Étoile Filante – 2027/28 Open Thread
July 2027 – Transfers.
Our collapse in Lome against CS Sfax haunts me. How could we be so…weak?! What would Nana say?
“Akuna ma tata” has failed me.
A more ruthless attitude is necessary.
With the expiration of the contracts of both Thomas Tonou and Issoufou Issifou in June, we needed a new centerback. We also have a massive $61k transfer budget burning a hole in my pocket, combined with a burning desire to stock Etoile Filante with the best young Togolese footballers available, I dipped into the market.
What started as a “buy a couple players” turned into a mini-transfer spree, with 7 signings — the best U18 Togolese players I can find. In the end, we’ve signed the following players (for additional detail on the current squad, please see the comprehensive squad review from the start of the 2026/27 campaign):
- Arafat Housorovi; $475, AS Togo-Port. A goalkeeper who joins our 2nd XI, taking over for Komlan Komla (who leaves on a free).
- Komi Diallo; $400, OC Agaza. Diallo will play as a right wingback with our 2nd XI, replacing club captain Bachir Sene in our 2nd XI with Sene joining Togo-Port on a free.
- Fadel Agbo; $425, Sporting Club. Agbo joins the 2nd XI immediately, replacing Thomas Tonou as a ball-playing centerback. We’ve struggled with depth at centerback for years — is Agbo the answer?
- Edem Lamboni; $400, Unisport. A left wingback, signed to immediately replace Serge Ouro-Yondou (who joins Koroki on a free transfer) in our 2nd XI.
- Edem Tchagbele; $600, Doumbe. Raw potential here, Edem will train as a mezzala and play primarily for our reserves this year. He is the 5th mezzala on our depth chart, and probably the player on this list that I’m the least excited about.
- Richard Tchatakora; $450, OC Agaza. Ostensibly a central midfielder, I will initially train Tchatakora as a shadow striker. He will play with our reserves this year — the real question is whether he can meet the potential we initially saw in him. With his pace, he could be quite effective in Togo.
- Jonas Lamboni; $650, Semassi. We finish with the player I’m most excited about — Jonas will train as a shadow striker. While he is well-equipped to play as a mezzala, my gut feeling is to get him further up the pitch.
With transfers in and out, this means that we will start the campaign with a 25-man squad — I never want to have a larger squad than this, and we arguably don’t have enough matches to warrant a squad of this size, anyways.
July 2027 – Champions League Draw.
We are again fortunate in the preliminary round draw — we will face Ugandan champions Kampala City Council FC.
On paper, this is an extremely straightforward draw. If we prevail, we will face the winner of the Cape Town Spurs — NPA Anchors tie, in the First Round. Barring an epic fustercluck, this will be Cape Town Spurs, the South African runners-up.
August 2027 – Champions League, Preliminary Round.
The first leg in Lome is as straightforward as they come. We race out to a 2-nil lead within 4 minutes, but our lack of conditioning shows. Our performance falls off a cliff. In the end, a 2-nil win is far from what I expected. But it should be enough.
It is. We have 12 players away with Togo B for an African Nations Championship qualifier, so a heavily-rotated squad (including numerous youth players who would never see the field under normal circumstances) travels to Uganda for the 2nd leg. It is a dull, turgid affair. Underwhelming, to say the least. We advance with a 1-1 draw.
We will face Cape Town Spurs, who eliminated NPA Anchors, 5-nil on aggregate.
Our share of the Togolese Premier League television rights rises by a whopping 42.44% — rising to $6.98k from last year’s $4.9k per team, for the year. (It sounded much more impressive as a pure percentage, didn’t it?)
We are heavily favored to win our 4th straight title by the bookies, with no less than 9 players in the pre-season “Dream XI.”
September 2027 – Champions League, First Round.
The domestic curtain-raiser against ASKO is, once again, left to a heavily-rotated XI to ensure that the 1st XI are ready for the South Africans. It is anything but pretty, but a 2-1 win will do. Results matter, lads.
