2029/30 Open Thread
June/July 2029 – Bits & Bobs, Transfer Updates.
Heading into the new campaign, I have no plans to overhaul the squad (which was detailed in a full-blown squad review, upon my arrival last year).
Having finished a comfortable 2nd in Ligue 1, we simply need to continue building up the 1st XI and establish some depth to allow us to field 2 XIs when facing fixture congestion.
To that end, we have made several signings. In no particular order:
- Lamine Diallo (AFAD Djekanou; free), a solid right wingback who will compete with Darius Donou-Boko for time over the coming year, and (theoretically) take over the position when Donou-Boko’s loan expires. He’s a U20 international with solid potential.
- Auguste Ouedraogo (CF Rahimo; free), an established Burkinabe U20 international who is almost ready to step into our 1st XI. Auguste will share time with Edem Lamboni, whose loan contract only runs through late April given the imminent expiration of his Etoile Filante contract.
- Ibrahima Mendy (Generation Foot; free), another established youth international, hailing from a prestigious Senegalese talent factory. He gives us immediate talent and depth at centerback, and will play from the bench with our 1st XI. (Don’t tell Ibrahima, but I originally had my eyes on several of his former teammates…only none of them would negotiate with a club of our stature. ****s.)
- Abou Houssou (ASEC; free), a talented playmaker whom we steal from our domestic rivals. Houssou will step into our 1st XI as a roaming playmaker, with Stephane Coulibaly dropping to the bench to provide support in defense and midfield.
The squad is coming together. We still have no backup (or future prospect) at libero, but that is a much harder position to fill given my preferences. Our scouting will continue.
The real transfer saga, however, is perhaps the worst-kept secret in Abdijan — the fact that, eschewing all Biblical guidance, I have been coveting my neighbor’s center forward.
And when I say “coveting,” I mean coveting.
In the Biblical sense.
Karamoko Sylla, who has been leading the line for WAC, one of the others teams who makes their home at the Champers. He’s brilliant. Utterly. Far too good to be plying his trade in the Ivory Coast.
I’ve spent months utilizing every trick in the book to turn Karamoko’s head, as his contract winds down.
I keep reaching out to offer him a contract, only to be told that he’s “keeping his options open.” Every time.
Yet I persist, undeterred.
When he’s finally willing to talk, in late May, his contract demands are eminently reasonable. Still, we cannot leave it to chance. $200 per week, and a bonus of $30 per goal? I think you misspoke, Karamoko. I heard $400 per week and $50 per goal. That’s a good lad.
We quickly strike a tentative deal. Yet, as the days pass without formal agreement, I begin to worry that our shameless lack of bargaining has clued Karamoko in to the reality of the situation — he would be an idiot to sign for us.
After a week, my phone rings. He’s signed on the bottom line. The new King of the Champers.
He will step directly into our 1st XI. Obviously.
July 2029 – Champions League Draw.
We are fortunate in the draw, and will face two-time defending Ugandan champions Express in the Preliminary Round.
If we advance, we will face the winner of the Civics – Stade Malien tie.
August 2029 – Champions League, Preliminary Round.
Our pre-season friendlies are predictably straightforward, giving us little insight into how ready we truly are. The bookies consider us to be a long-shot again, with only Big Papy named in the media Dream XI.
We make quick work of the Ugandans in the 1st leg at the Champers, as Express simply have no answer to quickfire doubles from both Diomande and Sylla, which put us on the glide path to a 5-nil win. It may not be a record crowd, but the $80k in gate receipts is both a record and more than welcome as they push our finances into the black.
72 hours later, we take on ASEC in the Coupe Houphouët-Boigny, the Ivorian “super” cup. If we’re being honest with ourselves, our rivals were the better side. But another brace from Sylla — including a 90th-minute winner, against the run of play — gives us the match, 2-1.
With 4 goals in 2 matches, Sylla is already proving his worth. He was practically the only player who showed up against ASEC. The real question at this point is how long we can reasonably hope to keep him.
