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Gareji Sagarejo / Cameroon – 2035 Open Thread


January 2035 – Odds & Ends; Transfer News & Squad Review.

As noted previously, the Europa League draw was favorable, seeding us against PEC Zwolle.

And, Cameroon has been placed into Group F for the Cup of Nations, where we will face Mali, Guinea and Cape Verde.

The influx of talent is a veritable fire hose. Prior to our appointment with Cameroon, we had secured several key, foreign players for the future. After our appointment, Mat has been nothing if not focused on securing the most promising, young Cameroonian players available.  He has certainly achieved his goals in terms of quantity.  Quality?  Only time will tell.

Between now and the close of the Georgian transfer window, we’ve secured 9 signings:

  • Theirry Kamieni ($135k; Bamboutos), a speedy winger who should terrorize the Erovnuli Liga once he has developed and learned our tactics. Whether he can perform at a higher level is the only question. He will play as a left inverted winger.
  • Francis Mbarga ($175k; Coton Sport), a player born to swing between our mezzala and advanced playmaker roles.
  • Richard Talla (loan; Lens), a towering centerback who seems destined for greatness.  The only question is whether he will develop.  
  • Leonel De Dieu Kamga (loan; Grenoble), a goalscoring false nine in search of development. Dieu has been languishing in France and needs retraining, but there is potential here.  
  • Alex Azong (loan; Montpellier), a player we quickly identified as one for the future with Cameroon, who is getting minutes in Ligue 1. With Montpellier willing to send him on loan, I’m hopeful we can refine him if not steal him outright.
  • Serge Mbock ($600k; Frankfurt), speaking of stolen players, Mbock looks ready to make his mark as a ball-winning midfielder in Georgia. If he can develop, he may have a future with Cameroon, as well.
  • “Fat” Franck Ngongang ($33k; Stade Renard), already capped at the U23 level, he’s the best young Cameroonian goalkeeper we can find. He’ll get minutes with the 2nd XI, in hopes that he will develop given a lack of depth with the national side.
  • William Mvondo (loan; 1860 Munchen), a player with some potential at right wingback, in need of development and refinement.
  • Emmanuel Noah (loan; Marseille), as can often be the case when looking for wrong-footed wide players, we’re lacking in immediate options with Cameroon for the left inverted wingback. I think Noah might be the answer. He’s getting minutes with Marseille, which tells me my scouts are right to predict big things from him. A bit of retraining and he will fit the bill.

A strong group of players, each of whom could theoretically play a role for both club and country, looking forward.

Given registration restrictions in the Europa League, my intention is to include Azong, Noah and Dieu in the squad for the knockout rounds. But that may depend on outgoing transfers.

During the Summer 2035 window, we will have only 2 arrivals:

  • Iljo Jakimovski ($135k; Belasica), a North Macedonian international who can play as either a mezzala or advanced playmaker in our system. An absolute steal, who could easily be the best player at the club in short order.
  • Bruno Ntamack ($130k; PWD Bamenda), a centerback with some promise.  He will join the 2nd XI upon arrival, in hopes that he will grow into the role.

During the Winter 2036 window, another 4 arrivals are already secured:

  • Elvir Cosic ($1M; Željezničar), who appears to be a bargain even in the 7-figure range. He could be world-class as a right wingback.
  • Benjamin Manga ($59k; Union Douala), yet another right wingback, albeit one who is much less developed. He’ll play with the reserves at first, and be given time to develop. If he can.
  • Anto Brkic (free) has been at the club on a long-term trial, pending his official arrival on his 18th birthday. He ran riot for the U19s as a mezzala last year, and could be a massive player for us.
  • Alioum Noah ($105k; Coton Sport), a promising attacker that needs minutes and time to develop.

Finally, we have 3 confirmed arrivals in January 2037:

  • Duval Nolla ($100k; Stade Renard), yet another attacking midfield with promise, who can play across our entire front line. In theory.
  • Patrick Bell ($75k; Colombe Sportive), another possible inverted wingback. We have few readily-apparent options, so need to build our own even if he isn’t right-footed.  A possible diamond in the rough.
  • Achille Awoa ($200k; Canon Yaounde), last but not least, the libero of my dreams. I’ve already said enough about him. If he can develop, he will be an utter beast. He’s on the path to 1,000 goals and appearances, but it is a long journey.