A far sterner test awaits on the Cape. We look good value to claim an away win in the first leg, pressing early and finding the opener through Placca Fessou in the 26th minute. But Spurs fight back to earn a 1-1 draw, meaning that we will have an ostensible advantage back home in Lome.
The tension reaches a fever pitch in the capitol — season ticket sales soar to 231, up from 207 last year. Amidst the seething cauldron of footballing interest, I manage to convince the Board to invest further in our junior coaching and youth recruitment.
We get out of the blocks quickly against Cape Town, Placca Fessou finding the back of the net in the 3rd minute before smashing the bar moments later, with Abraw claiming his first goal of the campaign in the 15th minute.
There aren’t enough Ian Curtis lyrics in the world to explore the depths of Spurs‘ existential pain.
We control the remainder of the half, barely giving Spurs a sniff at goal. With 45 minutes to play, however, it is anything but over. As if on cue, Spurs’ efforts are rewarded with a 66th minute goal.
Kamara restores our 2-goal lead in the 71st minute. Still, Spurs refuse to bow to the inevitable. Salli leaves them no choice in the 90th, tapping home from close range to give us a 4-1 lead on the night, 5-2 on aggregate.
The final whistle blows, relegating the frauds to the Confederation Cup. A resolute 4-1 win. A banana peel avoided, as we claim a spot in the Group Stage for the second year running.
October 2027 – Champions League, Group Stage Draw.
Jedward grace the stage in Cairo to cleverly weave the Group Stage draw into a medley of their hit songs, including an impromptu spoken-word verse in the middle of Taste the Heat which was — if I’m being honest — less than profound. While the rhymes were “dope as the Pope” (as I’m told the kids are saying), some of the social commentary felt dated.
In the end, we draw: Wydad Casablanca, who have won 7 straight Moroccan titles; TP Mazembe, winners of 9 straight Congolese titles; and Primeiro de Agosto, who have won a measly 3 straight Angolan titles.
I always knew I hated Jedward for a reason. Well…a variety of reasons, really.
We return to Lome with takeover rumors running rampant, and to a 7-nil win over Maranatha to kick off the domestic campaign in earnest.
The domestic campaign is off and running, with one massive win after another. As clear a signal as any that we are ready for … more … on the continent.
The first hurdle? Hosting Primeiro de Agosto at the Stade Oscar Anthony. The Angolans fail to clear a corner in the 15th minute — we recycle possession and Placca Fossou heads off the crossbar, before collecting his own rebound to give us the lead.
Yet, we are wasteful. We fail to convert numerous chances and allow the Angolans back into the match in their first foray into our defensive third.
Kamara restores our lead in the 46th minute with a thundering volley from 12 yards. As the Angolans push for another equalizer, we strike in transition. 3-1. Placca Fessou hammering home from 12 yards, the keeper doesn’t even react…and before our opponents can regain their sea legs, Kamara makes it 4.
Finally, the scoreline begins to reflect the match. We run out comfortable with a comfortable 4-2 win, after conceding a late 2nd. Less than ideal, but on the whole it is a fine performance.
The beatings in Togo will continue, until morale improves.
On the continent, however, we have become overconfident. A 4-2 win over Wydad Casablanca on Matchday 2 put us into a position of strength. However, we dropped all 3 points in Luanda — losing 2-1, when we should have claimed at least 1.
The 2nd XI gets us back on the right track with an 8-nil annihilation of Semassi — a ruthlessness we need to bring, each and every time we step onto the pitch.
Our domestic form remains indominable.
We hit the January break having played 13 matches. We are unbeaten, have yet to concede, and sit 12 points clear with 2 games in hand and a +84 goal difference. Not to mention an xGA of 1.57. Majestic.
It will all be for naught, if we cannot carry that form into the matches against TP Mazembe in Lome and away to Wydad Casablanca.
TP Mazembe bring a sense of class to the Stade Oscar Anthony. A touch of glamour. Which makes them all the more ripe for the plucking.
