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LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus

  1. LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus

    Stumbling around the continent playing local league football, making the odd friendly appearance and landing a trial at a string of professional clubs had been an interesting 15 years even though I had not really achieved anything. The money hadn't been great but the lifestyle and to be honest the women had been something i'd never forget.

    At 32 years of age I had starting coaching in the lowest levels of French football. Why France? Well simply put I dated a french girl who's father ran FC Martigues, a semi professional football club based in beautiful Southern France.


    After 12 months as player/coach the manager Jean-Luc Vannuchi left to become the manager of Auxerre, he had created a very good side but due to finances and the fact we were semi-pro the better players always left and eventually so did he.

    I like to think I was given my first job in management as the Chairman had seen how well I handled the players but the truth of the matter is I'm nearly family and he did me a great favour but to be fair it was one by the time I left I had repaid in full.

    Jump forward 2 years to the end of the 2015/2016 season and FC Martigues were now completely solvent, after two amazing cup ties which had seen the likes of Lyon and Lille being taken to replays and a promotion from CFA Group D the bank balance was well into seven figures and the club was on the up.

    The cup runs had put the club and myself on the map, there had been rumours of interested clubs during the season just ended but nothing concrete had ever come my way. That was until Mr Patrick Le Seyec the current chairman of LB Chateauroux had walked through my door and offered me the chance to manage my first professional club.

    La Berrichonne had found themselves in the National league of France, floundering and stagnating as a club, Le Seyec wanted new blood with new ideas and I was the man he wanted.

    It didn't take long to make the decision in fact the honest truth is I had already accepted it in my head before he left my office, I would be moving up in the world and the 2016-2017 season would be the biggest and greatest of my life......



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  2. Pre Season:
    "If you put the hours in you will get your reward". I had these words sprayed in 5 foot lettering on the dressing room walls.
    When the players came to preseason I wanted to make an immediate impact. I sat every player down and told them that this would be a long hard training camp but at the end of it we would be a solid unit which lives and fights for each other. It was simple, your either in the trenches with your team mates or your out the door.....3 senior players who weren't up for the fight were sold for a combined £875,000 before the camp even got underway.

    I knew the league was tough and I could see we needed strengthening, Defensive midfielders Baboye Traore and Saliu Popoola were brought in on free transfers and to be brutally honest both were big, strong shit kicking machines.

    A new centre half, Alexandre Durimel and a right back named Baba Traore also joined over the next few weeks to give the squad a bit of muscle.

    After two weeks at a training camp where the players lived in each others pockets, cooked each others meals and ran like they had never ran before we returned home and began to build our style of play with a selection of pre season friendlies:

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-preseason.jpg

    It was a mixed bag of results but after the first few games I knew in Oumare Tounkara (SC) and Razak Boukari (AML) that i had two very special talents who we could build around.

    Up until the final friendly against Anderlecht we were looking fragile and i wondered if the players believed in my 4-1-2-2-1 formation but a resounding 5-0 victory against the Belgian giants and 4 goals for Tounkara really boosted the morale and with the season just 6 days away i thought we were ready......
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  3. Aug-October 2016:
    Where do I start? An amazing 3 months which started on a memorable night in August. CA Bastia were to be our opening game of the campaign and they arrived fully expecting to leave with something, and that they did, all be it a beating of almighty proportions.

    The boys flew out the trap and led 4-0 at the break, a first half hat-trick from Tounkara grabbing the headlines. The game ended 7-1 with nearly 30 chances created and we were top of the league after week 1.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-1st-game.png

    End of the month and we had Played 5 won 5 including despatching both Division 2 Ajaccio sides out of the Coupe De La Ligue, it was the dream start.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-opening-5.jpg

    With the window about to close I decided for the first time to open the clubs chequebook and sign Dorian Caddy, a young striker from OGC Nice. Tounkara was flying but behind him I had very little and after careful scouting he joined for £130,000. My only other change was to bring in a Data Analyst to help with the technical side of our performances, turns out to be a great move and a huge help in building this side.

    The month of September started badly, we lost our first two games of the season, In each encounter we dominated possession but just couldn't take advantage. Changing a few aspects of our game had a immediate effect and by the start of October we were once again cooking with gas.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-september.jpg

    October would see 6 fixtures, 3 in the National league and 3 more cup games. Our league form was pretty solid, another hat trick for Tounkara did for Creteil before a changed side lost 1-0 away at Vendee Herbiers. Our biggest crowd of the season to date witnessed a late Dorian Caddy goal seal the win against FC Paris and increase our lead at the top of the table to 3 points.

