Étoile Filante – 2026/27 Open Thread
July 2026 – Squad Review.
Approximately 2.5 years into Brendan Rodgers’ tenure at Etoile Filante, it seems like the appropriate time to take stock of where we are as a club.
We continue to play PM Haaienvuist, the Naglesmann-inspired strikerless setup detailed at A Kiss With A Sharkfist Is Better Than None.
We will carry a 23-man squad through January, when a 24th will arrive and step into the 1st XI.
In terms of building a squad, it is important to keep in mind that we are limited to 6 foreign players for the Premier League, and that the overwhelming majority of Togolese talent seems to struggle reaching their potential with Togolese clubs due to their finances and facilities. While we could theoretically sign additional foreign players, they would only be eligible for the Cup and any continental competition (which, unlike in Europe, has no homegrown registration requirements).
Accordingly, I have no plans to break the 6-player rule. Instead, my hope is that — after achieving some measure of financial security in the next 1-2 years — we can begin investing in our facilities and plucking the most promising players from the youth academies of our domestic rivals.
Only then will we truly be capable of mounting a title challenge in the Confederation Cup and Champions League.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the current state of the squad amidst swirling takeover rumors.
We’ve been fortunate to have a strong No. 1 for the last 2 years, in Kodjo Tchadenou. He’s a Togolese U23 who has single-handedly kept us in a several continental matches.
Our backup is Komlan Komla — a player I once thought had some potential, but who has failed to develop.
It is as simple as this — we have a clear hierarchy in goal. I don’t trust Komla in a big match. If Tchadenou were to leave, we would be in trouble. At the same time, I don’t know that we play enough matches to get our backup meaningful minutes…especially if that backup cannot be trusted.
We will need to address this lack of depth at some point.
Those of you who have been following along will be familiar with my angst and frustration over the Board selling our libero, Serge Gakpe, to ASEC last January, over my vociferous objection.
You will also remember that we’ve signed Romeo Karamoko from San Pedro to take over as our libero. However, Romeo will not join until the January 2027 transfer window. Leaving us in a bit of a lurch.
Last year, to fill the Gakpe shaped-void in our XI, I tapped Kossivi Pessinaba — a player with a “ball-winning midfielder” profile who had fallen down the pecking order in our midfield. Pessinaba was preferred to our prior libero, Yaovi Diallo, whose competence (or lack thereof) speaks for itself. (To cover the gap before Romeo’s arrival, I also felt it was necessary to extend Diallo’s contract — something I had not planned on doing.)
Looking at the next 6 months, while awaiting Romeo’s arrival…I had an idea. It seemed almost too good to be true. Turns out, it was.
Of course, one of the problems we’ve had (even before the Board sold Gakpe) was that the squad was in dire need of reinforcements at the back.
Gado will join Pires in the 1st XI, with Tonou dropping to the 2nd XI to pair with Labakohler-Diallo.
I’m extremely excited about our wingbacks — Daouda Kouadio joins on a permanent deal from ASEC, after last year’s loan. Darius Donou-Boko will man the other flank — a retrained winger who should give our attack a new dimension.
Donou-Boko’s elevation to the 1st XI means that Bachir Sene drops to our 2nd XI, where he and Serge Ouro-Yondou will (theoretically) terrorize our domestic opponents. This pair is perfectly capable for that level; given my troubles securing promising Togolese players, I extended their contracts accordingly.
We will see a new face at roaming playmaker in the 1st XI this year — Abdou Olufade, who we plucked from ASKO‘s reserves after he spent the last 2 years out on loan. They are the idiots who let his contract run down, so I feel neither guilt nor shame. Yaovi Zakari will be Olufade’s capable backup, and play from the bench in the 1st XI.
At mezzala, we will continue with last year’s pairing of Moussa Sy and Kokou Abraw. Youth academy graduate Jeannot Saibu will play from the bench, joined by a fellow youth academy graduate — Elom Zato-Yacoubou, the jewel of our 2026 class. Together, the 4 are a solid blend of talent and potential.
