2032/33 Open Thread
June/July 2032 – Transfer Updates, Bits & Bobs.
Within days of the campaign ending, the offers for Karamoko Sylla begin to roll in, primarily from Atlanta United and LAFC. It is immediately apparent that one (or both) will trigger Sylla‘s $5.75M release clause. Accordingly, we have little choice but to negotiate — trade off something less than his release clause now, for a long-term payoff.
In the end, LAFC agree to a $6M deal, inclusive of future fees, plus a 50-percent of future sale clause. It is what I want to have happen, but it would be good business for a club whose total income last year was $5M.
We look to engage with Sylla over a new contract, to counterbalance his stated lack of interest in MLS. But the reality is that we cannot compete with the wages on offer, or the lifestyle to be found in the City of Angels…yet Sylla rejects their contract offer. And continues to have no interest in talking to Atlanta.
I am still resigned to him leaving. In due course, and perhaps for less than we negotiated with LAFC.
I am hopeful, however that we can keep him for the campaign to come. That would be the real victory.
The Ivorians do not have any competitive fixtures, so I schedule two friendlies, to continue assessing players.
While they may only be friendlies, it is important to get Les Elephants used to winning again.
In late June, word passes through that Renhe — the club Sylla was primarily interested in joining — has pulled out. LA Galaxy and Atlanta United are the only teams left in the mix. Accordingly, I take a gamble…only to discover he’s willing to negotiate a new contract and is not insisting on a minimum fee release clause. I make the offer. And wait…
They say “a watched pot never boils.”
But I cannot sleep.
While a new contract will not guarantee a long-term future for Karamoko at Africa Sports, it would both: (1) increase the likelihood that he remains with the club for the 2031/32 campaign; and (2) give us leverage in negotiating future transfer offers, because we will no longer be running up against a $5.75M hard ceiling.
It takes a week, but Sylla puts pen to paper on the new deal.
The King of the Champers? His reign lives on.
Before the window opens, we manage to sign 3 players on free transfer at the expiration of their contracts, each of which arrives on July 1st.
First up, is Tidiane Kone, an AFAD Djekanou prodigy who I brought into the Ivorian squad for our March qualifiers, and handed a debut against Uzbekistan. I anticipate that Kone will step directly into our 1st XI as a ball-playing defender, with Ifeanyi Johnson dropping to the bench (or being sold to free up a foreign player spot).
Second, we have Ahmed Sangare, an RFC Yamoussoukro academy graduate. Sangare will retrain as a mezzala and play with our 2nd XI. He has tremendous upside.
Finally, Zie Libere-Mape follows in the footsteps of Sylla, breaking through at Williamsville (who also call the Champers home) before making the step up. Unlike Sylla, however, Libere-Mape has not established himself in Ligue 1. He will get ample minutes over the coming campaign to prove himself.
Having signed 3 players and kept Sylla at the club, our transfer business has to be considered an unqualified success at this early juncture. If we could sign a prospect in goal and at right wingback, however…that would be game-changing.
This may well be a “strike while the iron is hot” moment, as Kamagate throws a fit when we reject a bid from ES Tunis. He is another player who would be tough to replace.
Following their penalty-shootout loss to Wales in the Second Round of Euro 2032, the English FA go looking for a replacement for Steven Gerrard. In all the wrong places…
Brendan Rodgers, you say?
I go to accept the offer (if only to cause a ruckus and claim some of that sweet, sweet cheddar), but when they see the caller ID pop up as “Big Daddy Brendan” with an Ivorian country code, the jig is up.
They wanted the **** from Carnlough, and everyone knows he only comes to West Africa for his annual “pilgrimage” to Saint Benjamin’s “convent” outside of Obuasi.
A simple mix up, really.
Could’ve happened to anyone.
July 2032 – Champions League Draw.
We will face Gabonese champions MangaSport in the Preliminary Round.
