6 Months in Tuscany

After our poor run in February & March  The Millers (I’ve given us a new nickname) then went on a run of 6 games unbeaten that sealed our place in the playoffs. Pleasingly we dominated all the games and were good value for the results. Disappointingly we took our foot off the gas and lost our last two league games of the season but finished a respectable 6th and had met the boards expectations. Next up The Playoffs.

final
Final league table

It hadn’t really occurred to me that Serie C is made up of 3 divisions therefore there would be 27 teams in the playoffs. This meant that if we got to the final we would play FIVE rounds of fixtures. Frankly, that seems fucking mental. And mental they would proceed to be.

The board expected us to make the quarter finals and we were seeded in the first round which meant a home draw against Prato who had finished a place below us in the league. We took the lead through loanee Daniel ‘Brazzy’ Brazziccheri but found ourselves 2-1 down after an own goal by keeper Simone Moschin and a penalty. To be fair Moschin has been excellent since i joined so I wasn’t too hard on him. With 20 minutes left Alessandro Marotta got us an equaliser. Despite dominating we couldn’t find a winner and I readied myself for extra time and/or penalties. How foolish was I? Apparently in this round of the playoffs (and this round only) the higher seeded team progresses in the event of a draw. Yep. No extra time, no penalties. We were through. Bizarre.

harsh

So we were in the 2nd round and would face Livorno, who finished second in our league, in a more traditional two-legged tie. A cagey 1-1 draw at home meant that we had now gone 5 games without victory since our impressive run and I thought the gig was up. I began considering my future. The financial situation at the club means that the summer would be very difficult but I had managed to create an affiliation with Napoli to go with the pre-existing connection with Lazio. Good opportunity for loan signings. While considering all this we travelled to Livorno and produced our best performance under my management. First half goals from Ivan Castiglia, Francesco Vassallo and an Ettore Mendicino double gave us a 4-1 half time lead and although Riccardo Secondo was sent off after 55 minutes we saw the game out.

Into the quarters to face Matera. They had finished 5th in one of the other divisions so were probably of a similar standard to us. A Mendicino hat trick in the home tie gave us a 3-2 lead to protect and the in form striker scored in the return match as we won 2-1. Dario Saric scored the other in the same week as i signed the loanee on a pre-contract agreement from Capri. He’s a Bosnian U21 international and was gathering interest from Lazio so i think it’s a bit of a coup that we’ve managed to secure his services.

We were now into the semis of the playoffs and back to a one off match at a neutral venue. Our opponents were Catania who had finished 2nd in their division only a point behind the champions. The game was nothing short of sensational. Catania were 2 up after 20 minutes and we were on the ropes. We managed to get to half time without any further damage and I told the team exactly what I thought of them. This seemed to rouse them from their slumber. Within 5 minutes of the restart we were level through centre half Aniello Panariello and that man Mendicino again. Despite absolutely dominating the second half we couldn’t find a winner and as the final whistle went I didn’t know how this would be decided. Toss of a coin? Dance off? Clearly at this stage they decided normal service would be resumed so ET it was. It did not start well as Catania scored straight away. 3-2 down and the players fitness stats didn’t look good. But this team has been through a lot this season. They would not go quietly into the night. Not with Mendicino leading the attack. Mental Mendo got an equaliser on 95 minutes and although both teams then had chances to win a mistake at the back allowed Mendo in to complete his 2nd hat trick in 3 games and get us into the playoff final. Absolute scenes. It was an incredible match.

cat
Sensational match

In the final we would face FeralpiSalo who had finished 9th in their division. Despite our good results we were conceding so a 0-0 was never really on the cards, especially with Mendicino’s form, 9 goals in his last 4 games. We only had 4 days to recover from the exerts against Catania and infuriatingly Dario Saric would be on international duty (there are so many rounds in the playoffs the game will be played on the 11th June). Unfortunately this is where the fairytale would end. FeralpiSalo scored after 20 minutes after our keeper came for a cross he had no chance of getting and although the header rebounded off the bar their striker reacted quicker for the only goal of the game. There were few clear cut chances and I think the exerts of the semi final had taken its toll on our boys.

It was a disappointing end to the season but I’ve decided to stay on with The Millers and try and go one better next season. I’ll now assess the squad and see where I need to strengthen so I’ll add another (and shorter) update soon.

Final record since taking charge:

Games played: 25

Won: 11

Drawn: 8

Lost: 6

For: 41

Against: 29

Win percentage: 44%

final-fixtures

VHF – End of season

The first half season of this FM17 Journeymen challenge is complete. And it’s been stressful. But now that we know we have passed the first hurdle, it’s time to look back at what happened, and plan for the future.

Best players

8 of the squad ended the season with average ratings of > 7, so that could be the core of next year’s team. Unfortunately, 2 of them are loanees – Teddy Bouriaud from FC Nantes, and Franck Héry from En Evant de Guingamp – and I’m not yet sure if they’ll be returning.

