Hey you, up in the sky learning to fly, tell me how high do you think you’ll go, before you start falling..
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We need to talk about Evan…
When we initially signed Evan N’Dicka on loan from Eintracht Frankfurt for a monthly fee of €250K with a €10m optional fee, part of me was obviously conscious that we’d be spending €3m on him just to play in an Angers jersey for this season alone. In hindsight, N’Dicka has more than earned this fee already – at just 21 years old standing 6ft 4 inches tall, he is literally and metaphorically head and shoulders above the rest of Ligue 1 in terms of his defensive contribution so far topping the charts in terms of Key Headers won and Defensive Clearances made.
The lad is a beast. A man mountain of sorts. Evan N’Dicka rises to meet the ball like a salmon leaps from water, such is his determination and aerial ability – his Height combined with his Jumping Reach make him a formidable unit at the heart of our defence, and when you pair this with his 6ft 4″ Centre Back partner Romaine Thomas – safe to say we don’t concede many headed goals in this team.
Naturally we want to see this replicated at the other end and convert N’Dicka’s aerial ability into an aerial threat on set pieces – if you know you know.
On the topic of goals – one of our main priorities during pre-season was to sign a Striker capable of bagging us the goals we will need to survive and compete in this league, however it became quickly evident that there were no interested parties better than what we already had at the club. Rather than waste money, we decided to make do with what we had which was French-born Moroccan international Rachid Alioui – would this guy be good enough to chip in 15-20 goals considering he only scored 6 last season in real life?
It took him 7 games just to open his account, scoring a brace in our 3-0 win over Lens. Needless to say alarm bells were ringing and it was time to shake things up. We had started the season with a rather defensive tactic, mainly as we were up against the likes of PSG, Monaco, Rennes and Marseille in our first few games- however this seemed to invite teams to come at us in each game, so a change was needed. After much deliberation, I decided to go with a slightly more aggressive high-pressing/high-tempo version of the 4-1-4-1 asymmetric tactic that we designed in FM20 while managing Greuther Fürth in Germany, which focuses on shutting our opponents down and breaking at speed on the counter. What I like most about this tactic is that it allows greater expression in terms of player positions, allowing me to maximise individual player’s impact by deploying them in preferred or more effective roles on-field.
The results? On a positive note the tactical switch made a huge impact – an emphatic run followed during which we went 9 games unbeaten, and somehow we found ourselves up in 5th place by the end of what can only be described as a disgrace of a year that was 2020.
On a slightly more negative note – while the run was epic, the form of Alioui was not as consistent wherein he managed 3 goals in the two unbeaten months. The dude gets plenty of chances with the creativity and energy of Mathieu Cafaro and Sofiane Boufal around him, it’s just the end product that was lacking. To combat this, we take two approaches:
1. We bring in not one but two coaches with decent Attacking and Technical coaching attributes – the latter of whom you will of course remember was a Croatian Striker for Monaco and Rangers, good thing he seems to have a French passport handy.
2. Despite being 28 years of age, we manage to successfully teach a relatively old dog a new trick:
Now I wouldn’t be one to throw around claims of being the best Manager in the world too easily, but…
Life becomes the Alioui and Cafaro show – the latter of whom has been dynamite in the AMC role as a Shadow Striker, so much so that he even bags a perfect hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Dijon. You will also notice a bit of a cup run emerging. One of our initial save objectives was simply to beat PSG in a competitive game – do penalties count?
We manage to get all the way to the Coup De France Semi-Final only to then be on the receiving end of a penalty shootout defeat, with Saint Etienne ending our dreams of silverware in our first season at Les Scoistes.
By the end of March and with 30 games played, we find ourselves in with a shout at European football next season. Looking at the league table I’m amazed to see the likes of Lille, Monaco and Nice all struggling while the likes of Nimes and Reims are among the chasing pack – with games against Lyon, Nice, PSG and relegation threatened Lille, our end of season run-in looks set to be a belter.
