Étoile Filante – 2025/26 Open Thread
July 2025 – Transfer News.
My primary goal for the last 6 months (if not longer) has been to sign a new left wingback, to replace Serge Ouro-Yondou, a player who has been serviceable domestically, but is an obvious weakness going forward. Especially with the Champions League on the horizon.
Yet, all of my efforts have failed. Our first signing was a mezzala — Kokou Abraw. Midfield depth, even if he is not a 1st XI player.
I’ve also spent months chasing a number of players who could take us to another level. Most wouldn’t give us the time of day. But with Champions League football on the menu, two have now changed their minds, even if others continue to reject us outright or accept other offers.
Frankly, my bitterness at this wave of rejection is tempered by how thrilled I am about both of these signings.
First up, is Junior Kamara, a Sierra Leonean U23 international who joins on a free transfer after declining to negotiate for the past 6 months. He will take over in the 1st XI for Kossi Mathias, and play alongside Yaovi Placca Fessou. If he can settle into the shadow striker role, he will be immense.
Next up, a player who negotiated when on a youth contract, but then opted to accept a new contract from his then-current club. We kept going back, and eventually his club accepted a $600 offer — yes, you read that correctly. Mauritanian U20 international Moussa Sy joins our midfield as a mezzala — another player who should be immense in Togo.
With my efforts to sign a left wingback proving fruitless, we turned towards loaning in a player – Daouda Kouadio, in on a no-fee/no-wage-contribution loan from ASEC, to take over for Serge Ouro-Yondou in our 1st XI.
Finally, a left wingback who can (should?) dominate in Togo and not be exposed in continental play.
July 2025 – Champions League Draw.
We are fortunate in the preliminary round draw to avoid several larger teams, and will face Lesotho Defense Force at the first hurdle. The only problems are two-fold: (1) we will only have 2 friendlies under our belt before the 1st leg; and (2) if we prevail, we will likely face Tunisian champions, CS Sfax in the First Round.
August 2025 – Champions League, Preliminary Round.
On paper, this is a tie we should win.
At the same time, it is our first continental match since 1998, when we were eliminated in the First Round of the Confederation Cup — we need to show well.
We lay seige to the LDF goal, our lack of match fitness irrelevant in light of our superiority. The match finishes 6-nil (a scoreline highly favorable to the visitors) behind debut goals from Kamara and Abraw, and a debut assist from Sy, in front of a record crowd of 1,450 (with record gate receipts of $5k).
We’re missing 7 players for the return leg — 5 players on international duty with Togo B, and 2 injuries. We are predictably sloppy. Dominant, yet far from ruthless in a 1-nil win.
We will need a much better performance against the Tunisians, who progressed 7-nil on aggregate.
Television rights for 2025/26 remain right where they were last year, a whopping $4.9k per team. For the entire year.
We are narrowly favored to retain the title, with no less than 6 players in the pre-season “Dream XI.”
September 2025 – Champions League, First Round.
We play our 2nd XI against Doumbe in the Super Cup, to ensure that our 1st XI is prepared to face the Tunisians 72 hours later. They claim a narrow 1-nil win, nothing to scoff at even if the trophy is deemed unimportant by the Board.
At the Stade Taieb Mhiri, we are steamrolled. Yet, the Tunisians gift us a comical own goal after we go down a goal, and Sy breaks through the line to claim a second equalizer shortly after the break. We cannot keep Sfax from finding a third, though…and a fourth, which is where it ends. 4-2.
Barring a miracle in Lome, we will be out of the Champions League, dropping into the Confederation Cup.
We need a little luck. Of that there is no dispute. The lads insist upon burying something beneath the visitor’s bench ahead of the match. I dare not ask what it is. I know better.
We are missing Placca Fessou, out ill. Meaning that Abby will pair with Kamara up top. And in the 3rd minute, young Abby races behind the backline, riding a tackle and slipping the ball past the Tunisian keeper to give us a 1-nil advantage. The crowd begin to dream, however foolish it may be to do so.
The Tunisians hit back in the 8th minute…and nearly find a 2nd in the 13th…and again in the 32nd. We are living on the edge. But we cannot get a look at goal until the 42nd, when Kamara goes close from near range… Before going close again in first-half injury time.
It looks like a stalemate will ensue, but Sfax find their 2nd in the 55th.