When all is said and done, we have a wealth of talent on the verge of joining up.  The only question being whether certain players will develop in the manner anticipated.

Television rights payments continue their steady increase — the Erovnuli Liga rights rise to $424k per team, with the Erovnuli Liga 2 rights rising to $208k, up from $372k and $179k in 2034 (respectively).


January 2035 – Cup of Nations, Squad Review.

Our first big test with Cameroon is imminent.  The Cup of Nations, hosted by Egypt.

Usually, we might spend July binge-watching Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Real Housewives of Tbilisi, but not this year.  We have work to do.

FECAFOOT are insisting upon a semifinal appearance — a target that may exceed the competence of the squad I’ve selected, which has a healthy dose of youth, more so than most were expecting.

The 23-man squad is talented enough to reach the semifinals.  We simply need to perform.  

Before we dive into the competition proper, let’s take a quick look through the squad.  We will be playing PM Draugrson, the tactic that began on the beta and has continued with only the most modest tweaks (to set pieces) ever since.

Cameroon’s 1st XI, Egypt 2035

Goalkeepers.

Herve Ngongang is the clear starter, at this juncture.  After that, things get dicey.  Simon Ngapandouetnbu is our backup, but that’s all he is.  “Fat” Frank Ngongang joins us in Egypt as the player I see taking over the gloves in the long-term, a consideration we cannot ignore.

Defenders.

Lucien Agoume will serve as our starting libero for the foreseeable future.  If Agoume were younger, I’d be pulling out all the stops to sign and retrain him.  As things stand, he has the task of anchoring the defense and attack.  He’s got the quality.  Awoa is his backup — the legend-in-waiting.

Julien Akono and Loic Mbe Soh are the starting centerbacks — a solid pairing, though this is the last major tournament for the latter.  Parfait Akono and Alexandre Mpondo are the backups, and should provide competition for Gareji‘s new signings, over time.

As noted above, Cameroon lacks depth at right wingback.  Steven van der Sloot will take the starting role in Egypt, though he doesn’t have many years left in a role which — in our tactics — demands pace and contributions in all phases of play.  William Mvondo will deputize, as I see promise in him for the future.

At inverted wingback on the left, Wilfried Eto’o is the immediate choice, with Emmanuel Noah serving as his capable understudy.

Midfielders.

Former Gareji standout Alain Fokou will pair in midfield with Steve Abega, as our ball-winning midfielder and mezzala, respectively.  An incredibly young duo that could serve as the fulcrum of the side for years to come.  Their backups are Serge Mbock and Danny Loader, the latter of which is in the squad for his last major tournament.

Attacking Midfielders.

Up top, we have a wealth of attacking talent.  In the 1st XI, Serge Ndjitap will be flanked by Francis Essomba and Alex Azong.  The 2nd XI sees Dieu as the advanced playmaker, with Justin Edoa and Richard Kamga cutting in from out wide.  The talent of this group speaks for itself.  The only issue may be their youth.  At 28 and 25, Essomba and Kamga are the elder statesmen of the front line; while Essomba is brilliant, I’m not particularly impressed by Kamga and see him eventually fading from contention as younger players develop.

Final Thoughts.

Overall, I think we have a strong squad.  I will readily concede that, in trying to balance youth and experience, I may have tilted things too far towards the former.  Such is my inclination when managing at the club and international levels.

We struggled to find the back of the net in our only pre-AFCON friendly — a 3-1 win over Togo in the friendly confines of the Stade Omnisports Ahmadou Ahidjo.  If we pack our shooting boots, we’ll be fine.  If not, my tenure could be over before it truly begins.


 

The opening match against Cape Verde is, on paper, the most straightforward match of the 3.  Knowing we cannot take anything for granted and cannot drop points, we put the 1st XI on the pitch.  An early goal from Azong sets the tone.  Fokou doubles our lead in the 56th, at which point it is time to ring the changes.  It isn’t the wild romp we were hoping for.  But 3 points are 3 points — 2-nil at the final whistle.

Mali dropped their opener against Guinea, meaning that a win will ensure qualification for the knockout rounds.  Equally important, it would allow us to rotate the squad for the final matchday to ensure fresh legs going forward.  We start brightly, and earn a penalty in the 6th minute…only Ballo is equal to the task to deny Essomba, and we cannot convert the rebound or in the mad goalmouth scramble that ensues.  (On the bench, Mat grumbles discontentedly.  We both know Awoa would have buried it.)

