one of them is launching from distance as if their lives depended on it.
In fact, I’m relatively certain I heard Abby shout “EAT MY GOAL!!!” as he launched one into orbit from 35 yards shortly before the half. He denied it, claiming it was someone in the crowd, but I know nothing if not my Alan Partridge references.
Sugar-fueled toddlers have more discipline than this lot. We drop 2 points in a scoreless draw. As punishment, I smash the club’s only Braveheart DVD during the post-match team talk, which is little more than a profanity-laden tirade.
Mel Gibson is for winners.
Gbikinti should be a team that we can walk over, but for whatever reason Tchalla and Gnavor give us fits for more than an hour. But we press our numerical advantage after the visitors are reduced to 10 men in the 74th, and to 9 in the 87th. Our perseverance pays off, as we earn a penalty deep into injury time. Pessinaba buries it to claim his hat trick, and all 3 points. A 3-2 win, when we seemed destined to drop points.
With a match against ASKO on the imminent horizon, we rotate the squad away to TAC. A calculated risk. That blows up in our faces as we control the match, but lose 1-nil. Unforgivable.
The 1st XI are restored for the biggest match of the campaign thus far, and hold their own. In the 51st minute, Dao plays Mathias in behind the ASKO line, who centers to Zakari, who in turn curls it into the side netting from 10 yards. 1-nil. Saibou makes it 2 in the 76th, his first goal for the club, putting us on the verge of a monumental win. ASKO pull one back, but we refuse to sit deep in hopes of maintaining our lead.
We launch forward. Our determination is rewarded in the 88th minute, when Mathias heads home a Sene cross. We lead, 3-1. Even ASKO know they are beaten, long before the final whistle blows. We climb to the top of the table (even if it may only be temporary). As a special treat for the lads, we watch Gallipoli on the bus ride home. Vintage Gibson, that.
As we approach the six-month window, we renew several contracts and exercise the club’s one-year option on others. Our financial situation does not allow us to offer contracts to some players who might be coaxed to Lome.
With results like our late win away to Kotoko, perhaps we will be able to convince those players sooner rather than later.
We rotate the squad again against Binah. I’m not even sure why. Overconfidence? Caution? Cleverness? Somewhere in between the three, I figure. It is a risk. Again.
But nothing ventured, nothing gained. Plus, squad rotation is an essential element of the modern, elite game. Gary Neville said so himself just the other night on television.
A 3-nil win is our just reward, coupled with a bit of rest for the 1st XI. We should listen to Gary more often.
Away to Maranatha, we are less than ruthless in front of goal. But it does not matter. A three-nil win is in the books. 3 points, and the first goal for young Abby.
December 2024 / January 2025.
Notwithstanding our successful run of form, prospective signings are not lining up at our door. Mind you, my desire to find new wingbacks ignores Bachir Sene‘s continued, exceptional form — leading the league in both assists and average rating.
While wingbacks have been hard to find, we have secured the signing of Togolese U20 international Kokou Abraw upon the expiration of his contract, to replace Kossivi Akomatsri, who has played from the bench in our 1st XI. While Abraw isn’t a sure-fire starter, he will improve the squad and is relatively on par with our best young mezzala, Jeannot Saibou.
In the absence of other signings which can improve the squad, we opt to extend the contracts of the few players we’d intended to release.
(We’ve also begun retraining Emmanuel Gbodui to play on the left, as cover for Serge Ouro-Yondou. Gbodui, as you may recall, was signed to play as a mezzala. With the emergence of Jeannot Saibou, however, we didn’t need Gbodui in midfield. He has instead been our 5th mezzala and backup right wingback; since he’s largely two-footed, if he can provide cover on both flanks, he’s of much increased value given our wage budget. He is also preferred to Komi Balgou, on merit.)
With 11 matches to play, we’re in a far better position than we had any right to expect. However, we must finish strong in order to improve our standing in the footballing world — both in Togo and abroad.
The sooner we can break ASKO’s string of league titles, the better. On general principle.
Our youth intake preview arrives, consisting of little more than ambiguity. Truth be told, my focus in one one thing, and one thing only.
A top of the table clash with ASKO.
A proverbial six-pointer.
ASKO have won twelve straight — every match since we beat them in Kara.
Something has to give.
On the eve of the match, Togo-Port offer a job interview…because that makes sense.
ASKO are favored. Few seem to think that we will live up to our promise, and hold off the perennial champions. Even our kitman was caught red-handed betting against us. By our Chairman. Mind you, they were both at the bookie to bet on ASKO winning, so… The Board has decided to handle it “internally,” by which they mean “cover it up and hope no one finds out.”
The first half of the match could charitably be described as “tense.” A more accurate description? ****.
Things begin to liven up in the 2nd 45, though. In the 66th minute, Placca Fessou looks for Dao with a curling cross that finds ASKO’s keeper indecisive…he leaves it, and Dao taps home easily at the back post. 1-nil.
ASKO loose their composure, with Pattase launching a reckless, studs-up, two-footed tackle on Pessinaba from behind (which the locals call a “Keano”). Straight red. ASKO are reduced to 10 men with just over 20 minutes to play.
A chance to not only claim all 3 points, but also break their spirit in the process.
We push but cannot find another. A 1-nil win is more than enough. We sit 4 point clear with 7 matches to play.