An early goal from Kokou Abraw gives us the lead, as he collects his own rebound to find an empty net, the keeper unable to recover. We control the match, but it is a narrow affair. One that could fall either way despite out ostensible dominance.
It is not until the 93rd minute that we can begin to breath easy — Kamara firing past Guruceaga in transition, a goal which is harshly marked in the official tally as an own goal, for reasons none can begin to fathom. CAF announce an investigation into irregular betting patterns, but none expect them to actually find anything. After all, accusations of impropriety can often be more effective than actual proof…depending on one’s goal.
Regardless of whose names are on the official scorecard, the 2-nil scoreline is not in question. Wydad also claim a win in Casablanca, meaning we stand on the verge of qualification for the knockout rounds — qualification we can secure with a point in Morocco, in a week’s time.
The 2nd XI struggle to break down a hyper-defensive Koroki mid-week, but claim all 3 points thanks to a 91st minute goal to keep our run of league wins alive — it is the first of 4 straight away matches that will take us to the ocean vistas of Casablanca and the heart of Congolese mining country, Lubumbashi.
Against Wydad Casablanca, Saibou deputizes for the suspended Abraw, while Labakohler-Diallo stands in for the injured Pires (a role he will reprise against TP Mazembe).
We concede the opener, but fight back to equalize in the 36th, as Placca Fessou finds Sy in space, less than 5 yards from goal. It’s a simple tap-in for the Mauritanian international.
Level at the half, it is a lively, entertaining match that could go either way. Wydad again break the deadlock, meaning we will have to chase the match. Sensing an opportunity, our hosts commit men forward on a corner in the 62nd minute…the classic mistake. We strike on a quick counterattack, with Kamara continuing his scintillating run of form.
Yet, we are not content with a point. We go hunting for a winner. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Tagnaouti claims a long cross and looks to play direct, trying to play one over the top of our defensive line. But we hit back. Quickly recycling possession to Kouadio out wide, who hits Kamara in the channel…to find substitute Salli breaking behind the Moroccan line. 3-2, in the 82nd minute.
Our hosts push forward, relentless. We punish them. Salli, again, in the 90th minute to make it 4-2, following a brilliant through ball from Kamara.
A hard-fought 4-2 win, of the kind we must claim if we are to challenge for the title. Although irrelevant for the purposes of the knockout round draw, TP Mazembe defeat Primeiro de Agosto, meaning we win the Group. It is a marker. A down payment.
The Board, as thanks, extend our scouting range to encompass the entire continent. Seeing as how our foreign player registration quota is full, I guess we have to accept it as the gesture of good faith it is intended to be.
Onward we march.
As focused as we are on the Champions League, it is hard not to get excited about the reports coming out of the academy. Perhaps our investments are on the verge of paying off. Only time will tell.
The trip to Lubumbashi kicks off with a bang — 3 goals in the first 10 minutes. Fortunately, 2 of those are in the Etoile Filante column, after TP Mazembe opened their account in the 4th minute — Olufade curling into the top corner in the 5th minute, followed by an Abraw piledriver in the 9th.
All told, this was not a match for the Goalkeepers’ Union — 6 shots on goal, 5 goals — with Salli delicately chipping home in 92nd minute on a lightning-fast counterattack, to ensure all 3 points in a 3-2 win.
Expectations are rising commensurately. The players’ kangaroo court has also imposed substantial fines on anyone who thinks that the job is anywhere near done.
We may have won our Group. But the real work is just beginning. Giants await in the knockout rounds.
Domestically, our run of form continues. We claim the title in our 19th match — a 1-nil win away to our domestic “rivals” ASKO, the very club that we supplanted at the top of the Togolese footballing pyramid.
A delicious way to win our 4th straight title in a campaign where we still have yet to concede. Yet, again, we cannot rest on our laurels — the Board reluctantly agree to further investment in our junior coaching and youth recruitment, even if they refuse further improvements to our training and youth academy facilities.
April 2038 – Champions League, Quarterfinals.