    In the cups we were flying, progressing to the 7th round of the French Cup with wins against Perignat and AS Domerat before a fantastic 1-0 victory over Ligue 1 SC Bastia in the 3rd round of the Coupe De La Ligue.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-october.jpg
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  4. The Christmas Break:

    10 games in 7 weeks had been the task leading up to the Christmas break. I freshened up the group with the signing of Bakary Badj for £2000, he was quick and able to play in a number of attacking positions.

    I had asked the boys to get a return of 12 points from the 7 league games and the cup games were just a luxury that had started to bring in much needed revenue.

    The lads delivered more than I asked of them, with 5 wins and 2 draws in the league campaign, a run of 5 consecutive clean sheets was another highlight during this period. We also progressed into the 9th round of the French cup with two solid victories over Red Star and Vendee Herbiers respectably.
    Our biggest game came in the Coupe De La Ligue when top side Toulouse came to town, in front of a full house we gave it our all but eventually fell to a 3-0 loss and we exited the competition.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-oct-xmas.jpg

    It had been a good couple of months and now as promised the lads had a well earned break to enjoy before returning to training on New Years Day.
    My break was a little more eventful when two days before Christmas I was approached to be the new manager of Oldham Athletic. Having grown up just the other side of the Pennines, I knew a bit about the club, the town and where the fans thought the club should be in the pyramid of English football.
    They were struggling at the foot of League 1, cast adrift from the teams above them and with no money to improve the playing side it was a bit of a poison chalice. I spoke with the chairman about what i would like to do if given the job, mainly bringing in my own team to work with me. It was rebuffed, they couldn't afford to pay off the existing staff and so I flew back to France in time to enjoy Xmas with the family and look forward to the remainder of the season with LB Chateauroux.
    Nurquidi98 likes this.

  5. glad you didn't go to Oldham, really interesting following your France adventure and the cup runs have been fantastic. bet the finance director is loving you

  6. Thanks and Yeah the balance is certainly healthier although they have some serious expenses as a lot of the players are on £2-3K a week with big bonuses which for that level is not sustainable. Slowly moving them on and bringing in younger hungrier players on a lot less money.
    TheBattman likes this.

  7. The Wheels Fell Off:
    It happens in football, A team playing at the top of their game can suddenly fall from grace, The next two months proved to be long hard months for us and In that time we picked up just 1 win from 7 National League games.
    The Christmas break had caused lethargy in the squad, we weren't zipping around in training anymore and i was at a loss of how to rekindle that fire.
    We fell from top spot to 3rd and were now chasing FC Paris if we were going to land the title I so desperately wanted.

    They say every cloud has a silver lining well our lining was the French Cup where we still looked like our old selves and progressed through to Round 11 with wins against Pau FC and FC Dieppe.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-jan-feb.jpg

    By the end of February I had decided that we had to be cruel to be kind. The bank balance for all of the cup money we had won was being drained weekly by overpaid fringe players. After talking to the Chairman we took a short term hit and 9 players were given free transfers freeing up over £20,000 in wage budget.
    I promoted 4 players from the academy and brought in 21 year old Jeromy Roland on a free transfer. The squad was leaner and I hoped that the message to the senior players had got through that if you don't pick up your out!
    Last edited by bfcbub; 15/11/2016 at 11:57 AM.
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  8. The Dream is Alive:
    After the squad cull, The rigorous training and long nights hunched over spread sheet after spread sheet of Data Analysis results and performances started to return to where I wanted them.

    In the 11th Round of The French Cup we beat Division 2 side Stade Lavallois 1-0 progressing through to the Quarter Final of the competition where we would meet French Giants Girondins de Bordeaux.

    In the National League FC Paris had stolen a march on us and even though we had started winning games again the 2-2 draw in the capital left us 7 points adrift and I had now started to think of just cementing that 2nd spot and promotion.

    Tounkara reached his 20th goal of the season in a 4-2 victory against FC Chambly-Oise and I really felt we were back on form just in time for the televised Cup Quarter Final.

    The game was a cagey one but we looked so comfortable on the ball, the TV cameras and full house didn't worry the boys and a memorable 1-0 victory was achieved pushing us unbelievably into the French Cup Semi Finals. We had controlled the match from the off generating a massive 64% possession which for a National side to do was unheard of. At the final whistle the fans flooded the field and the boys were carried on shoulders aloft as everyone struggled to believe what they had seen.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-bordeaux.png

    It was a big night for the players and staff and it took its toll, I couldn't discipline the boys for celebrating but our next two performances were below par and we gifted the title to FC Paris.
    Sitting comfortably in 2nd spot I started to dream of taking this bunch of players to a Cup Final, first of all though we had to get past AJ Auxerre and with tie being held in Auxerre it was another big ask.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-mar-apr.jpg

  9. The Run In:
    Four games of the regular season to go, first up a French Cup Semi Final away to Auxerre.
    We travelled the day before and took in the City, The players needed to relax it was possibly the biggest game of their lives and you could feel the tension. We watched the other Semi Final and seeing how Nancy celebrated at the final whistle seemed to lift everyone, that could be them in less than 24 hours time.