Player of the year, according to the ratings, should be Chafik Tigroudja, or Tig, as he’s known around the dressing room. Unfortunately, he only managed 7 games before succumbing to foot knack, shortly after I joined. Instead, our most consistent performer was our left wing-back, Quentin Bonnet.

Among the other high raters, we have midfielders, central defenders, and wingers, so I’m hopeful that there is the core of a team there for next year.

Of the players we brought in (Lafarge, Reine-Adelaide, Bouriaud, Basila), Lafarge (6.84) and Reine-Adelaide (6.72) have been the most disappointing, and will have the most to prove. Lafarge is the only one of the the two I’d be desperate to keep.

Everyone else can consider themselves on notice. Especially high-earners, like Houla, Glombard, Ba, and Germann, all of whom have pitched in with decent performances this season but haven’t shown a great deal of consistency.

My team report suggest that I’m short at right wing-back, attacking midfield and up-front. But if I can’t keep my loanees, I’ll be short in a few other areas, too.

On their way in, though, are Kevin Belloc, Kamel Chergui, and Ferdinand Ramanamahefa, all of whom will play further up the field, across the attacking midfield / striker positions.

Finances

They don’t look great, do they? I’m partially to blame, as I’m spending slightly over the wage budget (£29142 per week actual, versus £28839 budget), but the projected losses are crazy; we’re basically losing £1m per year. Looks like some ‘Arry Redknapp-style wheelin’ and dealin’ is required.

Winning the league would help, I suppose. £540000 for first place and all that…

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My profile

My attributes are very slightly higher than they were at the start of the game, as you can see below. A point or two increase across the board, with the exception of Fitness, Working With Youngsters, and Level Of Discipline. And it looks like I’ve decreased in Adaptability!

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At some point during the season, I asked the board if they’d send me on a course to get my coaching badges. They told me to beat it, so their collective card is marked.

What’s next?

If I’d completed a full season, I’d probably be wondering what kind of level of team might be interested in employing a Scots expat living in central France, but as it is, I’m staying put, and I’m going to try and consolidate the Herbs’ Championnat de France National league position next year. Not that I have much choice, I suspect.

For what it’s worth, the league we’re in is rated 67th in the FM17 Competition Reputation. For comparison the Scottish Premiership is rated 27th, and the Scottish Championship 72nd. So, somewhere between the two, then. The plan would be to move up this table, whether through promotion (Ligue 2 is 30th) or by moving jobs, until I’m finally in a position to compete in the UEFA Champions League.

Feels a long, long way from that now.

 

VHF – Last few games of the season

We joined Les Herbiers Vendée in late November, and found ourselves bottom of the 18-team league. The objective was set: avoid relegation. Did we do it?

Game 23 (A) US Créteil-Lusitanos

First up is an away tie against the team sitting in 3rd place. I’ll be honest, I’ve written this one off. As long as I can take points against the teams around me in the following 3 matches, then this one can get tae. Accordingly, we get pumped 3-1.

Game 24 (H) ASM Belfort

I’ve suddenly realised that this, and the next 2 games are the same fixtures as I faced in my first few games here, when I used my attacking 4-3-3 formation. Fuck it, in for a penny. If it worked before, then I assume it’ll work again. And it does! A 2-1 win against Belfort sees them fall into the relegation zone, as we creep clear. Game on!

Game 25 (A) AS Béziers

4-3-3 again, right? Another 3 points towards safety, right? Well, no, not quite. Instead, a nail-biting 3-3 draw, where we equalise with an 86th minute penalty. This is not for the feint of heart. We go into the penultimate match still able to be relegated.

Game 26 (H) CA Bastia

And this, this, is where we turn it on when it matters. 4-1. Four bloody one. Amazing. The barely-mentioned-prior-to-this Garland Gbelle scores a hat-trick and gets a 9.5 rating, while Greg “Born to” Houla gets the fourth. We are officially safe, and I can sleep soundly tonight.

Game 27 (A) US Concarneau

Meh, who cares, eh? We narrowly lose 3-2 away from home, but I’m already booking the holidays for the lads and smoking Cuban cigars on the touchline with Hakin.

End of season review coming up, as well as a couple of notes on what’s next.

VHF – Season 1, games 20-22

Games 20 to 22 of my first season in charge of the Herbs are fraught with danger, as we struggle to put matches away and continue to leak goals at the back. These are must-win games, and one of them is against top-of-the-table USL Dunkerque.

Game 20

First up is our tie against fellow strugglers, Pau FC. Pau are equal on points with us; at this stage, we’re 15th and they’re 16th. It’s a really even game, and we might just have edged it had Kalifa Traoré not been sent off towards the end of the first half. We’re 1-0 down by the break, but a decent second half sees us equalise with 10 minutes to go.

Game 21

Another must win game, against another league struggler. This time, it’s Quevilly Rouen Métropole, who are a single point above us. Winning against the other teams down this end of the league is how you escape but, yet again, we dominate a game and can’t finish it off. Again, this finishes 1-1, and the next game becomes a bit scary.

