The season’s end

April and May conclude the season for the Herbs and we’re gunning for a promotion place into Ligue 1.

Right off the bat, we’re looking good. Unbeaten in April, with 3 wins and a draw, I’m confident that we can creep up the table and potentially look for back-to-back promotions. Soni and Derouard are on form, but the goals are coming from a few different sources now; those two, plus Chergui, Perradin, Tig, and Gbelle all combine to score 12 goals in 4 games.

But then we play the teams in 2nd and 3rd, and the wheels come off. 3 defeats in our final four games seal our fate. As part of an ironic consolation, the victory on the last day is against Créteil-Lusitanos, who beat us on day one.

In the end, we finish well off the pace. The top 3 were too good, especially eventual winners La Berrichonne de Châteauroux, who only lost once in their last 14 matches. We end up in 7th, 11 points from any hope of promotion.

Award season comes and goes, with Anthony Derouard making into the league’s season XI, as well as winning player of the year – or Star of the Season, as it seems to be called. He dedicates it to me, which is nice.

And then comes an email from the board.

You might remember from the season 2 round-up, that the Herbs’ stadium wasn’t up to scratch for our Ligue 2 status. Well, it’s still not, since the board are refusing to do anything with it.

Season 1 attendances were ~300 for each game. Season 2 attendances were always 3000. We were packing out the place, but they won’t budge. To be fair, that might be something to do with me blowing the wage budget, but that’s for them to worry about.

I start to contemplate another season with the glorious Herbs, and I wonder how far I can take this wee team – some of whose players are still on part-time contracts.

Around this time, Nîmes Olympique get in touch. They’ve got a stadium which holds over 18000 people, and I’m tempted. I’m really tempted. They’re a Ligue 1 team, too. 3-star reputation, Secure finances. And I bet they’ll let me go on a coaching course.

It doesn’t take long… Where do I sign?

And just like that, I wave goodbye to my legion of heroes – some of whom I might try and poach – and to those 3000 hardy souls who came to the Stade Massabielle every 2nd week to cheer on the mighty Herbs.

Oh, one last thing. Remember when I said Nimes were a Ligue 1 side? Well they’ve just been relegated to Ligue 2. Sad trombone, indeed.

 

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Not so much a march, as a stumble towards the safety of home

A fantastic start to season 3 lurched into a disappointing middle. Rejuvenated after the winter break, The Herbs press on.

The last update mentioned something along the lines of no transfer activity taking place during the winter break. Immediately after that, I was able to pick up Kevin Soni, a young attacking midfielder, on loan from Bordeaux. We’ve had quite the run of injuries in that position, so it made sense to strengthen while we could.

I don’t want to pat myself too much on the back (who am I kidding AMIRITE?, but it turns out to be an inspired signing. 7 goals in 9 games from January to March, including a brace on his debut, in a 3-2 win away against Tours FC.

The same period sees an uplift in form, but it’s patchy and we don’t win 2 games in a row over a period of 3 months. Still, it’s enough to get us to 45 points, and definite safety, even if there is some kind of disaster in the closing games.

DWLDWDWLWLW

The best of these results is a 6-2 win against midtable Sochaux-Montbé, a game that sees Soni grab another brace, and Anthony Derouard net 4 goals, all of which come in the opening 45 minutes.

Derouard is one of our best performers this season and as April starts, he’s 3rd in the Goal charts, top of the Average Ratings, 3rd in Assists, and top of the PotM table. A superstar.

Such is the level of performance from him, and a few others, that I feel the need to tie down some players to longer contracts. Doing so sees the already inflated wage budget dive further into the red. So much so that I now get regular reminders from the board that “the club’s wage expenditure is a worry and you will need to address this as soon as possible“. I’m a little worried, but I really don’t intend to hang around long enough for that to be concern.

I should point out that both cup targets (9th round in the Coupe de France; 3rd round in the Coupe de la Ligue) disappeared under a cloud of acrid smoke by mid-December, so the league is the basket into which I have placed all my French eggs.

We’re now into April, 8 games to go, and 11 points from the top of the table. Winning Ligue 2 would be a stretch, but we’re only 4 points from automatic promotion, and that’s now the aim.