    It was a hard fought game, The night before I had switched us to a 4-5-1 in an attempt to keep it tight and at half time sitting 0-0 it was working. We had a plan to keep it like this then push on in the last 20 minutes unfortunately 10 minutes later we conceded a sloppy goal from a corner and were now staring down the barrel of elimination.

    Changes were made and we reverted to our more natural 4-1-2-2-1 formation, within minutes Adil Leburn was brought down in the area and we had a penalty. Boukari stepped up and confidently slotted home his 7th penalty of the campaign, 1-1.

    The game went back and forth and at the full time whistle it was still 1-1. Extra time beckoned and I hauled the boys over to the LB fans, they did my team talk for me. The players were lifted by the fans chanting and cheering and we went at Auxerre with everything we had.
    With ten minutes remaining Sassoko for Auxerre tripped young Caddy and received his second yellow of the afternoon, the resulting free kick was played into the box and just when it looked like Boukari was going to head in a winner an ungloved hand came out of nowhere and pushed the ball away - HANDBALL!! The referee seemed to take an age but eventually he blew and we had a second penalty, Boukari once again stepped up and this time he sent the keep the wrong way and LB Chateauroux into the Final of the French Cup.




    We picked up 4 points from our two remaining league games which meant we had finished 2nd to FC Paris and would be playing in the second division of french football next season. This was an achievement in its self but somehow it wasn't celebrated as the whole team, club and town knew that greatness could be just around the corner.

    The final would be played at the Stade de France and we would be taking around 15,000 supporters along for the journey of a lifetime....
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  10. A promotion in our first year together was an incredible achievement, The group had bonded and become the unit I had hoped for way back in June when we started this project.

    The national papers had gone big on this small town club reaching the French Cup Final, Most days there were camera crews from all around Europe wanting interviews and filming features around the town. It really propelled the players and myself into the spotlight and drew attention to what we had achieved.

    The day before the game we went to 'The Stade de France' and took a small training session on the pitch, the players looked sharp and the general feeling around the camp made me think we could really do this. We switched our whole thoughts on the game after training and decided to abandon the 4-5-1 and go for it, if we were to lose then we would lose swinging.

    75,000 people packed into the stadium, The LB fans had an area behind one goal and the rest was a sea of 60,000 AS Nancy supporters. The National anthem was played and the game got underway. We started quickly and missed a great early opportunity when Tounkara spurned a great chance.
    The whole game was then set alight in a 5 minute spell, goals from Sangante and Tounkara put us 2-0 ahead with only 20 minutes on the clock. We instantly changed to a 4-5-1 and decided that we could be strong and hold out. The side defended superbly and ran themselves into the ground, a 3rd goal from Sawadogo sealed the deal and La Berrichonne de Chateauroux are the French Cup Champions.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-cup-final.png

    An incredible achievement from a French National side, unheard of in the 98 year history of the competition.
    We partied for a week ending with an open top bus ride around the town. I was so proud of the boys and the town who had really come together and bonded as one. They would be talking about this for years to come and I hoped I would never have to buy another drink again.

    Promotion to Division 2 and a Cup win, the year had gone better than i could have ever hoped and we had started to lay plans down for the next 12 months which included a Europa League campaign.

    At least thats what should happen but as i write this I am looking over a job offer from English side Hull City, recently relegated to the championship but a big budget and big squad. I plan to talk it over and make my decision overnight, the next step in my journey could be a step home to England.
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  11. Decision Time:
    The choice had been a tough one. A club on the rise about to embark on a historic season where European football would come to town or a chance to make it in the best league structure in the world.
    Hull were offering me double my annual salary with huge bonuses upon returning them to the Premier League. The new owners at the KC Stadium had money to burn and the war chest they offered me was around 15 times my current annual budget.

    I met with the Hull City board one final time but for some reason and I don't know what I decided to decline the offer and stay at LB. I just felt like I had to have one more year with this team, take them into and enjoy the Europa League and who knows have a tilt at back to back promotions.