Game 22

Where to go from here? The 4-3-3 that I was so confident with at the start had us scoring goals for fun, but conceding them just as often. The problem was – I think – that our full-backs were supplying the width going forward, and they’re just not good enough to do that and defend consistently. So, I switched it up to a 4-4-2 / 4-2-4 thingy that didn’t seem to work at all, and now I’m thinking of introducing something new.

To be honest, I’ve been tinkering with it for a while, and I think it’s now time to go 5 at the back. I don’t want to spend 90 minutes defending and hoping to get a set-piece goal (Hi, Walter Smith, circa 2008), so we go for a kinda 3-4-3 or 5-4-1 that I hope will give us width and enough cover at the back.

/end of tactics talk

Well, that went well. A 3-1 win at home to the league leaders is more than I could’ve expected. It was a weird game, with Greg Houla opening the scoring for us, then scoring an own goal for them, and finally conceding a penalty (which they missed) before I hauled him off. His replacement set up two goals and we looked comfortable at the end.

We’ve now got 5 games left to save the season and finish in 14th or above. The first of these is against the team in 3rd, but the rest are against teams around us at the bottom of the league. We’re currently sitting 13th, 1 point above the relegation places, but I need to be thinking about winning all 4 of those games against fellow relegation fodder.

VHF – Season 1, games 17-19

All that good work at the start of this save did two things. (1) It gave me confidence that the formation worked with the team, and would likely be enough to see us finish in a satisfactory league position; and (2) It gave us a cushion that would be needed if a subsequent collapse in form arrived.

Speaking of collapses in form. Outwith a friendly with the U19 side, I’ve not won a match since that 3-0 victory against SAS Epinal. At the time, I said it looked less comfortable than the scoreline suggested, and we’ve done very little to suggest we’ll win by a 3-goal margin anytime soon.

Game 17

FC Chambly-Oise were just a couple of places above us in the league, but they annihilated us here. The final scoreline was only 2-0 but, although we had the bulk of the possession, their strikers fired off 20 shots to our 1, 0 on target. Something’s not quite right, and right now, we’ve dropped back into 14th place.

Game 18

The home tie against US Avranches is much better, and we deserve to win this, even although they’re fighting for promotion. The lucky sods sneak a 90+1 minute equaliser, and it finishes 1-1.

Game 19

Finally, we played Lyon-Duchère AS, and dominated them. It finished 0-0. Sometimes I think we’re on the verge of a good run of form, and at other times, moments from collapse.

Form since I started (excluding friendlies):

WWWWWLWLLLDLDD

VHF – Season 1, games 13-16

After a really positive start, the first bump in the road has arrived. Three games and 1 point see us drop back into 14th place, one spot above the relegation zone.

I’ve been alternating between the 4-3-3 that had proven initially very successful, and another, more defensive formation. I should probably pick one and let the team play a few games in a row. Just to check, I try a midweek friendly against the U19s, which we win 5-2. I can’t figure out if that’s a good result or not.

Game 14

First up was an away match against CS Sedan Ardennes, in front of a crowd of around ~3000. At some point, we must have lost the rag; Issa Makalou got two yellows, and was in the dressing room just after the hour, while the rest of the team picked up another six cards between them. We were only 1 goal down went Mak’ saw red, but they grabbed a late goal to double their lead and win 2-0.

Game 15

In another FM17 save, I was the manager of today’s opponents, Groupe Sportif Consolat, before they unceremoniously sacked me, and I headed to Albion Rovers to rebuild my reputation. If nothing else, this gives me a reason to hate them and (when in Rome, and all that), I’ve decided that during my time in France, they will be my bête noire. Unfortunately, the bastards beat us 1-0, as we end a second consecutive match with 10 men.

Next time, GSC, next time.

Game 16

Finally, a game against league leaders La Berrichonne de Châteauroux. More possession, more shots on target, but no goals to show for the domination. A 0-0 draw not a bad result on its own, and it felt good to get a point after a couple of defeats.

 

Winter transfer window

I mentioned previously that there were staff issues at the club, and that was mainly down to the fact that we didn’t have any. Staff, that is. VHF were just about the worst in the league across coaching, scouting and fitness. So we brought in a few new bodies to cheer everyone up.

Staff

In comes Hakim Malet as Assistant Manager, and Thierry Madelaine as coach; David Ducci as Director of Football, as well as the aforementioned Raducioiu as a scout; and Pascal Thiébaut as a physio.

We don’t have the best backroom team in the league, but we’re getting there.

Players

I did say that I didn’t need to sign anyone, didn’t I? Well, it wouldn’t be Football Manager without a bunch of signings, and we kinda did need some new faces – although there is now a bunch of folk that we need to punt. I did try to get rid of a few, and Achille Robin was the only one of those who took the huff and decided to tear up his contract.

While Robin closes the door before it hits him on the arse, in come Zouhair Bouadoud and Robin Lafarge on free transfers; Jonathan Reine-Adelaide for £30k; and both Teddy Bouriaud and Thomas Basila on loan from FC Nantes.

A few of these guys even have actual Twitter profiles (@TBouriaud, @lafargerobin).

We could probably do with another striker or two, but that can wait until Summer.