In the First Round, we will face the winner of the tie between Tigers FC and Al-Ahli Shendi, the Malawian and Sudanese champions, respectively.
This should be a straightforward path to the Group Stage, even if Al-Ahli would not be a pushover.
August 2032 – Champions League, Preliminary Round.
We waltz through our pre-season friendlies, as Sekana, Aguie and Kamagate chase Olympic gold with the Ivorian U23s — a journey interrupted by a penalty shootout loss to Argentina in the quarterfinals.
The first leg in Moanda is a straightforward 4-nil win in which we are anything but ruthless in front of goal. That all changed in the second leg, where Sylla struck a hat trick in the first 11 minutes en route to an 11-nil win, 15-nil on aggregate. As expected, we will face Al-Shendi, after they eliminated Tigers FC, 6-2 on aggregate.
During the intervening weekend, we took on ASUX in the Coupe Houphouët-Boigny — a characteristically hard-fought match, we prevailed in the end, 1-nil (aet) — a scoreline that does not reflect our control of the match, but one that ensures we claim silverware, nevertheless.
The bookies still can’t bring themselves to consider us favorites for the Ligue 1 title, deeming us to be second-favorites yet again, with 5 players named in the media Dream XI.
September 2032 – Cup of Nations Qualifying.
We kick off the month with the next rounds of the Ivorian Cup of Nations qualifying campaign. A shock 1-nil loss in Bata is followed by a less than impressive 3-nil win in Tripoli. We’re on course to qualify. It isn’t pretty, but it is good enough.
September 2032 – Champions League, First Round.
The first leg against Al-Ahli at the Champers goes according to plan. While it takes a while for the floodgates to open, they eventually do. A 4-nil win is our just reward.
The next day, mere hours after closure of the Ivorian transfer window, the Board agrees to sell Kamagate to ES Tunis. I manage to get them to reconsider, but it is a full-blown argument which resolves only when I threaten to resign if he is sold.
The takeaway is unmistakable — we cannot count on the likes of Sylla and Kamagate being in Abidjan in 12 months’ time. This must be our year in the Champions League if we are to avoid a rebuilding process.
I am not deaf to the Board’s arguments and rationale. That amount of money would change our fortunes at the club, immeasurably. But we cannot sacrifice this XI’s chances in Africa on the altar of tomorrow’s promise.
Perhaps the ace up my sleeve? ES Tunis promptly fall out of the race to sign Kamagate with the closure of the Tunisian transfer window, and he has no interest in joining the remaining clubs. Why not put a new contract on the table? There is some haggling, but I readily assent to most of their desired (upward) revisions.
At which point the waiting game begins.
The tension has not resolved prior to the second leg away to Al-Ahli. A professional performance sees us claim a 2-1 win, to progress 8-1 on aggregate.
The next morning, Kamagate signs on the dotted line.
For the 2nd time this transfer window.
But there’s no rest for the weary. Or the wicked. We’re away to AS Tanda to wrap up a chaotic, yet successful month.
Successful, that is, unless you consider Les Elephants’ trip to Equatorial Guinea. Which we agreed to not discuss. So, there’s that.
October 2032 – Champions League, Group Stage Draw.
My hopes for the Group Stage? To draw ASUX and ASKO, so that we can bury them in the Can Breat.
Beyond that, I want to face the biggest possible clubs. To take them down early.
Because this is our year… Isn’t it?
As the doubt creeps in, the draw is announced from Cairo. We are first out of the hat, and will face: (1) Zimbabwean champions, CAPS United; (2) the dickheads from ES **nis; and (3) Egyptian runners-up, Zamalek.
October 2032 – Amad and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
The month begins with the Ivorians facing 2 friendlies. An opportunity to build up a little confidence before our final Cup of Nations qualifiers. Yet, the only real stories appear to be our continued underperformance and Amad Diallo‘s horrid form.
**** my life.
While the Ivorians struggle, Africa Sports continue to dominate the domestic scene. The match away to ES **nis cannot come soon enough.