Welcome to my World
Things are going well on the Homegrown front – by and large our main signings (N’Dicka, Kwateng and Cafaro) have been a success and to even have a sniff at a Top 5 finish is unthinkable (as is bringing a homegrown side to Europe after just 1 season!). As part of our Homegrown strategy, a key component of this save is to also invest heavily in our U19 squad in terms of finances and time/effort and the signings of Massengo, Ntenda, Kotchap and Touati were key to this as well as bringing in a host of U19 staff including Manager Michel Le Lay and his Assistant Emmanuel Beauchet who incidentally came in from Generation Foot in Senegal after we mentioned them in our opening post of this save (more to come on this later). The U19 signings we made are all good enough for first team football, so our strategy has been to have them as squad players in the first team but make them available to the U19 at all times as a priority.
This combined with some particularly strong youth players already at the club (notably De Fanti and Ali-Cho) have had an instant impact on our U19 team performance, and by the end of March they sit on top of Group C in the French U19 league. Should they stay there, they enter a playoff with the winners of Groups A, B and D to challenge for the overall title 🔥.
March also brings our first ever Youth Intake at Angers SCO. Now, if you’ve read any of my blogs before (mainly May The Fürth Be With You) you will know that I have a slight obsession with trying to dictate Newgen Nationality in Football Manager. In FM20 one of the main save goals was to produce an Irish Newgen in Germany, a feat which ended up taking 9 seasons. We have no such objectives in this save – all our Youth Candidates are eligible as Homegrown having been produced organically at the club; you can guess what happens:
Having accepted that in a French Homegrown only save we will probably never be able to bring in any Irish talent – 17 year old Jimmy Holohan arrives at Stade Raymond Kopa and although not overly impressive on paper as one of our best candidates (they are all pretty poor to be honest), we will have some fun seeing if we can turn this guy into an Angers first team player in this save.
Flying Without Wings?
Why wouldn’t there be a Westlife reference in a blog built around Oasis tracks. So far we have been flying high, way above our means and that’s not just referring to Evan N’Dicka towering above the rest of us. 8 games away from possible European football, far earlier than expected or even planned in this save – we are in no way ready for the additional workload particularly in terms of squad depth and quality, but then again this is an Irish Manager doing a Homegrown save in France so anything can happen right?
April started and ended well; the in-between, not so much….
Suddenly Up in the Sky looks more like Head in the Clouds, and we drop to 6th place with 3 games remaining against Lille, Nice and our final game at home to PSG which is somewhat romantic seeing as we opened our save and league campaign with a defeat in Paris. Is there a final twist of sweet sweet revenge and poetic justice before we sign off our first season at Angers Sporting Club de l’Ouest?
Wow. I mean, wow. Ok, so if you had offered me 7th place at the start of the season I probably would have bitten your hand off (even if the prize money is only €8.5m), however after playing some wonderful football and seeing some outstanding individual performances from the likes of Paul Bernardoni (quality keeper btw), Evan N’Dicka (even though he didn’t score from a set piece all season), Mathieu Cafaro (who really did end up as our signing of the season) and the revived Rachid Alioui (18 league goals) all of which put us in 4th place (comfortably) after 30 games, 7th certainly feels like a disappointment of sorts – most notably because it means we miss out on European football and the bright lights of the Europa Conference League (I’m not sure what it is either).
2020/2021 End of Season Review
That means it’s up to our U19 team to help us finish the season on a happy ending. The lads ended on a high by finishing top of Group C setting up a Playoff Semi-Final with Lyon, with the winners progressing to the overall French U19 National Final against either Monaco or PSG. When you consider that this is a competition that has been won by the likes of Mbappe and Camavinga in recent years, it’s certainly not to be taken lightly.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be and there’s one more chair to kick – despite beating Lyon in the Semi-Final, the lads were narrowly beaten 1-0 by Monaco in the final and we live to fight another day. The future is bright however, and perhaps these homegrown lads might just get the opportunity to shine on the international stage before long. We don’t look back around here 👀.
Thanks for reading, what a season!! (exhales) It can’t get any better than this right?