The stadium comes back to life in the 71st, when Sy curls one into the side netting. Surely, it’s too late?! We need 2 goals to force extra time. Sfax smash one off the crossbar in the 76th, with Tchadenou recovering in time to save the rebound — brilliant goalkeeping, but we need more than that to avoid elimination.
In the end, it is a valiant performance — one that we can be proud of. We played the Tunisians square on the night — a 2-2 draw. We are eliminated from the Champions League, but we did ourselves proud in front of another record crowd (resulting in record gate receipts of $7k).
October/November 2035 – Confederation Cup, Second Round.
On paper, the Guineans will be a challenging mix of competence and quality — with wildly variant degrees of each, on a player-by-player basis. They probably have 5-6 players who would be in strong contention for a starting spot with our squad. The other half? They wouldn’t make our U21s.
180 minutes. That is all that stands between us and a spot in the Group Stage, which would bring some measure of financial stability. It goes without saying that we must take our chances.
We’re in complete control for the first 20 minutes in Conakry, but Odongkara is putting in a shift in goal for the hosts. At long last, Placca Fessou breaks the deadlock in the 33rd minute, calmly finishing a brilliant cross from Sy who had drifted out to the left flank.
AS Kaloum push forward in search of an equalizer, but we snatch a second on the counter through Kamara. Now we’re getting into our rhythm.
Placca Fessou claims his brace 10 minutes later — leaving us with one foot in the Group Stage by halftime. Odongkara is the only reason the match isn’t over yet, as it seems like half of the Guineans have simply given up. We need to capitalize on our momentum. Build a lead from which they cannot recover, in the 2nd leg.
Placca Fessou and Abraw add to our tally, to secure a 5-nil win ahead of the 2nd leg in Lome. One foot in the door.
Abby deputizes for the suspended Kamara back in Lome. AS Kaloum abandon their hipster 442 diamond in favor of a Mike-Bassett-esque 44. To no avail. We remain in complete control. Abby puts the final nail in the coffin in the 18th minute, and from that point forward complacency sets in. We must learn not to take our foot off the gas in this kind of situation.
1-nil on the night, 6-nil on aggregate. A tremendous result on the whole, in what was perhaps a more favorable draw than we first thought.
For the Group Stage, we draw Amazulu, Club Africain (last year’s Champions League runners-up) and OC Safi — a tricky draw on paper, as all 3 clubs hail from “large” footballing nations, spanning the length and breadth of the continent.
Our hopes of a strong start to the Group Stage? Of a triumphant opening match in Lome?
AmaZulu claim a much-deserved 4-1 win. A lesson in ruthless finishing taught by the lads from Durban.
Away to Club Africain on Matchday 2, we are hopeful of a better 90 minutes. A more professional display — one which showcases our promise and potential.
We didn’t get it. The Tunisians cut through our defense like a hot knife through butter in the first half, racing out to a 3-nil lead. While we manage to find our footing in the 2nd half — and even pull two goals back — the 3-2 loss is another harsh lesson in just how far we have to go.
Away to AmaZulu…a chance for payback. A Christmas gift to ourselves, perhaps. We start strong, with Sy smashing home a loose ball in the 2nd minute. The South Africans proceed to dominate the match, but cannot put the ball on goal for all of the chances they are creating. Kamara doubles our lead in the 69th minute, after Kouadio finds him streaking towards the near post, a step ahead of his marker.
Kouadio then curls home a free kick in the 74th…what is happening?! Pandemonium in Durban!
Chaos ensues as news filters through that the Moroccans have taken the lead against Club Africain…the Group is in utter shambles. Sy finds the back of the net in the 88th, mere moments later. Kamara has a goal denied by VAR in the 90th minute, a surreal end to an epic 4-nil win.
Suddenly, the Group is wide open. We’re not dead yet.
Yet, even the most cursory glance at the squad tells you that our most urgent need is at centerback. Several centerbacks we initially thought had potential…upon further reflection and assessment, I’ve come to realize a simple truth.
We’ve also managed to secure Daouda Kouadio on a permanent transfer at the end of his loan (when his ASEC contract was due to expire), fending off interest from Sol FC, who currently sit 2nd in the MTN Ligue 1. It is a statement signing, even if the pundits are debating whether we’ve overpaid.
Celebrations are rapidly put on hold, though, as on the eve of a domestic clash with ASKO, news filters through — the Board has agreed to sell Serge Gakpe, over my objections (both in principle and at this price). Serge refuses to negotiate a new contract, to stay.
