2030/31 Open Thread
June/July 2030 – Bits & Bobs, Transfer Updates.
The lads return to training, focused on the campaign ahead. It isn’t just the results on the pitch. We have to establish that we are not a one-hit-wonder. That we can defend our titles and serve as a counterweight to ASEC, while also making strides in Africa.
Barring intervention by the Board, I do not anticipate much in the way of transfer business. Joining our signings confirmed at the end of the last campaign (Serge Kouassi, Mohamed Diack and Moussa Zerbo), we’ve secured the signing of Elysee Catena ($450; EFYM) and Kader Akassou ($475; Atlantis).
Catena will be our understudy at right wingback, despite his tender age. Akassou joins our stable of brilliant young attacking talent. There are a number of brilliant, “match ready” Ivorian players who would add tremendous value to our squad, but they’re either under contract with the likes of ASEC and AFAD, or simply not willing to discuss a transfer.
July 2030 – World Cup Review.
Over my vehement protest (dutifully ignored by FIFA, I might add), Italy host the latest World Cup.
Cuca’s Brazil claim the title, with a 4-3 (aet) win over Arne Slot’s Holland.
July 2030 – Champions League Draw.
We are again fortunate in the draw, and will face Equatorial Guinean champions Real Equis in the Preliminary Round.
The only problem? We will face Congolese giants TP Mazembe in the First Round…although I guess it is possible that they will be eliminated by Real Sports, the Beninese champions…
August 2030 – Champions League, Preliminary Round.
We sail through our pre-season friendlies, and appear ready for the campaign to begin. The bookies consider us to be less of a long-shot this year (third-favorites), with Big Papy and Karamoko Sylla named in the media Dream XI.
We annihilate Real Equis 6-nil in Bata, behind a hat trick from Sylla and three assists and 18 key passes from Diack.
In the domestic curtain-raiser — the Coupe Houphouët-Boigny — ASEC are gifted two penalties by the ref en route to a 3-1 win. Shameless. Shocking. But it is what it is. We regain some pride with a 3-nil shellacking of USC Bassam to kick off the Ligue 1 campaign.
We rotate the squad modestly for the 2nd leg against Real Equis back at the Champers, running out 10-nil winners on the night, 16-nil on aggregate.
As expected, we will face TP Mazembe, who eliminated Real Sports, 11-nil on aggregate.
September 2030 – Champions League, First Round.
Our first foray into the final third, in the 8th minute? Yannick Kouakou slides it home. The scoreline holds through halftime where the statistics don’t lie — it isn’t a pretty game. It doesn’t have to be.
We hold firm. And in the 90th minute, we counterattack after a period of sustained pressure from our hosts — Kouakou gets to the endline and cuts it back to Houssou arriving late at the top of the box. Houssou smashes it into the top corner. Unstoppable. 2-nil, with only 3 minutes of injury time to play.
We could have given them 20. It wouldn’t have been enough. A hard-fought, 2-nil away win which puts one foot into the Group Stage.
Back at the Champers, it is a quiet match. Until the 33rd minute, when the CAF mafia intervene to award TP Mazembe a penalty. The margins are nevertheless thin — with 45 minutes to play, the next goal will change the tie…if one comes.
A goal does come. In the 61st minute. For our guests, on the counter. The tie is level at 2 apiece, with 30 minutes to play. But neither side can find the breakthrough.
We go straight to penalties. No extra time.
Sylla steps up first…and smashes his penalty off the post. Banza finishes confidently. We find ourselves in a hole.
Diack calmly buries his penalty. But TP Mazembe’s Nzojyibwami does not blink. The Congolese champions lead 2-1 after 2 rounds.
Diomande holds his nerve. Mukalazi is equally calm. We’re running out of time. Out of chances.
Zerbo steps up confidently, burying his penalty with ease. Lwanga matches his confidence, maintaining our guests’ lead — 4-3 after 4 rounds.
Last chance saloon. Yannick Kouakou will take our 5th kick. He puts it into the corner, just past the outstretched keeper’s arms. Asiedu sends Big Papy the wrong way.
We crash out of the Champions League. An utter disaster.
We fall into the last round of Confederation Cup qualifying, which will be drawn on October 4th.
Disaster? That doesn’t even begin to describe it.
October 2030 – Confederation Cup, Second Round Draw.
Just when I feel things cannot get worse, it happens.
With all the teams we could have drawn, we get Paradou AC. The three-time defending Algerian champions, who reached the quarterfinals of the 2029/30 Champions League.
October 2030 – Confederation Cup, Second Round (1st Leg).
The first half against Paradou AC is dicey. We look tentative, to put it kindly. The indecision and uncertainly carry forward until the 90th minute, when we break in transition…Sylla collecting a loose ball, driving into the channel before centering for Diack, who played in substitute Diomande. 1-nil. A lead we do not deserve.