We also have Issoufou “Izzy” Issifou on the bench, as deep cover for both the midfield and back line. He’s only still here because his contract hasn’t expired. (He’s also peeved that I offered him out for a free transfer.)
Arguably our strongest pair — last year’s Junior Kamara and Yaovi Placca Fessou will continue to lead the line. They’re immense for our level. My only complaint is that Kamara arguably underperformed last year — claiming 23 goals and 14 assists (on 17.13 xG), as compared to Placca Fessou’s 42 goals and 13 assists (28.67 xG). Hopefully he will kick on this year, now that he is more familiar with our tactics.
We’ve come a long ways in a short period of time. But at the same time, we are not ready to make a run in the Champions League. Ideally, we will reach the Group Stage this year or next, to improve our reputation and finances, which will allow us to prepare for a full-blown assault on the knockout rounds.
July 2026 – Champions League Draw.
We are again fortunate in the preliminary round draw, and will face Burkinabe champions CF Rahimo.
The Angolan champions have some genuine firepower. And, of course, the Senegalese champions have some brilliant youth prospects that I would like to lure to Lome.
August 2026 – Champions League, Preliminary Round.
As happy as I am with the draw, we must focus on the task at hand. After all, the Burkinabe champions will be looking to take us down, and may well see us as a stepping stone to the next round.
It is a predictably sloppy match under the circumstances. We race out to a two-goal lead, only to crack under the pressure. We will head to Bobo-Dioulasso with the score level, 2-2.
During the intervening weeks, ASEC begin sniffing around Carlos Pires, launching a series of ever-increasing offers that have yet to tempt the Board. We will be in serious trouble if they intervene to sell him; more to the point, it will be particularly galling as financial security is on the horizon.
The first 45 minutes are utterly atrocious. We enter the half down a goal, on our way out of the Champions League. But we come alive. Saibou (deputizing again for Abraw) smashes a double, with goals from Olufade and Placca Fessou, to send us through to the First Round with a 4-1 win on the night, 6-3 on aggregate.
Our share of the Togolese Premier League television rights deal does not increase — staying at $4.9k per team, for the year.
We are heavily favored to win our 3rd straight title by the bookies, with no less than 8 players in the pre-season “Dream XI.”
September 2026 – Champions League, First Round.
Ahead of the first leg in Dakar, we claim a comfortable 2-nil win over ASKO in the Togolese Super Cup.
What keeps me awake that night, however, is not the joys of claiming another win over our domestic rivals. Rather, it is the talent on display for the Senegalese. Amadou Diatta, already bound for ES Tunis after he turns 18. Kader Sarr? A born footballer.
Meanwhile, the offers for Pires continue to roll in from ASEC, as 24 hours remain in their transfer window. Our transfer window has closed. This is a critical juncture.
When the phone rings shortly before the closure of the Ivorian window, my stomach drops. It’s the Chairman. The world reels on its axis. Only, he’s merely calling to confirm the final season ticket sales numbers, which rise to 207, up from up from 190 in 2025/26.
It’s a tense atmosphere for such a small ground in Dakar. Back and forth, end to end football. Yet we strike first, through Sy in the 15th minute, after Pessinaba saw him hitting the gap. We hold firm through the half.
Nerves and focus mix in equal parts as we take the pitch for the 2nd 45. In the 61st minute, Placca Fessou sees — and takes — his chance. 2-nil. Sy played Placca Fessou through beautifully, having noticed Placca Fessou breaking behind the line.
While our hosts manage to pull one back in the 86th, it is not enough. We claim a 2-1 win on the night. We sit 90 minutes from the Group Stage.
The nerves ahead of the 2nd leg are real. Profound. I endeavor to drown them with Buckfast, imported specifically for moments like these, when the tension rises to an intolerable degree.