We tweak and adjust the tactics, trying to find a breakthrough.  The chances are falling our way, but we cannot convert.  Scoreless at the half.  The tension builds in the early minutes of the 2nd half.  Finally, we find the next in the 63rd minute — finding Abega alone at the penalty mark after a series of quick passes unlocks the defense.  As our substitutes prepare to enter the fray, Azong claims his 2nd of the tournament — a header which crashes off the back post to double our leadMali counterpunch almost immediately, as Awoa is caught in possession — fodder for the pundits, no doubt.  Yet, the 16 year-old finds his sea legs and doesn’t let a catastrophic mistake shake his resolve — he is the youngest player ever to take the pitch at AFCON.  We see out the night comfortably — a 2-1 win which guarantees a knockout round appearance.  

We rotate the squad to face Guinea.  It might mean we progress as 2nd, but winning the Group is not our target.  Winning the Cup, is.  Guinea are in control through the 36th minute, when they are reduced to 10 men after a lunging, two-footer from behind.  Yet, even with the extra man, we seem incapable of creating chances.  The inevitable happens as we push forward in search of a winner — Guinea break, Bangoura finishing calmly.  Fokou draws us level in the 86th, as we push everyone forward, but we cannot find the winner.  A 1-1 draw is fine, in the grand scheme of things, albeit frustrating on the night.

We finish 2nd on goal difference.

We will face South Africa in the Second Round, after the Bafana Bafana finished 2nd in Group B.


January 2035 – Cup of Nations, Second Round.

The South Africans are no joke.  It is not as if we expect there to be “easy” matches at this stage of the competition.  More that this is not an opponent we can look past.

We start brilliantly, on the front foot.  In the 3rd minute, Essomba curls one to the back post to find Azong 1-v-1 with his marker…he rises, hammering home yet another header, his third of the tournament.  Though the Bafana Bafana are creating more chances, we look dangerous.  Fokou hits the post in the 38th, so close yet so far.

Mat whispers softly, as if for my ears only.  “The next goal could be everything, Rezo.  Mark my words.  A turning point.”

No ****.

South Africa clear off the line in the 44th.  So close.  Again.  We head into the half with a narrow, 1-nil lead.

Just over an hour gone, we are coming in to our own.  Controlling the match more.  But still we sit, one goal to the good.  Loader replaces Abega.

In the 80th minute, as the game stretches, space opening up for both sides to exploit, we strike.  Van der Sloot firing beneath Kuzwayo mere moments after Mpandle was denied at the other end.  2-nil, with 10 minutes plus stoppage time to play.

But our concentration lapses.  We concede almost immediately, gifting South Africa a chance to recover.

We recover our composure.  Resolute.  Defiant.  We fight until the whistle. A 2-1 win sends us through to the quarterfinals.

We will face Cote d’Ivoire for a place in the semifinals, after they defeated Nigeria on penalties


February 2035 – Cup of Nations, Quarterfinals.

The Ivorians are the biggest challenge we have faced with Cameroon.  An immense side.  

There are no changes to our XI.  We have relatively fresh legs, and simply need to find the back of the net.

For the first 30 minutes, however, neither side can accomplish that one task as each clear off their own lines.  We look more dangerous, but need to make it count.  And, as if he heard my thoughts, Essomba does us proud, heading home from close range after Ndjitap finds him lurking at the back post.

At the half, we are sitting in an enviable position — controlling possession and creating chances.  The pattern holds in the 2nd half, even if we are spurning our chances.  We look good value to advance with 15 minutes to play…if we can see the match out.

We battle.  We fight.  But the Ivorians are not done for.  Not yet.  A 91st minute equalizer.  Cruel in the extreme.  Extra time will be needed.

But neither side has any legs left.  No chances of any note are created.

Penalties will decide the tie.

Substitute Loader is up first, in what may be his final kick for the national side.  He buries it.  1-nilKarim levels for the Ivorians.

Eto’o sends Fofana the wrong way to restore the advantage…only for Amad to equalize.

Agoume doesn’t blink, finding the bottom corner.  3-2.  Neither does Datro.  3-3.  Something has to give.

Fokou steps forward, and smashes his penalty just beyond the reach of the keeper, in off the post.  4-3.  Yet, Toure, having equalized in injury time, does not shrink from the occasion, drawing Cote d’Ivoire level once more.