As frustrating as my early days with the Ivory Coast have been, we qualify for the 2033 Cup of Nations with room to spare with a 4-nil win over Sao Tome & Principe on Matchday 5. On the final Matchday, we exacted some revenge against the ****s from Equatorial Guinea, smashing them 7-nil.
Heading into Africa Sports‘ first Group Stage match away to ES **nis, we are undefeated in all competitions. Walking back into the Stade Olympique, I can’t help but shudder at the memory of our collapse in last year’s Champions League final.
Sylla makes up for his missed penalty in the shootout with a 4th minute penalty, which he strikes with a vengeance, to set us off on the right foot. Sekana does his part, diving to his right to deny Mestiri from the penalty spot in the 16th.
Kossounou doubles our lead in the 33rd, Aguie having found him hitting the gap at pace.
Our two-goal halftime lead is down to none other than Sekana. He is standing on his head tonight to deny the Tunisians. He is finally beaten in the 55th minute, after a goalmouth scramble sees a deflection fall kindly to Essoussi.
We bend. We do not break. All 3 points are ours — a 2-1 win that serves to banish the memory of our failure 6 months ago.
I’m a simple man. All I want for Christmas is to smack ES **nis around at the Champers, on live television broadcast around the globe.
After we ROFLstomp CAPS United 5-nil on Matchday 2, beating ES **nis would … Ok. Let’s try this one more time.
My singular purpose on Matchday 3 at the Champers is to expose ES **nis …
One last try. Africa Sports? 4. ES **nis? Nil. Which puts the flaccid Tunisians on the verge of elimination. And — ironically — cures erectile dysfunction throughout Abidjan and its environs, given our saucy, provocative off-the-ball movement in the final third.
Abdul also comes bearing good news about the Class of ’33 — before you ask, let me be clear. No, I do not see how giving them this moniker before they arrive could possibly backfire:
Finally, the Cup of Nations is imminent. Our first big test with the Ivory Coast. We get an extremely favorable draw, and will face hosts Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique in Group F.
January/February 2033 – Cup of Nations Review.
We approach Guinea 2033 with some trepidation. After all, Les Elephants have underperformed for years. Ignoring this inconvenient fact, the FA’s expectation is that we will reach the semifinals.
The straightforward Group we’ve drawn is thus viewed by many as a trap for the unwary. A banana peel upon which we will surely slip.
Our one and only tune-up match against Burkina Faso does little to dispel those concerns — the 5-nil scoreline seen as nothing more than another siren song destined to lull us into a false sense of security.
Our supporters (and the national football media) are reading disaster into every possible omen. One would think that would have ended when we beat hosts Guinea 7-nil in the first match with the help of two own goals, but no. Imminent disaster sells.
The scoreless draw against Mozambique only stirs the pot, especially in light of Amad Diallo missing yet another penalty.
We rotate the squad for the Guinea-Bissau match. And promptly lose, 1-nil, despite dominating. A cluster**** of epic proportions.
Nevertheless, we qualify for the Second Round given the forgiving nature of the tournament.
We will face defending champions Ghana — a match that has all the traditional hallmarks of imminent disaster, akin to when your high school girlfriend got braces. This does not end well.
We are virtually anonymous for the first hour, our one good chance predictably wasted by Diallo. He is promptly replaced by Sylla, who may not have the Manchester United man’s skills, but has twice the heart.
To no avail. Ghana promptly extend their lead. Bayern Munich’s Romeo Dago is replaced, following a disinterested, shambolic display.
We promptly return to Abidjan, where we await the call from the FA to make it official. They’re furious. Perhaps rightly so.
But their expectation of reaching the semifinal was as absurd as our performance on the pitch, given Les Elephants’ failure to qualify for the 2031 Cup of Nations and 2034 World Cup, which led to my appointment.