Edit: I forgot to mention that we lost Teddy Bouriaud to a long-term injury. As a result, FC Nantes called him back from him loan. I don’t know if I’m more disappointed for him, or for us. (It’s us. It’s definitely us).

 

Injured players and injured pride

After a hugely successful opening 3 months of the season, the run up to Christmas is a tale of misery and woe. Well, maybe it’s not that bad.

November and December see a slight down turn in form, and I’m attributing it mostly to the injuries we’ve had. We’d already lost Belloc and Ramalama, but the latter part of the year sees us lose both central defenders, Derrien and Perradin, as well as loanee stalwart Teddy Bouriaud.

As a result of the amount of players stuck in the treatment room, our league form suffers massively, and we lose a bunch of matches after our impressive initial results.

LLLLWL

There are a couple of cup wins, as well as a successful run of friendly matches over the Christmas period – mainly to try and get back winning again – but it’s not been a great couple of months.

The league table’s fine, though. We’ve dropped down a few places but we’re still in 4th place, and only 10 points from the safety (yes, that’s still the target) of the 40-point mark.

I’d planned to give an update on the winter transfer window, but there’s bugger-all happening there, although I have adjusted the budget slightly, based on some new objectives.

Oh, and you might’ve guessed, I’m still at VFH. As it turns out, FC Nantes weren’t even interested in interviewing me. They’re the only club I’ve ever wanted to manage etc.

The one with the transfer budget

Season 3 of the Journeyman challenge starts, for me, as manager of Vendée Herbiers Football, in France’s Domino’s Ligue 2. This is worth noting, as it’s VHF’s highest ever league position.

Honestly, I think we over-achieved last year. The club isn’t ready to be playing in Ligue 2, and unless we start to get bigger numbers through the gates, this season could be a disaster. Especially as I want to strengthen the squad and spend (comparatively) lots of money.

So, the season starts with the board offering me a bit of a transfer budget. Honestly, I’m happy with it, and it’ll let me build up a squad that should be good enough to stay up. But what’s that? I’m not getting any wages to spend? Well, how is that going to work?

The answer is, it doesn’t, and I can only recruit a couple of extra bodies. Pre-season sees us leak quite a few goals so we get in a few defenders.

Makan Traoré arrives on a free to give us another option at left-back. Bonnet’s first choice, but this will allow me to rotate a bit. Jonathan Cissé is another back-up option, this time at centre-back.

Florent Perradin (£80k) and Maxence Derrien (£105k) both arrive as first-choice defenders for the new season. LaFarge and Basila occupied those spaces last year, but the latter’s loan ended, and I think these two are better than the former. I also pick up Thomas Manzinali (£83k) as back-up for Alexandre Vardin at right-back although – spoiler alert – he’s already moaning about first-team chances. As you can see, Teddy Bouriaud is back from FC Nantes for another year, and I’m delighted about that.

And that’s the wages gone. Actually, we’re over spending a bit, to the tune of around £3k per week, hence the big list of players that we got rid of.

Since the squad hasn’t been expanded much – not at all, really, since we offloaded a bunch of players – I asked the board if we could get more staff, and thankfully, they agreed. In come a bunch more coaching, scouting and medical staff – all of which are very much needed, as you’ll see below.

To the football, then. The first game of the season is against the team that came up with us last year, US Créteil-Lusitanos. We play them away from home and they beat us 1-0. I’ll be honest, in the run of games we have in front of us, this is one from which I’d hoped we would get 3 points.

But – and I can’t believe I’m typing this – that’s the worst performance in the first three months of the season. Aside from a 2nd round Coupe de la Ligue tie against hipster’s Paris FC, we emerge from August, September, and October unbeaten. 12 matches without defeat!

Highlights of these opening months include a draw and a win against top 5 finishers from last year, Tours FC and Racing Club de Lens; and a draw against Le Havre, who came down from Ligue 1 last year.

At the end of these three months, we’re top of the league on goal difference. Bouriaud currently has the bragging rights over his parent club, FC Nantes, who are two places back, in third.

Anthony Derouard and Sebastian Flochon are early season stars, and feature at the top of the Average Rating, Assists, and Player of the Match tables.