    We needed depth to the squad, I had targets in mind but on a limited budget it would be tough to get everyone I wanted. I brought in a new coach and a couple of extra scouts to help build our very restricted knowledge of European football.

    14 players including youth prospects all left LB and 9 new faces would be with us on the first day of training. The key players were a Bosnian striker called Vahid Hambo and Amos Youga a defensive midfielder from AC Ajaccio. Youga was the only player we paid a transfer fee for, he would be a valuable acquisition given Popoola and Traore who currently marshal our midfield had received nearly 40 yellow cards and 5 reds between them the previous campaign.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-transfers-17-18.jpg

    Preseason was the same, extremely hard sessions for two weeks in the mountains of Switzerland before the players even saw a football. When we returned the games got underway and apart form a few tweaks I was happy that come opening day we would be ready.

    There were six Division 2 games in the month of August and the Trophee Des Champions against PSG. Ill start with the latter where we beaten comfortably 5-1 and looked every bit a lower league side.
    However the league campaign was a totally different story, We won all 6 games and won them well. The bounce factor from last year had the players playing with a real spring in their step, the new boys had linked up well and it was like last season had just carried straight through to this. On a side note French giants Marseille had found themselves relegated the previous season and were already looking formidable in Division 2.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-opening-fixtures.jpg

    One of the new boys Michael Cain was looking like he could be a real player, the centre midfielder had scored 3 goals and made himself one of the first names on my team sheet which looked like this:

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-team1.jpg

    With the group stages of the Europa League just around the corner I had come to the decision that sticking around had been the right choice.
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  12. Europa League comes to town:
    European football at LB Chateauroux wasn't something that anyone thought possible and yet here we were hosting our opening Group J game against Rubin Kazan. UEFA had taken control of the ground, an army of people in Blazers with UEFA ties on were telling me where I could and couldn't go. It was as expected a full house, even Rubin had fetched there allotted 1100 seats.

    We played really well, created chances and dominated possession but the goal never came, late on a long ball forward caused panic in our backline and Marko Devic nipped in to steal all 3 points for the Russians. We didn't deserve to lose but it just showed us how the slightest mistake would be punished at this elite level, we had a lot to learn.

    European football took its toll on the fixture calendar too as we were having game after game postponed due to fixture congestion, the Thursday night Europa League games clash with Friday night Division 2 matches.

    We went on to lose 2-0 in the Mestalla, It was an incredible experience but Valencia had too much for us. We travelled to Switzerland to face Young boys in our 3rd game and it was a game we got our first points in thanks to a Tounkara goal. We looked like we had found our European feet and went on to to secure a fantastic win in Russia against Rubin leaving us on 6 points with 2 games remaining.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-rubin.jpg

    Alongside this adventure our league form had started to weaken but we still held 3rd spot behind Nancy and Marseille. We now had 4 games in hand but found ourselves 9 points off the top, it's never easy playing catch up but we would give it our all.

    On a personal note playing in Europe had really wetted my appetite for the big stage, I wanted more of those big nights under the glare of the TV cameras. Everything about it made me want it more.

    During the past 3 months I had turned down offers from Metz, Bordeaux, SC Bastia and Burnley back in England. The majority of approaches hadn't interested me until now, until a former European Cup winning side came knocking.

    Aston Villa were at their lowest point for over 50 years, they were lounging in the lower half of the Championship table with spiralling debts and mercenaries wearing their shirt.
    The owner, Dr Tony Xia was waiting in his limo at Montpellier Airport when we touched down from Russia. He had squared it with the Chairman and promised to pay 7 figures should I take the job.

    We ate together and talked football, he wanted to be back in the Premier League ideally by next season but would accept in 18 months. There was very little room for manoeuvre on the transfer front until £300,000 was wiped off the wage bill which laid just under the million pound mark.

    He had done his research, he talked about everything I had achieved here in France and spoke passionately about making me his new head coach, he promised I would have total control of the football club to mould how I saw fit.

    I went into training the next day and sat the lads down.I spoke to them about our journey, about where each and everyone of them had come from and could get to. I loved this club and these players, without them I wouldn't be where I was today.

    I said my goodbyes, there were tears on all sides of the dressing room and I left La Berrichonne Chateauroux knowing that whatever happened I would always be welcome back here.

    Next stop Villa Park.......

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-villaoffer.jpg
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  13. Turn that Plane around!