Regardless of the righteousness of their anger and disappointment, the night of the Cup of Nations final, I drink a hefty amount of Buckfast and TP the FA headquarters. I’m not angry — no, I’m just making sure that the karmic balance of the universe is maintained, ahead of my sacking.
Relieved of duty, I do the only reasonable thing.
Plot my revenge. And apply for every other sub-Saharan African job that has now become available.
Because **** the Ivorian FA, that’s why.
Months after being offered the England job, DR Congo, Nigeria and Cameroon all claim that I’m “not the best person for the job.”
The Togolese FA appear to be taking their time. No matter. They don’t have another match until September. There’s plenty of time to offer me a contract. Right, fellas?
For all the shenanigans at the international level, Africa Sports continue to be in solid form, capping our return to African competition with a 4-nil defeat of Zamalek in Cairo, and a comprehensive 5-1 win over CAPS United in Harare.
Domestically? We’re unbeaten in 76 Ligue 1 matches, a streak dating back to May 2030.
For all of our good form, the sprinkles well and truly fall off the donut with losses to ASUX and Zamalek to kick off the month.
The Class of ’33 arrive to great fanfare, and I can see why Abdul was so excited. Charles Kouyate, Stephane Doua Bi, Yaya Silue, Youssouf Outtara, Chris Dimy, and Koro Guela all appear to be worth a punt, at first glance.
We will face CS Sfax in the Champions League quarterfinals. I consider this to be a favorable draw, as they sit 3rd in Tunisia and we’ve won 4 from 4 against them in the past, during the Group Stage. This year, they finished as runners-up in Group B, 2 points behind ASUX.
April 2033 – Champions League, Quarterfinals.
After years of disappointment in African competitions, we are as well-placed as ever to challenge for the title.
Back at the Champers, we simply need to shut the door. To deny the Tunisians any hope of a comeback.
N’Guessan slams it shut in the 10th minute, hammering home from 18 yards after Diack launched an incisive counterattack on the dribble. Kamagate adds to our tally in the 21st with a near-post header from a Diallo corner.
That sound you hear? It’s the sound of CS Sfax‘s manager gnashing his teeth in desperation as Sylla scythes through the defense for our 3rd of the night. And then does it again, for our 4th.
We do not relent. At the final whistle, the scoreboard reads 6-1 on the night, 8-1 on aggregate.
April/May 2033 – Champions League, Semifinals.
Before the first leg against Club Africain at the Champers, we have business to attend to in Djekanou, where a win will secure our 4th straight Ligue 1 title. AFAD are hyper-defensive, but it makes no difference in a 2-1 win. The title is ours.
The first leg is all about revenge. The sexy man’s justice.
We’ve been waiting nearly a year for this moment. And it shows. Our nerves are frayed. It takes an 87th minute penalty from Karamoko Sylla to draw us level, after we ceded the advantage to our guests, through Ivorian Boubacar Bamba. We were the better team. Not that it matters.
A 1-1 draw is not the end of the world. But it is close.
On the one hand, I can appreciate the simplicity of the task before us. Win or go home.
(To be fair, I assume we will literally go home regardless of the result. It’s just a saying.)
The lads are determined as we take the pitch at the Stade Olympique. We’ve been here before — literally and metaphorically. There can be no excuses. This is our moment.
We come out sitting deeper in the 2nd half, aiming to soak up pressure and creating space for ourselves to attack, with the expectation that Club Africain will get increasingly aggressive. We are almost immediately rewarded, as we launch forward in the 52nd minute — Sylla is hacked down in the box, and VAR confirms, it is a stone cold penalty. Sylla steps forward confidently, despite having missed a penalty in last year’s final. This time, he makes no mistake, to double our lead. It is his 50th goal of the campaign.
Club Africain almost visibly deflate. They need 3 goals. They cannot find even one.
We will return to the final. To be played this year in Abuja.
We will face ES **nis in the final, after they eliminate Kaizer Chiefs 4-3 on aggregate.