We are missing 5 players for the 2nd leg in Uganda, with Sekana, Diallo, Kamagate, Oulare and Guei receiving the call for Ivorian B-team duty. We nevertheless claim a 5-2 win to see off Express, 10-2 on aggregate.
We will face Stade Malien, who eliminated Namibian champions Civic, 4-nil on aggregate.
With all the promise of the opening weeks of the season, we are optimistic as we kick off the Ligue 1 campaign away to USC Bassam. A nightmare unfolds. While we manage to salvage a 2-2 draw, it is a far cry from the resolute finishing we will need to employ against Stade Malien.
Yet it was swings and roundabouts in Bamako. We staked an early lead against the run of play, only to concede 3, pull one back, smash the post…and then nearly gift them a 4th. A high-tempo match, even if it wasn’t pretty. Stade Malien will take a 3-2 lead to the Champers.
In the final hour of the transfer window, the Board intervenes to accept an offer over my vehement objections. Yet, this time, the player agrees to leave. Ismael Oulare, one of our starting mezzalas, departs for ES Metlaoui for $350k (plus clauses). I look to sign a replacement, but it is too late. The Ligue 1 registration deadline passes before we can get a deal over the line.
The 2nd XI narrowly defeat WAC, before the 1st XI is called upon for a massive 72-hour run — away to ASEC, then the 2nd leg against the Malians. We manage a 1-1 draw against ASEC — very much 1 point gained.
Against Stade Malien, Diomande gives us the lead — both on the night, and on away goals — in the 3rd minute. Kamagate doubles our lead in the 10th minute, heading home a Sylla corner…and before our guests can catch their breath, Gerard Kouakou finds our 3rd — his first since being elevated to the 1st xI with Oulare‘s departure. A dream start after a rollercoaster month.
Stade Malien have a mountain to climb. Further goals from Yannick Kouakou, Konan, Diomande (his 2nd) and Sylla (a brace) leave them buried. We are relentless in an 8-nil win, which sends us into the Group Stage with some swagger.
October 2029 – Champions League, Group Stage Draw.
A big moment. The draw can make or break us, given the genuine absence of seeding.
CS Sfax, the Tunisian runners-up? Not a bad draw. Not a good draw, either. We’ll take it.
Al-Merreikh Omdurman, the Sudanese runners-up? Yes, please.
Last out of the hat…are we lucky enough to… ES Tunis?!
Things were really looking up for a minute, there. Let’s be clear, we do not have the squad depth to make a run. But I can’t stop thinking that…if we can sneak a result against CS Sfax…maybe, just maybe…
The Group Stage is imminent. A chance to secure our financial independence. To raise our profile.
But it will all be for naught if we cannot knock ASEC off their ****ing perch, domestically.
The Board insisted on including “developing youth” as part of our club vision — a demand that I readily acquiesced in, as I knew the day would come when I (in turn) insisted upon investing in our youth facilities. Junior coaching and youth recruitment? We’re only getting started, fellas.
There is a tremendous buzz about the club, thanks to growing optimism about not only the senior squad, but also players in our youth ranks.
While there is reason for optimism, our senior squad is setting the world alight behind Karamoko “the King” Sylla. He’s unstoppable.
While he had a quiet outing in our first Group Stage match against Al-Merreikh, our 3-nil win was ideal. Away to CS Sfax, Sylla put us on his back as he claimed a hat trick to secure all 3 points in another 3-nil win.
The real test? ES Tunis. Even in Abidjan, they took to the pitch with the swagger that comes from their earned status as one of the biggest clubs on the continent, six-times winners of the Champions League.
But the Champers is our home. And Sylla had a point to prove. He claimed his hat trick in the 91st minute, capping a remarkable 4-1 annihilation of the Tunisian giants. Sylla leads the club with 20 goals and 12 assists in 19 appearances…long may it continue.