Ndjitap calmly buries our 5th, sending Fofana sprawling in the wrong direction.  5-4.  It’s do or die for Singo…9 inch-perfect penalties thus far.  Singo makes it 10. 5-5. 

Sudden death awaits.

Mbe Soh steps forward and — with all the swagger of a young Michael Owen — smashes it into the top cornerJunior Bita slides his penalty just beyond the reach of Ngongang.  12 penalties, 12 goals.  

Edoa makes it 13.  7-6.  Mat can’t watch.  He’s lying in the fetal position, moaning, as Ouattara steps forward for Cote d’Ivoire.  No one pays Mat the slightest bit of attention.  All eyes are fixed on the goal in front of the Ivorian support.  Everyone’s nerves are frayed.  Everyone’s nerves, save Ouattara who puts it just beyond Ngongang‘s reach.

Mat whimpers.  Mvondo will take our 8th penalty.  And the youngster is equal to the task.  8-7.  Surreal.  Mat begins to mumble something about purgatory, clutching at my leg.  Again, no one pays him the slightest bit of attention.  It is as if they cannot see or hear him.  Ballo take…and he does his best Roberto Baggio impression, sending the ball a mile high.  

15 perfect penalties.  1 abject failure.  A nightmare for the Ivorians.  A dream for Les Lions Indomptables.

On balance, we deserved the win.  Tanzania await, following their 3-nil upset of Burkina Faso.  On paper, the Taifa Stars are no match for us.  But are legs are tired.  Heavy.  We look past them at our peril.


February 2035 – Cup of Nations, Semifinals.

Against Tanzania, there is no room for complacency.  Yet, I cannot help myself — we rotate a handful of players into the XI.  We need fresh legs.  And we have a squad for a reason.

In the opening stages, I cannot help but feel like we’ve miscalculated.  Horribly.  Tanzania are creating chances, lurking dangerously, with several enormous players crashing into the box looking to wreak havoc.

Then, in the 18th minute, we win a corner.  And Agoume is yanked down at the near post as he tries to claim a header.  Penalty.  Stone cold.  Eto’o buries it.  Calmly. 1-nil. And the tide begins to turn in our favor, as we control play and create chances…none of which are taken.  We take a 1-nil lead into the half.

Tanzania’s keeper mis-handles a straightforward shot from Fokou in the 54th minute, gifting us our second.  2-nil.  Can we can start to breath easy?  I have my eyes on fitness levels, hoping to rotate out several that are starting to tire.  The danger being that we’re looking ahead to the final, with a lot of time left on the clock…  The doubts are dispelled, however, when Dieu hits a goal worthy of his name, finding the top corner from 25 yards to make it 3-nil.

The supporters’ dreams are nearly fulfilled.  We ring the changes, allowing Fokou, Abega and Agoume to rest.

In the dying moments, substitute Mbock claims his first international goal to put the finishing touch on a massive win. 

The Tanzanian fairy tale is over.  Ours is only beginning.

We will face Tunisia, who defeated Ghana 4-3 (aet) in the other semifinal.


February 2035 – Cup of Nations, Final.

Arturo Reyes’ Tunisia await.  They’re no better than sides we’ve vanquished.  They’re also no pushover.

Our 1st XI will take the field.  Eto’o and Fokou have the heaviest legs, but that isn’t saying much.  90 minutes on a wet, windy night in Cairo.  What’s not to love?

The early stages are like the first days of a relationship.  Tentative.  Hopeful.  Probing, to gauge the response.  Yet neither side have reached the promised land.

In the 29th minute, the Tunisians strike.  Hamdi breaks free on the right before finding Chouchane in the box — his looping head nestles softly into the side netting to give Les Aigles the lead.  

We put on a demonstration of slick passing, to no avail.  Halftime arrives, still down 1.  Not good enough.

We tweak and adjust, attempting to increase the intensity.  Put the Tunisians under pressure.  But with more than an hour gone, it’s clear that it isn’t working.  Noah, Loader and Edoa are brought on.  The instructions are clear.  Punch them in the jaw.  Repeat.

But we used up all of our luck earlier in the tournament.  The goal we so desperately need does not arrive.

Egypt 2035: Overview | Knockout Rounds

Our runners-up medals?  They taste of failure.  Regret.

I tell Mat, and he tells me to stop complaining.  I tell him to stop being a ****.

