2028/29 Open Thread
The elation at winning the Champions League with Etoile Filante has begun to fade, replaced by — at first — a pleasant befuddlement at the lack of job offers arriving on my doorstep.
Soon, the befuddlement turns to alarm. How am I going to sustain my lavish lifestyle, in the absence of regular income? It isn’t like I’ve been saving up during my years in Lome. While science has yet to prove it, I’m sure there is a limit to how long one man can survive on Hot Pockets and Buckfast.
I reach out to my agent, but his receptionist tells me that he’s “on a call.” Which is bollocks. I’m his only client. The only one that matters, at least.
But even he won’t return my calls.
I take matters into my own hands, reaching out via Twitter to two clubs who have vacancies. Neither responds, leaving me to ponder what exactly comprises the “friendzone” for a corporate entity.
Eventually, after another two weeks of interminable waiting, the phone rings.
Pack your backs. Daddy is taking a drive up the coast, to Abidjan.
A dream appointment. A chance to jam a thumb in the eye of an erstwhile rival — albeit a rival who barely registers my existence, no matter that I despise them with the fury of a thousand suns.
ASEC. Dirty, dirty ASEC. Hateful club. Hateful, spiteful club. Dirty. Dirty, dirty ASEC.
Our finances may be a mess. But we’ve got a beautiful, 20k-capacity stadium located in the heart of Abidjan. And it’s hard to be unhappy when you’re drinking this much champagne. (I nicked some from the Etoile Filante clubhouse on my way out of town. It’s not my fault they didn’t change the locks.)
We have work to do with the squad. But that’s no matter. It will come in time, and the lads are of a different caliber than what was on hand when I arrived in Lome.
The Ligue 1 campaign kicks off in 7 weeks.
It’s time to get to work.
July 2028 – Squad Review.
Meanwhile, Etoile Filante have hired SO Armee‘s manager, Aristide Kone, as my replacement.
I don’t begrudge Kone in any respect, but reading the news of his appointment online is a bit like stumbling across pictures of your ex with a new boyfriend on social media. It hurts, but on some level you just want her to be happy. Especially Kylie…I wish I could tell her how sorry I am. But the restraining order is valid through 2031, so…
To avoid plumbing the depths of the past, I turn my attention to the task at hand. Sorting the wheat from the chaff, and identifying our playing squad for the coming campaign.
As in Togo, we cannot register more than 6 foreign players for the Ligue 1 campaign. Unlike Togo, however, our youth players are generally of a higher caliber.
And, as in Togo, our primary tactic will be PM Haaienvuist — our Nagelsmann-inspired strikerless setup.
At first glance, I was taken in by my coaches’ belief that Romeo Diakite has bags of potential. He very well may have that potential in his locker. But he is not much to look at otherwise. Amara Yao is certainly a better shot-stopper, but I am not at all convinced.
Given these two, I felt we had little chance but to splurge in the transfer market. The result? We have signed “Big” Papy Dabo, whose contract with ASC Diaraf had just expired. At $475/week, his is the highest wage on our books. Yet, we cannot afford to go into the campaign with a subpar keeper. It is as simple as that.
As with our goalkeepers, the cupboards were initially bare at centerback upon my arrival.
We will deploy Souleymane “Coco” Konan as our libero. He will need time to adjust, but is rather sharp for this level. He should be a standout performer for us.
We’ve signed two centerbacks who will step directly into the 1st XI, alongside Konan — Ifeanyi Johnson (end of contract; FC Ebedei) and 16 year-old Drissa Kamagate ($425; Atlantis de Yopougon). Both are players I had considered while at Etoile Filante, and Drissa looks like a potential beast. Drissa Cauphie and Abdoulaye Bamba are our backup centerbacks.
At wingback, Georges Kouame and Charles Mayere will be our starters, with Alexandre Kouadio in reserve. While Kouame could be devastating at this level, one of our top priorities has to be signing a right wingback for the 1st XI, and a backup for each flank given Mayere’s age.
Stephane Coulibaly will be our starting roaming playmaker. He was initially penciled in as a centerback, but we were able to push him forward with the signing of Johnson and Kamagate. We lack any real quality at defensive midfield, so the knock-on effect of their signings is notable.
At mezzala, we have a wealth of options. My initial inclination is to pair Yannick Kouakou and Ismael Oulare in the 1st XI, with Gerard Kouakou and Youssouf Soumahoro playing from the bench. Gerard could be devastating, but my suspicion is that his mentality will keep him from transitioning into central midfield and meeting his potential (more generally).
We also have Wilfried Dago, a natural central midfielder who has his limitations but may be a more natural fit in the long run, if he can develop that potential.
Jacques Guei — whom my coaches think is our most promising young player — was initially demanding to move on, but has now extended his contract by 2 years. His pace could be devastating, but if he is going to start acting like a ****, I’m going to treat him like a ****. For the moment, he’s slotted to play from the bench.
We also have Brehima Koumare and Emmanuel Zunon on the books. Neither will feature for the club, going forward — both will be allowed to leave on a free, even if Koumare is one I’d like to squeeze into the squad.