But there is a vast difference between guzzling Buckfast on a cold, windy day in the Highlands, and doing so in the heat and humidity of Lome.
The day passes in a haze. I barely know what I’ve shouted at the lads ahead of kickoff, the Buckfast running hot in my veins. I throw the empty bottle at a ballboy during warm-ups. It was his fault for having that stupid face.
Kamara puts us on the board in the 14th minute. I missed it, my stuck head in the nearest wastebin retching up the last bit of yesterday’s lunch. 10 minutes later, I wake in a puddle of my own sick to the crowd chanting Gado‘s name — he’s put us ahead by 2 on the night, rising above the crowd to hammer home a Pessinaba corner.
I gesture to one of the youth team players, to bring me another bottle of “grandpa’s cough syrup.” (It’s a code, see.)
A little hair o’ the dog, and I’m back in fighting shape — in time to celebrate Placca Fessou’s strike, which puts us ahead 3-nil, just before the half…and his second, one minute later to make it 4-nil.
The individual brilliance of certain Generation Foot players is undeniable. But that will not be enough. Not tonight. Not in the face of what may well be the best 45 minutes of my tenure in Lome.
Our concentration slips, allowing the Senegalese to pull one back right after the half. But we regain our composure. Sy snatches our 5th in the 66th minute.
The only worry on this historic night is an injury to Placca Fessou late, leading to his withdrawal. I pour him a large cup of Buckfast as he’s taken off on a stretcher (as a precaution I’m told), to the delight of the crowd.
We’ve done it. 5-1 on the night. 7-2 on aggregate.
The initial reports are that Placca Fessou will be out for 5-6 weeks with a groin strain. The media barely chuckle when I tell them with mock sincerity that, after our performance tonight, it was bound to happen one way or another. I don’t think they got the joke.
October 2026 – Champions League, Group Stage Draw.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Peter Crouch is the MC for the Group Stage draw. He is affable, but it simply doesn’t make sense.
Our Chairman, Kodjo, is all smiles. But I can tell that he doesn’t understand the significance of the draw — he’s simply basking in the moment. Which is fair, I’ll grant him that. It is a big moment.
The real story of the night, however, is that we’ve drawn: Moroccan runners-up, HUS Agadir; South African runners-up, Mamelodi Sundowns; and Sudanese giants, Al-Hilal.
We ROFL-stomp our way through the early league fixtures, including an 8-nil stonking of rivals ASKO, thanks in no small part to them being reduced to 9 men.
Takeover rumors continue to swirl. However, we cannot focus on the tabloids.
We are off to Pretoria, to face Mamelodi Sundowns in the Champions League Group Stage. A massive test.
Our hosts are in complete control in the early stages.
Sundowns clatter the post with a free kick in the 24th minute, but at that point we’ve wasted 2 solid chances…and score on the ensuing counterattack, only for VAR to chalk it off. A goal is coming, though. You can feel it in the air.
Smashing in a header off of a corner, Sundowns take the lead in the 31st. But we strike back immediately, with Placca Fessou flicking a heading through their keeper’s outstretched arms. 1-1. All to play for…at least, until we concede again on the stroke of halftime, Cardoso flicking a header off a curling free kick.
We’re not that far off, but need to do…more. Yet, an unlucky deflection on another corner for the hosts sees Gado charged with an own goal. We’ve now conceded on 3 set pieces. Unacceptable.
Kouadio pulls one back in the 82nd with a curling free kick from 30 yards. We push forward in search of an equalizer, only for Mbule to hit a world-class piledriver off the post from 25 yards, to put Sundowns up, 4-2.
Which is where it ends — a 4-2 loss. We can do better.
Fortunately, we do not have to wait long for a chance to redeem ourselves. Hosting HUS Agadir on Matchday 2, we start strong — the Moroccan defense befuddled by the pace of our counterattack, as Kamara bursts free in the channel before finding Placca Fessou who calmly places it into the side-netting.