Paradou push forward. And leave themselves exposed at the back. This time, Diomande cuts back for Diack, returning the favor. 2-nil. A win we may not deserve. But we will take it.
Domestically, we have started strong. However, clubs seem to be sitting deeper against us. Approaching us with a more cautious attitude. And we’ve been less effective in the final third. We’re still undefeated, but things seem to be balanced more precariously than in the past.
November 2030 – Confederation Cup, Second Round (2nd Leg).
The last thing we need to do in Algiers is concede early. Which is precisely what we do, as our defense fail to handle a straightforward, direct ball up the middle.
The moment that I feel the world crumbling to pieces, however, is the same moment that Karamoko Sylla steps forward, played in behind the line by Hamed N’Guessan, sliding it home to restore our 2 goal lead. A vital away goal. A necessary response, having conceded so easily.
N’Guessan claims his own in the 16th minute, smashing one into the roof of the net. Now 2-1 on the night (4-1, agg), we are beginning to play with the swagger that seemed to abandon us following the debacle against Raja Casablanca in last year’s Champions League semifinal.
Sylla extends it to 5 in the 50th minute, claiming his hat trick with what is his 16th goal of the campaign, followed by Houssou curling into the bottom corner on the hour mark, following a Paradou penalty, awarded by VAR.
Paradou continue to press forward, leading to a wide-open, back-and-forth match with chances at both ends of the pitch. We have tired legs following the mid-week match against ASEC at the Champers (a 1-nil win), but walk away with a 5-3 win on the night, 7-3 on aggregate.
We are drawn first out of the hat in Group D, and will face CS Sfax, Nigerian champions Kwara United, and OC Safi. While this is not an “easy” Group, failure to progress to the knockout rounds would be profoundly unacceptable.
The steady, relentless acquisition of points. That is our goal. Both domestically and in Africa.
The Group Stage kicks off away to OC Safi at the end of a busy month, in which we drop our first points of the Ligue 1 campaign but nevertheless stake out a 7-point lead over ASEC. We take care of business in Morocco with a hard-fought 1-nil win, eyes fixed firmly on another busy month as we close out the calendar year.
Abdul is enthusiastic about the youth in our academy. He’s been talking about them for weeks. But every time I press for details, he is evasive. Elusive. Non-committal. Perhaps this is why. Because at the end of the day quantity does not equal quality.
We continue to drop points in Ligue 1, but so do the ****s at ASEC. More importantly, our continental form is impeccable. A workman-like 2-nil win away to CS Sfax is followed by a 4-nil win over OC Safi at the Champers.
Slowly but surely, we push towards redemption.
The mix of quiet and chaos during the holidays always brings me peace. But not this year. We’ve put ourselves in a commanding position both domestically and in the Confederation Cup…which only serves to underscore our qualifying failure against TP Mazembe.
We can’t live in the past. But we can’t escape it, either. All we can do is stumble onwards.
The new year treats us well — while the 2nd XI are eliminated from the Coupe de la Ligue, we are otherwise relentless. We annihilate Kwara United, 4-nil, before curb-stomping CS Sfax, 6-2, to claim the Group title.
We draw away to ASEC in Ligue 1, but no matter — we hold a 12-point lead over our rivals, who are languishing in 4th.
The title is ours, it is simply a matter of time.
While we have left the domestic Cups to our 2nd XI all season, a semifinal against ASEC is no trivial matter. Not with the year they’re having. If we can heap a little more punishment on them… Our 1st XI take care of business with a 2-nil win in front of a full house.
The takeover proceeds smoothly, with the infusion of $1.1M upon completion, imposition of a more than manageable club vision, and offer a new contract (seeing as how mine was due to expire in a few months’ time).
Bring on Hearts of Oak. We need to finish this campaign strongly, to ensure that some semblance of swagger is in our stride when the new Champions League qualifiers begin in August.
April 2031 – Confederation Cup, Quarterfinals.
Ahead of the 1st leg in Accra, a series of meetings with the Board lead to agreement regarding further investment into the club’s youth facilities, training facilities, youth recruitment and junior coaching. Overall, our facilities may not be world class, but they are steadily improving.
After $1.8M in investment this month alone, I suspect our new owners will demand results.
The packed house in Accra does not intimidate us. Not at this stage of our journey together. We start with a bang, with Karamoko Sylla striking in the 15th minute. Both sides are denied by the woodwork in short order, as the baying crowd enjoys a lively match.
We reach the half up 1, although we have Dominique Sekana to thank — he was handed the starting position earlier in the year, and has continued to perform admirably. Dominant in the 2nd half, my only frustration is that we did not find the back of the net again. We will take a narrow, 1-nil lead back to the Champers.