We are under siege in the first half, in Johannesburg. Unable to get any purchase going forward.
Unfortunately, my inspirational rant at halftime (taken almost verbatim from Billy Madison) did not have the desired effect. Orlando strike in the 51st minute to take a deserved lead, as we fail to clear a corner…followed by disaster, as we concede again in the 53rd minute. The wheels are coming off.
We need to find a way back into the match. But instead, we concede again. And just when it feels like our elimination is but a formality, we strike back immediately through Kamara, rising to head home a Saibou free kick in the 82nd minute…only for VAR to chalk it off, for offsides.
Yet we do not concede defeat. We continue to push forward. We are rewarded when Salli hammers one into the back of the net in the 84th minute. There isn’t even a hint of offsides, this time.
Make no mistake. While the final scoreline reads 3-1 thanks to the CAF mafica, we are not done for. Not yet.
While we do not claim a draw, our away goal could prove vital. And we’ve proven that we are nothing if not dangerous.
Back in Lome, the lads and supporters plot our revenge. Something (per usual, I dare not ask what) has been buried beneath their bench.
The supporters have also prepared a gigantic tifo declaring themselves the new Tartan Army, in my honor. I’m touched by the gesture, as well as the sudden proliferation of kilts seen in the stands before the match.
We start quickly. Slick pass-and-move football, that ends with Placca Fessou alone in the box, smashing into the top corner from 10 yards. 1-nil in the 4th minute.
Orlando hit back in the 18th minute, but no matter. That merely nullifies our goal in Johannesburg. The real question now is what we do in response.
Abraw answers in the 38th minute, heading home a cross from Kamara who had drifted wide to support Kouadio.
Just after the hour mark, Olufade finds our 3rd, beating Ofori at his near post. Shameful goalkeeping, that.
All to play for, 4-4 on aggregate with 30 minutes plus injury time.
Orlando are not a side to shrink from a challenge, however, and immediately launch forward in search of a vital, second away goal. We scalp them in transition, as is customary in Lome. 4-1 in the 64th minute, Placca Fessou finishing calmly after a delicious pass from Abraw into space.
Kamara makes it 5 in the 72nd minute. Incisive, aggressive football in possession.
The supporters are in full voice as the clock ticks towards the final whistle. We have one foot in the semifinals. VAR chalks off an Orlando goal in the 81st minute. He was a mile offsides, not even CAF can overrule that call.
Just over a minute later, substitute Zakari executes the coup de grace, streaking through to calmly chip Ofori. It’s 6-1 on the night. 7-4 on aggregate. Surely, we are through…
April 2038 – Champions League, Semifinals.
Fixture congestion is becoming more than a headache. It is an absolute problem. The run-up to the 1st leg in Lome is manageable (even if the 2nd XI concede our first goals of the domestic campaign). However, the 2nd leg will be our 4th match in 7 days after 2 matches mid-week.
It is an absolute farce. Especially since one of the matches is in the Cup against Danish invitee, Hvidovre. The 2nd XI will simply have to play those mid-week matches, the latter of which will be played without any support from the 1st XI.
Olufade sends the Tartan Army into rapture with a thunderbolt in the 27th minute, after a deft flick from Placca Fessou. It’s early doors. But we will take it.
Placca Fessou makes it 2-nil 3 minutes later, as he is played onside by the lazy backline who fail to step up the pitch after clearing the ball.
At the half, our superiority is clear — as is our nullification of Nejjary. But we cannot relax our efforts.
We retain our focus. And just when it appears as if the match will run out a stale, 2-nil win…we build an incisive, aggressive attack that scythes through the Moroccan defense — Sy finding Placca Fessou to finish it off, securing a 3-nil lead.
Although we come close to finding a 4th, we cannot manage to bury Raja Casablanca. Yet, we keep them off the scoresheet. A 3-nil win will have to suffice.
The 2nd XI take care of business mid-week. As if we notice. The 1st XI is on strict instructions to focus on the match against Raja Casablanca.