The squad was seriously unbalanced upon my arrival. While I would not go so far as to say we had a wealth of talent in midfield and the front line, but that was clearly where our strengths lie.
New signings Dabo, Johnson and Kamagate should steady the ship and ensure we are not cannon fodder in Ligue 1, but we still have to improve the XI before we can hope to truly challenge rivals ASEC for domestic prominence.
Once we can do that and gain some measure of financial stability, we will be in good shape.
As we prepare for the season to commence, the bookies consider us to be a long-shot at best, without a single player named in the media Dream XI.
Les Aiglons are ready. While we did not test ourselves too strenuously during the pre-season, we have romped through our friendlies as the lads get accustomed to our tactics.
Our first competitive match away to USC Bassam starts brilliantly — we win a penalty in the 1st minute, which Konan buries with authority.
Unfortunately we conspire to blow a three-goal lead, even after Big Papy saves a penalty. A 3-3 draw. Entertaining, for sure. But not good enough.
Suffice to say that our core supporters are decidedly unimpressed. We sell 6,561 season tickets, five fewer than last year.
A straightforward 2-nil win over SC Gagnon is followed by a comprehensive 3-nil win “away” to Williamsville Athletic Club, our co-habitants at “the Champers,” as I’ve taken to calling the Stade Robert Champroux…it hasn’t caught on.
Truth be told, I’ve been looking forward to the match against San Pedro, which features Serge Gakpe, my former libero at Etoile Filante. It will be good to see him again. I got a new haircut, put on my new suit, and even waxed. Only, Serge blanked me before kickoff, scored a brace to win the match, and then left without saying goodbye. Did he not get my letter?!
Maybe I should make him a mix tape. I bet he thinks Inspectah Deck is criminally underrated, too…
While things are generally going well in Ligue 1, we rotate the squad for the Cup matches. The prize money? Best be careful we not spend it all in one place. Much less pretend that saving the 1st XI for ASEC was going to make a difference.
Takeover rumors are swirling. Though we have no idea what to make of them.
Hey fellas, you remember that time…back when we were scoring goals for fun?
Yeah, I remember it, too.
What the **** is wrong with you now, you ******** ****s?!
I had planned on rewarding the lads with a Mel Gibson movie marathon. But they don’t deserve it.
Gibbo is for winners.
The lads don’t deserve Gibbo, but they need motivation. We have to break out of this funk.
If the carrot doesn’t work, we’ll have to go with the stick.
We go into lockdown at our training facilities, in the gymnasium. Cots have been brought in, as will be all of our meals. One of the scouts has set up Caddyshack on a never-ending loop. At full volume.
No one leaves. For any reason — except for matches and training. Until we’ve won 3 straight.
By the time we kickoff the first match — 3 days after lockdown begins, against USC Bassam at the Champers — I can quote the movie at will. The banter with our opponents during the match is replete with witty one-liners, which are made only the more hilarious as we strike once… twice… thrice. A confident, 3-nil win.
One down. Two to go.
Over the six days that pass before our trip to SC Gagnoa, the one-liners lose a bit of their luster. Start to feel a little forced. But the lads are in good spirits. The camaraderie is there. Us against the world, lads. Us against the world.
When Diomande hits our first at the Stade Victor Biaka Boda, the traveling supporters are in full song. Kenny Loggins, to be precise. We keep it rolling, en route to a 2-nil win.
That’s two. 1 more match to end the lockdown. At home against Williamsville.
Yet, over the coming week, when I sleep, all I hear is Rodney Dangerfield narrating as we fall to a late goal against Williamsville. His piercing laugh haunts me. Stalks me. Not even my dreams are safe.
The lads all share the thousand-yard stare of the insomniac. But I dare not back down. Not now. That would be a sign of weakness. And that… That we cannot tolerate. I refuse to let the lads pack their belongings before the match — bad luck, see.
In a show of moral support, the supporters unveil a tifo of a dancing gopher at kickoff, with the slogan “I was born to lick your face.”
When Kouame flicks a header home in the 3rd minute, it’s Kenny Loggins time, as I’m Alright blares through the PA system. Konan’s 10th minute penalty? Like waving a red flag in front of a charging bull.
We rout them, 4-nil. A celebratory mood envelops us all. A Caddyshack DVD held up in honor. We set ourselves a task, and we stood up to the moment. Now, we need only maintain this spirit.
A tough task awaits, however. Away to San Pedro. A trip up the coast. Gakpe again refuses to make eye contact before kickoff. But I have the first laugh, as Johnson gives us an early lead and Mayere doubles it soon thereafter.
An epic match ensues — one in which we do not lack for confidence, even when San Pedro strike back. We claim a 5-1 win, our 4th straight. Even Gakpe has the courtesy to look chagrined. He knows they’ve been well beaten.
Yet, just when things feel like they’re at a high point — when the best is truly yet to come…the Board sell Yannick Kouakou out from under me.