Before Karamoko Sylla heads off with the Ivorian B team to the African Nations Championship, he puts pen to paper on a new contract which extends his deal through 2033, with a one-year option.
Football resumes imminently. Time to stand up and be counted, lads.
Away to Al-Merreikh on Matchday 4, we have the chance to secure passage through to the quarterfinals. We are less than impressive. Yet a scoreless draw does the trick. We qualify for the quarterfinals and are in with a shout to win the Group outright.
Domestically, we manage to defeat ASEC at home to narrow the gap to 1 point with 9 matches to play.
Anything can happen. And against ES Tunis on Matchday 5, anything does happen.
Diomande heads home from a corner in the 39th minute — a vital goal in a match where we look like the only team who is willing to commit to the attack. N’Guessan doubles our lead in the 81st, before Diomande claims his brace in the 83rd.
Our hosts finally wake up but it is too late. Far too late. 3-nil. The Group is ours. Of course, seeding does not exist for the quarterfinal draw — but no one can take this from us.
We are far ahead of schedule in Abidjan. Playing above ourselves. I cannot blame the supporters for starting to dream as they look at the tables and weigh up our chances against possible opponents for the knockout rounds.
We host CS Sfax in the final Matchday of the Group Stage, a match which we take to like a duck to water. Karamoko Sylla is unplayable in a 6-2 win — putting up a Man of the Match performance with 2 goals and 3 assists.
While we await the results of the quarterfinal draw, Abdul Dango brings word from the academy — at a club brimming with attacking talent, why not add 3 more to the mix?
Martial N’Goran and Lamine Traore are the first to catch the eye, but Benie Rigo could surprise them all. Aziz Romaric and Samuel Kouakou are also good prospects, even if there’s no chance we’ll actually deploy a 5’9″ centerback.
As we head into the stretch run, we’re in the mix for three titles — Ligue 1, the Coupe de Côte d’Ivoire, and the Champions League. All to play for.
April 2030 – Champions League, Quarterfinals (1st Leg).
In Port Said for the first leg, we know that an opportunity is here for the taking.
With such an opportunity, who takes it? Karamoko Sylla, naturally, with a deft chip in the 7th minute after he spots the Al-Masry keeper in no-man’s land.
For all our control, we have little to show for it. And Al-Masry continue to threaten, pulling themselves back into the match slowly by slowly. The equalizer comes in the 55th minute, Big Papy beaten again, this time at his near post.
A stalemate ensues. We will take a 1-1 draw back to Abidjan.
April 2030 – Champions League, Quarterfinals (2nd Leg).
If there’s anything I’ve learned in my short time in African continental football, its that anything (truly) can happen. Success is elusive. Ephemeral. The big clubs will always throw their weight around, dominating the scene.
Unless, of course, you have both the courage to seize the initiative and audacity to decline the big clubs’ invitations to acquiesce to continued superiority of he so-called elite.
The Champers is ready. Bon Jovi is blaring from the PA system. The supporters are bouncing as they unveil a tifo proclaiming In Sylla We Trust.
Karamoko nearly obliges them with a goal in the 1st minute, but Ahmed is equal to the task in the Al-Masry goal. In the 11th minute, Ahmed again denies Sylla from close range, which only ratchets the crowd’s fervor higher. They can sense the weight of history, the opportunity before us. Desperate to bear witness to these events, the closing stages of a season destined to echo in eternity.
Yet, as the halftime whistle blows, the sides are deadlocked. Doubts begin to creep in. Pervasive. Insidious.
Donou-Boko banishes them in an instant. Al-Masry fail to clear a free kick from deep, and the young Togolese international unleashes a howitzer, beating Ahmed at his near post.
10 minutes later, Sylla is hacked down inside the box. The referee does not hesitate to point to the spot. VAR confirms. Sylla drives it into the side netting to claim his 30th goal of the campaign, sending cascading waves of joy throughout the home supporters.
The doubt returns in the 73rd, however, when Al-Masry strike in transition, against the run of play.