Following the match, I suffer a moment of existential dread when Sylla’s agent demands a new contract, with onerous terms. We couldn’t reach agreement, and the big African clubs continue to work to turn his head. However, we convince Sylla to fire his agent, promptly exercise our 1-year contract option to extend his contract through the end of the 2033/34 campaign, and re-engage in negotiations with his new agent a few days later. Keeping Karamoko happy is critical to our long-term plans.
Before the deal is finalized, we take on Hearts of Oak in the 2nd leg. While we hold the lead and a vital away goal, we enter the 2nd leg intent on finishing off our opponents early, to avoid any flashbacks to the debacle against TP Mazembe.
Sylla once again opens the scoring — this time in the 12th minute from close range. The Ghanaians begin to commit men forward in search of a way back into the tie, and we punish them ruthlessly in transition — Sylla doubling our lead in the 25th minute. His hat-trick is completed on the hour mark, as Hearts of Oak fail to clear their lines. It is all too easy.
N’Guessan adds to our tally in the 73rd. A savage finish that leads our guests dejected and dismayed. Their humiliation writ large. We gift them a goal in the 91st minute, but no one truly seems to mind.
A 4-1 win on the night, 5-1 on aggregate.
It takes forever, but eventually Sylla puts pen to paper on his new contract — less than 24 hours after the 2nd XI secured the Ligue 1 title. While we couldn’t avoid a minimum fee release clause, he is now signed through the end of the 2034/35 campaign, with a one-year extension.
He is easily our most expensive player. He is worth every penny.
April/May 2031 – Confederation Cup, Semifinals.
The early stages in Soweto are all ours. It seems like the breakthrough will come at any moment.
But it doesn’t.
Yet, just when it feels like we’ve gone off the boil in the 30th minute, Zerbo rises to hammer home a Diack corner. 1-nil. Before Kaizer Chiefs can settle their feet, Sylla drives through the heart of the defense and claims our 2nd.
Sylla responds almost immediately, driving past 2 defenders in the 90th minute to restore our narrow lead.
A massive 3-2 away win. The tie is far from over. But we’re focused.
The return leg back in Abidjan will be my 300th game in management. Professional football management, that is. Zoo Tycoon doesn’t count. (I asked Constant. He declined to respond.)
Having to chase the tie, Kaizer Chiefs commit players forward. Back and forth, the play ebbs and flows. In the 21st minute, we break the night’s deadlock — a quick vertical outlet pass to N’Guessan, who plays Sylla in on goal. He buries it. 1-nil.
The South Africans fight back, drawing level in the 27th. Shortly before the half, Sylla restores our lead, firing home again from close range after collecting a long, curling pass from Diack. Moments later, Kaizer Chiefs draw level only for VAR to intervene — he was a mile offside.
The halftime whistle blows, but you can barely hear it over the din at the Champers. Up 5-3 on aggregate, we stand a mere 45 minutes from the final in Conakry.
But as close as we stand, the South Africans know that they, too, stand close if only they can find a goal to give them belief. In the 48th minute, they find that goal. And then another in the 53rd. It is now 5-5 on aggregate.
We tweak and adjust, recovering our composure. In the 75th minute, we clear to Sylla who — once again — puts us on his shoulders, driving at pace more than 60 yards past 2 defenders before delicately chipping Miller to make it 3-3 on the night, 6-5 on aggregate.
Kaizer Chiefs do not blink. They strike back immediately, through Koloti, to level the tie 6-6 on aggregate and take the lead on away goals.
A chance falls to Sylla in the 86th, but he cannot put the ball on goal. Still we push forward.
In the 96th minute, our aggression is punished. Petersen carves our defense to pieces before calmly slotting home to give Kaizer Chiefs a 5-3 lead, 7-6 on aggregate.
Not a match for the faint of heart. We are eliminated.
The post-match press conference is a bloodbath. After all, it is the 2nd time we have been eliminated from African competition this year after winning the first leg away.
Perhaps the only consolation is that both of the teams who eliminated us will contest their respective final, with TP Mazembe facing ES Tunis in the Champions League final, and Kaizer Chiefs (obviously) set to battle Zamalek for the Confederation Cup.
May 2030 – Continental Review.
In the Champions League, ES Tunis defeated TP Mazembe, 1-nil.
In the Confederation Cup, Kaizer Chiefs defeated defending-champions Zamalek, 2-1.
May 2031 – Season Review.
The last few weeks of the campaign pass slowly. A blur.
But none of it matters.
All I can think about is our losses in African competition.
All I can dream about is revenge. Redemption.
Change is in the air. Big Papy Dabo wants a move, after falling down the pecking order? Alright, then. Other players will be moved on with the expiration of their contracts.
Goals for 2031/32: Challenge for the the Champions League title. Continue building up club infrastructure to create a lasting dynasty.
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.