It’s a great deal of money, no doubt. Which will put us into the black. Yet it serves to underscore how fragile this house of cards really is.
We need to secure our financial future. With 8 matches to play, we sit 2nd.
As one of the top 12 leagues on the continent, 4 clubs qualify for African competition next year. We aim to be one of them.
Yannick Kouakou? He stays, rejecting Inter Allies and (indirectly) the Board’s attempt to sell him against my wishes. He’s a member of our 1st XI, so keeping him is key to the run-in.
Someone gets an extra scoop of ice cream after dinner tonight.
Away to AS Tanda mere days later, Yannick gets a standing ovation from the traveling supporters before claiming an assist in a 4-1 win where the scoreline did not align with the statistics. The match also saw the debut of Dominique Sekana, who joins on a free from École de Football Yéo Martial. He will be Big Papy’s understudy, but both my scouts and coaches agree that he has bags of potential.
Etoile Filante may be sitting atop the Togolese Premier League, but they have otherwise had a rough campaign — especially in Africa. They also declined to register various players from our Champions League-winning squad for the League…a move that I am determined to take advantage of.
We also bring in Edem Lamboni on a six-month, no-cost loan. Lamboni was our backup left wingback at Etoile Filante, but he steps into our 1st XI in place of Georges Kouame, with Georges dropping to the bench.
Our Etoile Filante loanees debut in the Couple de la Ligue against 2nd tier Jeunesse Club d’Abidjan-Treichville, our neighbors to the west and fellow tenants at the Champers. A straightforward 6-nil win is the perfect introduction to life Abidjan.
Finally, we conclude our January transfer business with the signing of Abou Houssou, who will join upon the expiration of his ASEC contract at the end of the year. Houssou will likely be deployed as our roaming playmaker, with Coulibaly providing cover from the bench.
A quiet month, after the hustle and bustle of January. With only 2 competitive fixtures on the calendar, we arrange several friendlies to ensure the lads stay match-fit. It pays off as we fall behind against SO Armee, with a familiar face from Etoile Filante (Abbasse “Abby” Agbégniadan-Mawuena) getting on the scoresheet, with Arafat Housorovi in their goal. We fight back from 2 goals down to claim all 3 points — not for the faint of heart, but it counts.
Another relatively quiet month, as we enter the final stretch of the campaign.
A tough away trip to the ****s at ASEC on Matchday 23. After our Caddyshack-inspired run of form (is inspired the right word?), we sit 7 points off our rivals at the top. In other words, a cheeky win might see us in contention for the title.
Optimistic? Perhaps. But we take nearly 7,000 supporters north to the Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the national stadium.
We play them to a stalemate, snatching an 81st minute goal from Charles Traore, before Gerard Kouakou is sent off in the 84th minute. Though a man down, we hold on for a 1-1 draw. Not the ideal result, all things considered, but one we will take.
A second-place finish may not be mathematically secured, but we simply need to secure one result from our final 3 matches to claim that all-important second invitation to the Champions League. We are nowhere near ready to compete for that title, but every step in that direction counts.
With twenty days until our next match, I express some confusion. Abdul reassures me that he sent the message, and reiterates the key points — a possible golden generation. In turn, I reassure Abdul that I would remember it if he’d sent me such a message.
In the end, he sends a more timely, less optimistic report.
But now, back to the task at hand. 4 matches to play, including the Coupe de la Ligue final against USC Bassam. The title itself may not be important, in and of itself. Yet as our first trophy in 8 years, it would be a statement. And that has value.
The campaign continues to an anti-climactic finish with 4 competitive matches. We dominate each of them, including a 5-nil annihilation of USC Bassam to win the Coupe de la Ligue.
Unimportant? In the grand scheme of things, yes. But there’s a sentimental and psychological value to lifting a trophy in front of at the national stadium, in front of a crowd of more than 31,000 dedicated supporters.
May 2029 – Continental Review.
In the Champions League, Club Africain defeated Orlando Pirates, 2-1.
TP Mazembe claimed the Confederation Cup with a shootout win over Kaizer Chiefs.
May 2029 – Season Review.
As one of the top 12 countries in the coefficients table, the Ivory Coast is entitled to a 2nd entrant for the Champions League — meaning that our strong second place finish in Ligue 1 sees us entered in the qualifying rounds for the coming campaign.
We are not ready to make any kind of run in the competition. Not by a long shot. But if we can get lucky in the draw, we can perhaps sneak our way into the Group Stage or find ourselves dropped into the Confederation Cup. Either outcome would be fine with me.
The reality is that we need another year or two to get the squad into a position where we can truly start thinking about making a difference in continental play.
Our primary focus in terms of building the squad? Securing two wingbacks (even though we’ve extended the loan contracts of both Edem Lamboni and Darius Dono-Boko), and 1-2 centerbacks, in addition to Abou Houssou.
We are also on the hunt for a wily libero to compete with Souleymane Konan. But that is often a much more elusive prey…
Goals for 2029/30: Compete for the Ligue 1 title. Not embarrass ourselves in continental football.
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.