N’Guessan answers minutes later to re-establish our two-goal lead, after Sylla plays him into space behind the Egyptian line. N’Guessan finds another in stoppage time — the final nail in the coffin, even if the Egyptians manage to pull back another with a brilliant free kick in the 95th minute.
We advance to the semifinals with a 4-2 win on the night, 5-3 on aggregate.
Defending champions Club Africain, Kaizer Chiefs and Raja Casablanca await in the semifinals, after they win their respective quarterfinal ties.
April 2030 – Champions League, Semifinals (1st Leg).
On the eve of the 1st leg against Raja Casablanca at the Champers, the unthinkable happens. The 2nd XI lose to 9th-place Sol — our first loss of the league campaign — meaning we fall into 2nd, 2 points behind ASEC.
We were in complete control. Mere days after Karamoko’s 4-goal haul set us set a new Ligue 1 record for goals scored in a campaign. Yet we couldn’t find the back of the net against Sol. Meaning that with only 3 matches left to play, we look destined to pay a heavy price for our profligacy.
But the domestic campaign is a concern for another day.
Today, we face the defending Moroccan champions, who have claimed the Champions League title on 4 separate occasions. A side who will undoubtedly punish us if given the opportunity.
The match begins with a flash of action, as a wayward clearance somehow catches the Moroccan backline by surprise, a mistimed leap allowing Sylla to waltz in on goal, practically alone. Yet he manages to fire wide. An unexpected stay of execution. It is hard to tell who is more surprised — Sylla or the home support, neither of whom can believe their eyes.
The shock turns to horror in the 13th, when Nejjary gives Raja Casablanca the lead. It was all too easy.
Kamagate draws us level in the 30th minute, as a corner from Yannick Kouakou somehow finds him at the near post. We need to increase the pressure.
There is very little margin between the sides at the half. This is anyone’s game.
In the 58th minute, we strike. Donou-Boko drifting inside to delicately chip a ball towards Yannick Kouakou and Sylla, who are attacking from the back post. He makes no mistake. 2-1.
N’Guessan manages to flick a header past the outstretched arms of the keeper in the 67th, mere moments after the Moroccans rattle the outside of our post, but VAR rules it out for offsides. The next goal — if one comes — will be crucial.
Raja Casablanca nearly buries one in the 78th, but Big Papy Dabo manages to gather the weak effort from El Khayati. But Diouf makes no such mistake 8 minutes later. He utterly buries it after we let a weak, low cross drift into the area — Donou-Boko is to blame, in particular.
The final whistle blows. A 2-2 draw. It is not the end of the world. It also was not the performance we needed. We’ve dug ourselves a hole.
May 2030 – Champions League, Semifinals (2nd Leg).
Mid-week, the 2nd XI make short work of AS Tanda. With ASEC’s draw over the weekend, we’re back level on points at the top of the table, with a duanting advantage on goal difference.
Yet all of our focus is on the 2nd leg in Casablanca. We cannot afford to waste our chances again. We must be ruthless if we are to have a chance. The final would be just up the road in Abidjan at the Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny — a once-in-a-lifetime chance to claim the biggest club title in Africa, on our domestic rivals’ home turf.
While the balance of play in the early stages is roughly equivalent, Raja Casablanca are the only side who look like scoring. There is only so long this pattern can continue before something gives…and in the 32nd minute, it does. Bensabouh hammering home, given too much space to drive into. Minutes later, El Khayati collects his own rebound to double their lead.
We’re sinking. Like a stone.
Nejjary nearly makes it 3 on the stroke of halftime. Big Papy denies him. With 45 minutes to play, things are looking bleak.
My halftime team-talk is pure venom. Rage. I break the lads down into little pieces. (Psychologically, not literally.)
And then I build them back up. By the time we retake the field, things are going to go 1 of 2 ways. Either we will drag ourselves back into the match, or we will implode in the style of Brazil at the 2014 World Cup.