Sy makes it 2-nil a few minutes later, beating the Moroccan keeper at his near post…is the rout on?
Kamara does his level best in the 27th, capping an incisive counterattack by slotting one just inside the far post, after Placca Fessou played him in behind the Moroccan line. Placca Fessou claims his brace in the 40th, to make it 4; and then, his hat trick in the 63rd to make it 5.
Which is where things stand at the final whistle. 5-nil. A statement win. 3 points which — given Al-Hilal’s loss to Sundowns at home — means that our Boxing Day match against the Sudanese in Lome takes on a whole new significance.
Our relentless form continues to attract the attention of potential investors. With any luck they’ll just **** off and not interfere with our progress.
Ahead of the Al-Hilal match, Kodjo rigs the speaker system in the visitors’ locker room to run only from his iPod, which is playing Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now on repeat, at full volume.
The Sudanese are the very picture of agitation at kickoff, their focus shattered by sentimental synthpop on an endless loop. Kamara pounces on an incisive through-ball from Placca Fessou to make it 1-nil. As he wheels away to celebrate, the stadium PA crackles with the infectious, late-80s tune, much to the delight of the home support, who sing along in full voice.
Placca Fessou makes it 2 in the 25th minute, leading to another sustained chorus from Canada’s finest.
The match settles into a comfortable rhythm. Our guests neither threaten our goal nor… Threaten to threaten it? That’s not… That’s not right…
A comfortable 2-nil win gives us hope for progressing to the knockout rounds.
Shock of shocks, HUS Agadir claim a late win over Sundowns. Meaning the Group is truly up for grabs.
January 2027 – Transfer Update.
The day has finally arrived, nearly 11 months after his signing was confirmed.
Objectively, he may not be our “biggest” signing. But he’s the one I’m most excited about.
In his first match, he was exceptional — claiming 2 assists, with 3 clear-cut chances created and 3 key passes, in a 6-nil win away to Entente.
Away to Sundowns, we race out to a 2-goal lead thanks to Placca Fessou and Kamara, only for a 3rd to be chalked off by VAR. I feared we would regret that indiscretion, and my fears came to pass as the South Africans claimed a 93rd minute equalizer.
Before the match, I would have considered a draw to be 1 point gained. Now? It feels more like 2 points lost.
But HUS Agadir loses at home against to Al-Hilal, meaning that we sit one point clear of the two. If we can secure all 3 points in Morocco on Matchday 5 (and Sundowns beat Al-Hilal in Pretoria, as they should), we will advance to the knockout rounds.
Before we leave for Morocco, our youth intake preview arrives — Kodjo has his eye on a centerback and two strikers. I’ll take that.
We kick off at the Stade Adrar in scintillating form — Jainnot Saibou (deputizing for the suspended Moussa Sy) racing through, as we aggressively launch forward from the kickoff, smashing it home within the first 20 seconds. Placca Fessou doubles our lead in the 13th minute, hammering one into the top corner from 20 yards.
The league title is now firmly within our grasp, with 6 matches to play. Our efforts will focus on the knockout rounds — a new challenge, one I hope we can rise to meet.
We have no realistic expectation of winning the Group. Nevertheless, I would like to end this stage with an emphatic win, especially with the trash talk coming from Al-Hilal‘s manager ahead of the match.
Placca Fessou gives us the lead in the 39th minute, silencing the crowd. VAR chalks off another goal, which wakes the crowd up and sees Al-Hilal equalize…only for Salli to find a 93rd-minute winner.
The overall result may not matter much, in terms of our already-secured progression. And it is not enough to win the Group. We continue to demonstrate, however, that we are no fluke. A 2-1 win in Omdurman. Another scalp.
My sincere hope is to draw ASEC, the side who continue to try to poach our best players with desultory offers.