We’ve staked ourselves a three-goal lead, and I cannot bear the thought of what Nana would say if we fail to advance. She can be rather judgmental.
The Stade Mohammed V is packed, a roiling cauldron of fury. It doesn’t help our cause when Ouedraogo finds the back of the net in the 15th minute.
The pressure is unrelenting. Kamara nearly equalizes, but moments later Sado clears off the line.
The first 10 minutes of the 2nd half are the same story. The tension building. The noise, growing. Until the 56th, when we find glorious release. A trademark counterattack, with Taha managing to parry Abraw‘s first attempt but unable to recover to save the second. 1-1 on the night, 4-1 on aggregate. But the job is not finished.
El Khayati buries one in the 75th to restore our hosts’ lead. But they need another 3. Surely there is not enough time.
As time ticks away, the crowd grows more restless. Salli has a goal chalked off in the 90th minute, at which point the crowd bows to the inevitable.
While Raja Casablanca win on the night, 2-1, we claim the 4-2 win on aggregate.
May 2028 – Youth Intake.
Amidst the excitement ahead of the final, Kodjo brings news of our graduating academy class.
Kodjo Akakpo, Emmanuel Hounkpati, Franck Assemoassa and Seydou Ouedraogo could have a role to play, provided that they can develop. I question their mentality, though — especially Akakpo, who has all the drive and determination of a young Homer Simpson.
May 2028 – Champions League, Final.
Cairo International Stadium is more than ready for the spectacle of this, Etoile Filante’s first contintental final since the African Cup of Champions final in 1968.
Perhaps it is poetic justice that we have already vanquished our opponent from that final, 60 long years ago — the club now known as TP Mazembe.
ES Tunis are favored. Which is both expected and perfectly fine with us.
At kickoff, we are cautiously optimistic given the campaign we’ve had to-date. Surely, after all we’ve accomplished, this is our year.
Unfortunately, ES Tunis are are up for it — dominating the early passages of play and opening the scoring in the 12th minute.
They are all over us. If it wasn’t for Tchadenou and some wayward finishing by our opponents, we would be dead and buried by the half.
As a Scotsman, there is only one thing to do in the moment — channel my inner Alex Ferguson, and gird my loins for whatever might be coming our way. Good, bad or ugly. Meet it head-on, standing on my own two feet.
The lads take my words to heart, and we start strong. Driving into the final third, pressing for a weakness. In the 47th minute, Sy curls a cross into the box, finding Placca Fessou who has adjusted his run to gain a half-yard of space and flicks it beyond the outstretched arms of the keeper to make it 1-1.
If anything, we have only angered ES Tunis whose aggression increases ten-fold. Yet Tchadenou is equal to the task at hand, almost single-handedly keeping the Tunisians at bay.
In a moment of transition, we catch them out. It is not elegant. It is not subtle. Yet our movement on and off the ball is purposeful. Incisive. Leaving Kamara with a straightforward finish from 12 yards in the 76th.
Again, the Tunisians respond with determination. Only now it is not just Tchadenou standing on his head, it is the entire XI, committed to denying them any sniff at glory that we believe destined to be ours and ours alone.
The minutes pass like hours. But in the end, the final whistle does blow.
We’ve done it. Champions of Togo. Champions of Africa. Not quite 5 years in the job, nearly 4 years to the day after we were fighting against relegation.
We may not have deserved to win this match, by any objective measure. But we will take it.
May 2028 – Season Review.
The remaining 72 hours of the campaign pass in a blur. I name an unchanged XI for the Coupe de l’Indépendance final against the Danish interlopers. Win or lose, I simply want to watch these lads play one last match even if I’ve drank my weight in Buckfast since that night in Cairo.
For I’ve decided that the time has come to leave Lome. To move to pastures new.
I have accomplished all there is to accomplish here in Togo.
The news breaks. The Tartan Army mourns. We will always have Cairo.
Goals for 2028/29: Wait for the right job to open up.
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.