In the 49th minute, Ouedraogo serves a cross on a platter for Diomande, who flicks his header past the stranded keeper. At 2-1, we are back in it. We’re not dead yet…only, Kouassi immediately restores Raja Casablanca’s two-goal lead.
As we push forward, looking to impose ourselves on the match, we are caught out. El Khayati gives our hosts a 4-1 lead on the night. We need 3 goals. In 35 minutes.
Our hopes of a comeback are shattered in the 76th, when Dabo and Konan fail to communicate. Dabo looks to clear a through ball, but instead smashes the ball off of Konan, who can only watch it roll into the back of our own net. 5-1.
I am David Luiz’s tearful rage.
But our humiliation is not yet over. Diouf finds a 6th in the 81st minute.
The final whistle cannot come soon enough. We are humiliated. Eliminated, 8-3 on aggregate.
Not a single word is spoken on the flight home. As the flight crew prepares the cabin for landing in Abidjan, I get word to the captain who obliges my request. Tiny Dancer plays as we pass over the city.
None of us know the lyrics — but we sing along anyways. All together. In unison.
We will be back next year. And we’ve got 3 matches left to play. With 2 titles on offer.
A week on the training ground with Elton John playing in our heads restores some measure of team spirit. We are determined to finish strong. And to get revenge against our Moroccan tormentors — especially after one of their supporters uploaded the game footage to a well-known pornography site.
The Board does their part — agreeing to invest in our training facilities, even if they will not countenance an additional round of investment to our youth facilities, junior coaching and youth recruitment so quickly.
On the pitch, a 4-2 win away to Moossou is followed by a 4-nil win over RC Abidjan at the Champers on the final Matchday, securing the club’s first Ligue 1 title since 2011. ASEC claim the dubious honor of recording the highest points total in league history for a club finishing 2nd.
And, we finalize the signings of three players for the coming year. For a club whose primary weakness is a shaky defense, it is a bizarre trio — a less than impressive wingback and two attack-minded midfielders. But the reality is that we had no immediate alternatives (without paying exorbitant transfer fees). Serge Kouassi will join from Issia Wazi, to be our backup left wingback. Mohamed Diack will join from Generation Foot, and will step directly into our 1st XI as a mezzala. Moussa Zerbo? He will train as a libero, joining us from CF Rahimo.
But we have one match left to play. Against ASEC in the Coupe de Côte d’Ivoire final. Over the last decade or so, it has been a one-sided rivalry — our short-term goal being to bring the scale back into balance. Long term? We want nothing less than to bury the snide ****s.
The first half is relatively open and even, yet neither side can find the back of the net. In the 59th minute, we are given a gift — ASEC‘s keeper flaps at a cross, allowing Sylla to head home at the back post in front of our supporters, who kick off a loud version of Sylla is Our King, a Ronald-Weasley inspired homage to the sporting and sexual prowess of young Karamoko.
May 2030 – Continental Review.
In the Champions League, Raja Casablanca defeated Kaizer Chiefs, 1-nil.
Zamalek claimed the Confederation Cup with a 2-1 win over ES Sahel.
May 2030 – Season Review.
When we began this campaign, our primary goal in Africa was to not embarrass ourselves. I think we have to consider that target to have been both hit and missed.
Reaching the Champions League Group Stage? That would have sufficed in terms of accomplishing our initial goal. Reaching the semifinals? Wouldn’t have bet on that. Yet, to then exit at the semifinal stage in the way we did…it still hurts. As it should.
I’m loathe to spend money in the transfer market. Few of the players who had been interested in joining our revolution (prior to our recent Champions League run) would truly improve our defense. I’m still holding out hope for 1-2 signings, but we may need to march onward with the squad relatively unchanged.
Keeping our big talents (e.g., Sylla, who led the club with 38 goals and 21 assists) has to be the priority.
Goals for 2030/31: Defend our Ligue 1 title. Establish domestic dominance. Make a run in the Champions League knockout rounds.
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.