We have every reason for optimism after defeating them twice in the Group Stage earlier this year, and eliminating them in last year’s quarterfinals. 5 wins from 6 matches is not dispositive, but it is promising.
May 2033 – Champions League, Final.
There’s something in the air tonight, in Abuja. You can almost taste it. Yet I can’t put my finger on it.
The lads are all quiet, contemplative. Focused.
We’ve been here before. We know that, all things being equal, it is possible that this will be the last “big” match for several players in an Africa Sports kit.
Despite having defeated the Tunisians twice during the Group Stage, the bookies set a line against us. Our supporters revel in the challenge ahead, unveiling a phallic tifo mocking our opponent’s impotence on several levels.
We control the early stages. Yet we have nothing to show for it. Diallo crashes a header off the post in the 34th minute, but the Tunisians clear their lines.
Little talk is necessary at the half. The lads know their tasks. We have to execute. That’s all.
In the 59th minute, Kangoute gets to the byline and cuts it back. Diack is unmarked at the back post, as the defenders have focused on Sylla and N’Guessan, who lurk centrally. Diack calmly taps it home. 1-nil. We are 30 minutes from glory.
Houssou replaces Kossounou, replacing the latter’s playmaking abilities with a bit of bite. Mendy comes on for Kone, who is on a yellow. Tick tock. We drop our lines slightly, to both shield our goal and create space to attack in transition.
Libere-Mape prepares to replace N’Guessan a few minutes later, to ensure we have fresh legs up top, to both finish off chances and assist with the press. Before we can make the switch, however, N’Guessan plays Sylla in — he nestles the ball into the corner to double our advantage. But the flag goes up and VAR confirms. Offside.
Libere-Mape wastes no time. With virtually his first touch of the match, he launches forward at pace, dribbling at the tired ES **nis defense, who recoil in awe of this aggressive, direct play from the 19 year-old substitute who beats one, two…three men, the last of whom launches a reckless tackle that is easily evaded. And buries it. 2-nil.
ES **nis are a spent force. Useless. Libere-Mape finds another in the 87th minute, but the flag is (correctly) raised as he was offside in the build-up. In the 89th minute, he again finds the back of the net and this time there is no question — it’s 3-nil. It’s all over but for the crying.
Moments later, as ES **nis push forward in one last attempt to get back into the game, we strike in transition. Sylla has a gilt-edged opportunity to claim the goal that will serve as the capstone to the match and his illustrious career, but unselfishly lays it off for Libere-Mape to claim his hat trick.
Truly an epic moment. A 20-minute hat trick for the 19 year-old substitute, thanks to none less than the King of the Champers. 4-nil at the final whistle.
Champions of Africa. The curse of the last few years — and of history — broken. Emphatically.
May 2033 – African Review.
The Champions League is obviously covered, above. For the sake of completeness, however:
In the Confederation Cup, Orlando Pirates defeated CA Bizerte, 1-nil (aet).
May 2033 – Season Review.
The final two matches of the campaign are a Cup final, and a Ligue 1 match that is more important than a Cup final — one last match away to ASUX. Both are at our rival’s home ground. And we win them both.
The curtain falls. There is nothing left to accomplish here. I tender my resignation the day after the final match.
Several players are — justifiably — considering their options. As am I. The reality is that I’m ready to move on. After the debacle with the Ivory Coast, I’m ready to move anywhere, as long as it takes me far from Abidjan.
I need a change of scenery. The Togolese FA have yet to appoint a manager, and I will admit that there is something delightful about the prospect of guiding Les Eperviers to a win over the Ivorians, as unlikely as that is to actually happen. We’ll see. If they ever get around to appointing someone.
For now, it is easy to simply move on and see where the wind takes me. I’ve got the complete Mel Gibson collection on my Kindle, so packing doesn’t take long.
Goals for 2033/34: Wait for the right club position 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.