Before the draw, I return to the Board in what has become a monthly pilgrimage that plays out in two parts. First, I beg for investment in our facilities. Then, they laugh in my face. Only this time, they agree thanks to our CAF prize money. We first secure investment in our junior coaching and youth recruitment. Next, we drop virtually all of our Group Stage prize money on improving our training facilities.
April 2027 – Champions League, Quarterfinals.
We’ve come a long ways in the last 18 months. We’re no easy meat. The first leg is our chance to prove it.
We fall behind in the 16th minute, as Papa Sow rises to head home from close range following an exchange of manic counterattacks. Something had to give, one way or the other.
On the stroke of halftime, Sfax find their 2nd through a fortunate deflection. Sfax’s 3rd — on the hour mark — is a stunning, 30-yard free kick. Unstoppable. We’re sinking without a trace.
Substitute Salli pulls one back in the 69th, a sublime finish to finish off a swift counterattack. We stretch and fight for a second, leaving ourselves exposed at the back. Sfax find a 4th in injury time, which is where we stand at the final whistle. A spirit-crushing 4-1 loss.
We will need a miracle in the 2nd leg. The 2nd XI are motivated, annihilating Gbikinti 8-1 in the intervening Premier League match.
We take to the pitch at the Stade Taieb Mhiri with vengeance in our hearts.
Kamara finds the opener in the 23rd, and then the second 9 minutes later, after Karamoko spotted him breaking into space behind the line. The traveling supporters begin to dream.
Sfax will not go down without a fight, and pull one back in the 39th.
We need 2 goals to force extra time. Kamara goes close in the 41st, rising above the crowd to head just over the bar from close range, off a corner.
Papa Sow strikes again for Sfax, drawing them level on the night. It’s ok. Now, we can claim the win outright with just 3 goals. It’s simple math, lads.
Salli prods home from close range in the 83rd. 3-2 on the night. We only need 2, now. There’s likely 10 minutes to play, inclusive of injury time. There’s more than enough time, lads.
Except there isn’t. We crash out of the Champions League, despite winning the away leg, 3-2.
We simply could not overcome our poor performance in Lome.
There is only cold comfort in the $875k we receive in prize money — an amount which nearly equals last year’s gross turnover.
We immediately invest a substantial portion of those proceeds into our youth facilities.
I have to say — kicking the **** out of some Danish hipsters helped improve my mood. (You just can’t trust the Danes, my Nana always told me. “Small hands and smell like cabbage, every last one of them, Brendan, lad. Like carnies, circus folk.”)
The final matches are as straightforward as they come, even with Kara’s last gasp attempt to avoid relegation leads us to the most entertaining domestic match of the campaign.
The capstone to the year is another ritualistic curb-stomping of Danish hipsters in the Cup final. Somewhere, Nana is smiling. Actually, she’s almost certainly burning in eternal flame… She wasn’t a kind person, you see.
May 2027 – Continental Review.
In the Champions League, Mamelodi Sundowns defeated ES Tunis in a rematch of last year’s final, 1-nil (aet), denying ES Tunis from claiming their 3rd consecutive title.
Orlando Pirates claimed the Confederation Cup with a 1-nil win over ES Sahel.
May 2027 – Youth Intake.
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear. The Class of 2027 will never have a gauzy, sepia-toned documentary made about their exploits, no matter how many step-overs Jean-Paul Adjima Koffi does.
The only player truly worth considering is Abdou Mani, aka “the Lome Lampard.” Which doesn’t even make sense, because Abdou is a centerback, not a midfielder. Alliteration isn’t everthing, lads.
May 2027 – Season Review.
At the start of the campaign, I would have been thrilled to reach the Champions League quarterfinals.
Now? I feel as if we let ourselves down. There is no excuse for losing the home leg of a Champions League quarterfinal by three goals. None whatsoever.
Our goal at this juncture is simple. We have achieved domestic dominance, going unbeaten in all competitions. Now, we must take the final steps in Africa, while laying the foundation for a domestic dynasty that will stand the test of time.
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.