AS Togo-Port are feeling aggrieved at my public snub, and put up a fair fight in the first match of the month. Nevertheless, we claim a 1-nil win to continue our slow, steady march towards a possible title.
Against Kotoko, we stumble but do not fall. Another 1-nil win thanks only to a 91st-minute winner from Abby.
I can tell that the lads are feeling the pressure. If we can’t find a way to relax and express ourselves on the pitch without a fear of failure, we will inevitably fall.
“Lads, this is what it comes down to. You need to relax. To slow things down. You can’t force everything. Not on the pitch, or in life.”
The lads are all nodding. It’s a simple, universal truth.
“I’ve got 3 words for you, lads. 3 simple words. I think you know them. Akuna ma tata.”
Confusion spreads through the now-silent room.
Club captain, Bachir Sene, breaks it, tentatively. “Boss…ehh… Did you just quote The Lion King to us?”
“The lion…what?! No, no. It’s a Swahili phrase. I’ve been studying up, see…”
I can tell something is amiss. Gakpe is chuckling in the corner. Issoufou Issifou — always bold — speaks up.
“Are you sure you’re not quoting something, Boss?”
I shake my head slowly. “Maybe Baba, the kebab shop owner in my neighborhood… The phrase, you see, it doesn’t translate literally to English, but, you could say that it means ‘there is not currently a problem.'”
“So, would you say, Boss…it’s a…uhh… Problem free… Philosophy?”
I scoff derisively. “That’s a tad simplistic, Izzy.”
“Oh, ok, Boss. So, it’s like… No worries, for the rest of your days?”
I can only shake my head. “Izzy, Izzy… The East Africans live very much in the moment. So, it’s not a guarantee of smooth sailing forever. That’s just childish. But you know what, if you’d like to be really positive about it, sure! Akuna ma tata, for the rest of your days, Izzy.”
I chuckle knowingly, smile and leave them to have a good think on it.
ASKO drop points on Matchday 22, leaving us 3 points clear with a game in hand.
We host Maranatha the following week, and stomp them 3-nil to main our lead. With 4 matches to play (including our game in-hand), we are on the verge of claiming the club’s first title since 1992.
Our match in-hand is away to Binah. Not the sternest of tests, but a potential banana peel nevertheless. We claim a 2-nil win to put us 6 points clear with 3 games to play, and a six-goal advantage in goal difference, the first tiebreaker.
Away to Koroki, we are in control but snatch at the chances coming our way, displaying a frustrating lack of patience. Abby finds a winner in the 77th minute, and slowly the news filters through. ASKO conceded a 91st minute equalizer away to Maranatha.
The Premier League title is ours. A rather elaborate, impromptu trophy presentation ensues in Tchamba, demonstrating a shocking level of professionalism and planning from the League. (I didn’t think they had it in them, if I’m being honest.)
We claim Togo’s only spot in the Champions League for the 2025/26 campaign. In recognition of this step-up in competition, the Board double our wage budget, to $9.25k/week, with a $1.07k transfer budget. (That extra $0.07k is sure to come in handy.)
The reality is that we’ll be looking for signings who can join on a free at the expiration of their current contracts. Unsurprisingly, while there are many players available and of interest to us, few of those players are impressed by our Premier League title. They want to play for a “bigger” club, and clearly question whether we can sustain this level of performance. Whether this is our peak.
In all fairness, many of these players wouldn’t even return our calls 2 months ago. Now, they at least have the courtesy to take the call, even if they laugh when they realize we’re serious.
It is a long wait for the formal end of the campaign, but we win our final two matches with relative ease, to complete the year. Champions, 11 points clear of ASKO.
May 2025 – Continental Review.
In the Champions League, ES Tunis beat Club Africain, 2-nil.
Orlando Pirates claimed the Confederation Cup with a penalty-shootout win over MC Oudja.
May 2025 – Youth Intake.
Once again, I am at a loss to appreciate the significance of our youth intake.
The problem being that our facilities are not particularly impressive. We cannot count on our young players to consistently develop into whatever potential they do (or don’t) have. And the Board has consistently rejected my requests to improve our facilities, recruitment and junior coaching due to our poor financial state.
(Their decision is not wholly unreasonable. Not that I’d ever admit that to their faces.)
May 2025 – Season Review.
As noted in last year’s Season Review, the dire state of Togolese domestic football has allowed us to build a competitive squad rather quickly. Not only did we win the Premier League, we did so with the most goals scored (60) and fewest conceded (11).
The challenge will be sustaining this level of performance and advancing far enough in the Champions League (or Confederation Cup) to put our finances squarely in the black and improve our reputation.
Because we are rapidly approaching the brick wall of reality — specifically, the fact that our limited finances and (half-star) reputation dramatically limits which players are willing to join the club. We cannot pay any transfer fees (at least, fees in excess of $1.07k). And, since the Togolese Premier League restricts us to 6 foreign players, we need those six players to be impact players given the relative abilities of Togolese regens.
At this juncture, Kokou Abraw is our only confirmed signing for 2025/26 — tapped to replace Kossivi Akomatsri and play from the bench as a mezzala. We could theoretically sign other players on a free, but none of them would improve the squad measurably. (Komi Balgou will also leave on a free.)
Our scouting efforts will continue.
Goals for 2025/26: Not embarrass ourselves in continental qualifying. Win the Togolese Premier League. Continue to build the squad, to attain domestic dominance and reach the latter stages of the Champions League and/or Confederation Cup.
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.