Last season’s heroes (Belloc, Chergui, Ramalama) were doing alright, until Belloc picked up a hip injury, and Ramalama got shoulder knack.

Just as well we bought all those replacement attackers. Ahem.

Season 2 round-up

Players

Best performing players this year were Ramalama, Belloc, Bouriaud, two of whom feature in the league’s end of season awards.

Loanees Bouriaud and Basila – both of whom were absolute rocks this year – look unlikely to be in next year’s team, as it seems that FC Nantes want them back.

Board

Obviously, the board were delighted with our performance. So much so that they offered me two contracts, one within the space of a week of the other. I presume I’m only being paid once, but I’ll need to check the ol’ #FM17 bank account.

I’m looking forward to seeing next season’s expectations, but I presume that they’ll mainly consist of, try not to get relegated.

Finances

Winning the league brings in over £500000 in prize money, but a big chunk of that is paid out in bonuses and salary clauses. Overall, bank balance looks a lot healthier than it did at the start of the season, with projections for the bottom line now trending upwards.

We’re going to struggle next season, though. We’ve got very little in the way of assets that we can offload for serious cash; and our stadium only holds 3000 (and only has 500 seats). Speaking of stadiums, as one season ends and another one gets ready to start, I receive the following message in my inbox.

The board have indicated that they cannot afford to meet the league’s recommended stadium specifications this season but plan to address the problem again this time next year.

It looks like any money we might be planning on acquiring would have to be ploughed into a fund for expanding the stadium (from 500 to 5000 seats!) next year. Unless we go straight back down, in which case we’re back to where we started.

What’s next?

I won Manager of the Season, and my stats seem to have crept up a little, but I’m still not a full 1-star manager, yet.

I’m also in the position where the board are still not allowing me to go on any coaching courses. To be honest, if an offer came in for a solid Ligue 2 side, I’d jump. As it stands, I don’t want to rock the boat by applying for anything so I’ll stay put for a bit. I’m keeping my eyes peeled, though.

Nice to know that I’m now fluent in French, too.

Kind of a big dill

Dill, deal, geddit?! Sorry.

At the end of the last update, the Herbs were struggling with form, in what looked like a bit of a mid-season slump. Actually, January hadn’t been too bad, but we struggled a lot during February and March.

What does April, May and the close of our second season in charge have in store for us?

Out of the cup by late February, it’s time to focus on the league and bolster our 1st place position. As April starts, we’re clear of 2nd place US Créteil-Lusitanos by just 1 point, having previously been 11 in the clear.

I’ve only just realised how front-loaded this season seems to be. By the time March ends and April starts, we have only 4 games remaining. 4 games to win the title.

Having not won in the past 6 league games, we go into an away tie against an AS Béziers team who had, earlier in the season, been up among the favourites for the title. By the time we face them, they’ve slipped to mid-table, but our form is so poor that we can’t take anything for granted.

Obviously, we want to keep it tight. Obviously. I mean, who wants to concede an own goal after 6 minutes, and then go 2-0 down after 13? No-one, that’s who. Fortunately, Derouard pulls one back after 18 minutes, and Belloc equalises on the stroke of half-time. Game on.

With just over an hour gone, Belloc gets his 2nd of the game, and we’re in front for the first time. It doesn’t last though, and Béziers make it 3-3 with 18 minutes to go. 5 minutes later, left-back Quentin Bonnet slots home what proves to be the winner, and we park the bus for the remainder of the match to win 4-3.

Créteil-Lusitanos draw 1-1 against relegation threatened US Avranches, and suddenly we’re 3 points clear at the top, with a better goal difference.

Up next, a home tie against another mid-table team, this time EFC Fréjus Saint-Raphaël. A 1-1 draw is disappointing, but C-L’s game finishes with the same scoreline. Stalemate.

Our penulitimate tie is against 2nd-bottom of the table US Saint-Malo, while C-L take on GF-38. We’re 3-0 up by half-time and I feel as confident as I have in a long time that we can do this! Sure enough, we see out the game 3-1, while C-L grab only a point.

We draw our final game, while C-L lose theirs, and we’re champions by 6 points!