The representatives from FECAFOOT are delighted.  I tell them to stop being ****s, too.

We weren’t good enough.  And I hate nothing more than losing.


February/March 2035 – Europa League, 1st Knockout Round.

While our focus has been on Egypt, back in Sagarejo the squad continued its preparations for the coming campaign.  Given the signings we’ve made, numerous players were allowed to leave, including Gabedava, Arason, Guruli, Bregvadze, Abzhandadze, Eklu and Kobakhidze.

Surprising no one, we are favored to retain our Erovnuli Liga crown, with 7 players named to the pre-season Dream XI — Machardze, Pataraia, Beridze, Mikeltadze, Bedoidze, Khukhua and Divali.  

Chighladze and Dvali are favored for top goalscorer, with Pataria and Khukhua favored for best player, and Pataria, Malania and Khukhua up for best young player.

Ahead of the first match of the Erovnuli Liga campaign, the club announces the sale of 1,331 season tickets, a modest increase from last year’s 1,180 tickets.

The first leg in the Netherlands is an exercise in frustration.  We are, hands down, the better team.  But we do not put the ball in the net and our hosts find a late winner, to claim a narrow 1-nil lead heading back to Tbilisi.

Ahead of the 2nd leg, Mvondo arrives to complete our 25-man squad.  He isn’t eligible to play, obviously, and Dvali is out for another few weeks; Chigladze steps in to play on the left.  

It’s now or never.

At least, now or…next year.  But that doesn’t sound as dramatic.

Khukhua opens the scoring in the 10th minute, opening the floodgates after a slick build-up.  He’s unplayable on the night, claiming 4 goals in a 5-nil rout that sees us progress to the Second Round.

We draw Steven Gerrard’s Hoffenheim, who sit 7th in the Bundesliga and defeated us twice in the 2030/31 Champions League, during the Group Stage.


March 2035 – Europa League, 2nd Knockout Round.

We’re in over our heads against ze Germans.  That’s for sure.  Having fallen behind on the stroke of halftime, we manage to claw one back in the 60th…and then find another almost immediately, which is upheld by VAR much to the delight of the home support.

We batten down the hatches for a long 30-odd minutes of football – and manage to snatch a 3rd against the run of play.  Epic.  

A stunning 3-1 win which puts one foot into the quarterfinals.

Only, one can never count ze Germans out.  

In the 2nd leg, we take the lead – not once, but twice.  But the fates are not with us.  Just when it looks like extra time will decide the tie, ze Germans find a 90th-minute winner.

Classic Germans, that.

We’re out of Europe.  Our inability to progress deep into the knockout rounds is a source of endless frustration, even though I know deep down that it is a problem of our own making.  Revamping the squad to favor promising Georgian players, then adjusting after taking over with Cameroon.  

The pieces of the puzzle are here, mind.  Our 2nd XI romps to a 5-nil win over Lokomotivi in the Super Cup – our 7th consecutive title – and the Erovnuli Liga should prove no obstacle.  All eyes must be on year-on-year improvements on continent, though, to go hand-in-hand with the Cameroonian influence on Fabrika.


April/May 2035.

The bitter taste of failure lingers in my mouth.

I do not like the bitter taste of failure.

Not even the naming of two former players in the NxGen 50, Koba Bregvadze (#30) and Bakar Gabedava (#34), can wash it away.

It tastes like burning.

Macharadze is demanding a transfer away.  I’m not of a mind to force him to stay.  I’ve seen this movie before, Luka.  Loyalty is a two-way street. 

Frankly, Luka’s erstwhile replacement in the squad (not the 1st XI), 18-year old Aleksandre Sirbiladze, is making a name for himself on loan at Lokomotivi, claiming 3 assists in a Cup match against Sulori.  We’ve long had high hopes for Sirbiladze, this may be the time for this Fabrika graduate to shine.

The U19s could have used him in the latter stages of the UEFA Youth League, falling to Lyon in the final, 2-1, ceding their title to the French.  Brkic continues to demonstrate his promise, claiming 8 goals in 10 matches to lead the way.


God leaned over to the Devil, drew him close and declared, “those who will drink three glasses of chacha may be on my side. After that, they are yours.”

If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused, the basic concept behind Straight Outta Sagarejo is explained here, and each installment in Rezo Gorlami’s journey can be accessed through the Straight Outta Sagarejo Archive.


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