Contingency plans are put into place to deploy Kossivi Pessinaba at libero.
The Board, in their infinite wisdom, add $275 to our transfer budget upon completion of the deal. $275, for our libero, when we don’t have a viable backup. You ****s.
To replace him (for the long run), we sign a player that was not interested in joining us in Lome the last time we looked at him, but my scouts suggested he would be interested in a loan…with his contract expiring in less than six months, why not instead make him an offer he can’t refuse? In a non-Godfather way, of course.
If anything, this episode proves something I’ve long since known. The sooner we attain financial security, the better. We’re $200k in the red, even with our current continental run.
I can’t tell if Kodjo is trying to cheer me up, or if the news truly is this good. Time will tell, I guess. This would go a long way towards filling the Gakpe-shaped hole in my heart.
We welcome Safi to Lome on Matchday 4, with hopes of seizing the day — claiming all 3 points to put us in a position to possibly advance to the knockout rounds. But we waste what chances we are given, while the Moroccans bury theirs. A 2-nil loss all but eliminates us from advancing, barring a miracle.
After the 2nd XI lose to Kara, the 1st XI are tasked with resurrecting our continental hopes against Club Africain. It seems futile. We charge headlong into the cannon’s mouth anyways.
We are less than convincing in the 1st XI. So I give the boys the ol’ hairdryer at halftime, and we come out guns blazing. Sy rifles one into the back of the net in the 48th minute after an intricate build-up, and we’re in business.
Club Africain draw level in the 74th. Frankly, the only reason the Tunisians don’t tally 3-4 is Tchadenou standing on his head in goal. We settle for a 1-1 draw. Arguably more than we deserve.
News filters through from Durban — Safi has mounted a late comeback to win, confirming their passage through to the knockout rounds alongside Club Africain.
I realize it is silly. But I cannot help but think things would have been different if he stayed. Why didn’t he stay? Everywhere I go, every song I hear, it all reminds me of him. Even the winds whisper his name. Gakpe…
The final match of the Confederation Cup is away to Safi, who control the flow of play for 90 minutes. We keep it close and snatch a late goal. However, we lose 2-1 to close out the Group Stage painfully.
Nevertheless, we receive $275k in prize money associated with reaching the Group Stage which, coupled with the revenue-sharing of gate receipts (compare this year’s $232k with last year’s $4k), pushes our finances into the black.
We drop points in the fixture pile-up leading into the international break, as the 2nd XI fails to Doumbe at home.
It is but a momentary blip. We recover our form to continue our relentless march towards the title.
It takes until Matchday 23 in mid-April. The title is ours. We’ve been relentless. ASKO has held on valiantly, but enough is enough.
With 3 matches to play (and perhaps the Cup final), we are looking to establish our domestic dominance. And maybe give the Danes a kicking if they get past ASKO in the other semifinal.
Run through the tape, lads.
An anticlimactic end to the campaign. We hold our nerve against a hyper-defensive ASKO in the Cup final, winning 1-nil in a one-sided match to claim a domestic treble — a clean sweep, including the first Cup title since 1994.
We barely break a sweat in the final run-in. As sweet as defending our title is — objectively — we have our sights set higher. Much higher.
May 2026 – Continental Review.
In the Champions League, ES Tunis beat Mamelodi Sundowns, 2-nil.
Ismaily claimed the Confederation Cup with a 1-nil win over Enyimba.
May 2026 – Youth Intake.
Kodjo was clearly ****ing with me earlier, trying to improve my spirits after the Board sold Gapke with grand predictions of the brilliance beaming from our youth academy.
My sincere hope is that with continued progression in the Champions League and Confederation Cup, we will have the financial clout to (at a minimum) improve our youth coaching and recruitment.
May 2026 – Season Review.
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled? No, it wasn’t winning the Togolese Premier League 2 years’ running. Although we are rightly pleased with ourselves.
Wait, what was I talking about? As a treat for winning a domestic treble, I treated the lads to The Usual Suspects last night. They weren’t anywhere near as impressed as I hoped they would be. I resisted the urge to transfer list several of them to establish dominance.
Instead, I just took turns staring each of them in the eyes, quoting the opening narration from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. By the time I reach the conclusion, they’ve all joined in. A resolute, focused determination settling in over the group.
Like Mel, we must learn to live again.
(Don’t think too hard about it. The analogy doesn’t hold up under even the most minimal scrutiny.)
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.