    Halfway over the English channel I put down my iPad and looked out of the window. Social media was a mouthpiece for anyone and everyone. Out of the 150 posts, blogs and tweets I had read there had been very few which had been in support of me arriving at Villa Park.
    The Villa 'faithful' weren't happy, they thought they deserved a bigger name. The UK TV stations were running 'Who is Chris Johnson' features and interviewing angry fans outside the stadium. The only messages of goodwill came from the LB fans wishing me all the best and thanking me for giving them something they would always cherish, memories.
    We landed at Birmingham International Airport and I was surprised not to have a car collect me. I stood in the airport arrivals lounge scanning the chauffeur boards one at a time for my name. Thompson - no, Higgins - no, White - no, PLEASE DON'T GO - no, Smyth - No, WAIT! I quickly scanned back, The board said 'PLEASE DON'T GO'. I let my eyes drift up and there holding the sign was a small group of LB fans all dressed in club colours and scarves. As they spotted me they let choruses of 'Allez le bleu' and LB - Go!

    Goosebumps ran up my spine and down my arms as I watched this small group of people sing my name. It took my breath away. I made my way over and took the 6 fans to a coffee bar where we drank and we sat and talked about LB, the Cup Final and our Europa League campaign. Great memories.

    On the TV in the corner of the cafe SKYSPORTS NEWS were running shots of villa fans protesting at the ground. Did i really want to leave a club which was so close to my heart in search of what? More money, More fame?

    I ordered another coffee and said my fair wells to the LB fans. I spoke to my wife and then I rang Thierry Schoen the Chairman back in Chateauroux. We talked, he made a few promises and by the time I had finished my drink my mind was made up.

    Aston Villa were a great club but with the financial turmoil, the erratic owner and the fans who never wanted me it was a challenge I didn't want. Dr Tony Xia didn't answer my calls, neither of them which told me all I needed to know.

    My phone pinged and there was a confirmation of 7 first class tickets back to Montpellier that evening, all taken care of by Mr Schoen. The funny thing was that the other 6 tickets had the names and details of all the fans I had just met already on the tickets.

    I was on my way back and it felt like I was going home......
    Last edited by bfcbub; 09/12/2016 at 03:58 PM.

  14. Stick with what you know it will be more satisfying in the long term.
    bfcbub likes this.

  15. glad you are staying
    bfcbub likes this.

  16. The Chase

    The Chairman had arranged for the players to meet the 'New' manager, they were all sat waiting in the dressing room to see who would be their new gaffer. As the door opened and I walked in it was a mixture of surprise and joy on the players faces. Lots of cheering and even a few tears were shed, after a couple of moments of talking to the lads we were back into it and facing our final Europa League tie at home to the Spanish giants Valencia.

    We needed to win and hope that Rubin could do the same in Switzerland, neither were to happen. We fell well short of the level required and our Europa league campaign ended with a 3rd placed finish in Group J. We had given it our all and could hold our heads up high.
    From French National to Europa League Group stages wasn't a bad 12 months for anyone involved in this epic journey.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-valencia.jpg

    I thought my decision to stay might act as a catalyst and get us back on track. The leaders Marseille and AS Nancy were beginning to draw clear and we needed to pick up points fast. Unfortunately we hit a bump and one that would see us go 8 games without a win and fall out of both Cup competitions so failing to defend our crown.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-season-2-slump.jpg

    The initial bounce of promotion and the excitement of European football had carried us through the opening 3 months of the season, the lads were now floundering and looking at me to breathe a bit of life back into them.

    Remarkably we were still 4th but a huge 12 points off AS Nancy in second place and a further 3 behind Olimpique Marseille, our next game was at home to Nancy and a must win if we were to ever catch them up.

  17. Special K

    Cards on the table time, 8 games without a win, a squad looking tired and in need of fresh faces. We had cover at the back but looking at our threat going forward I didn't think we were getting the ball into the right places for Tounkara to do his stuff.

    I looked and looked and looked at player after player from all over Europe. We didn't have the funds to bring in the quality I really wanted. Even though we had earned a lot of prize money in the past 12 months the board had decided to invest 95% of the Europa League money into purchasing the stadium so it would have to be a loan signing.

    I eventually decided on Sullay Kaikai from Crystal Palace, the left winger had the attributes I was looking for and I thought he would fit in with the current squad. Alongside Sullay I also brought in former Burnley and Wolves wide man Michael Kightly on a free.

    The new boys went straight into the line up, AS Nancy (2nd) were the opposition and it was live on TV. After 8 games without a win I was little nervous but the boys broke the houdou and won the game 1-0, an early Tounkara goal from a Kaikai cross proving the difference, I couldn't have asked for more.

    The next five games brought us 13 points and heading into the Marseille clash we were now only 5 points from 2nd spot AS Nancy.

    The Stade Velodrome is an incredible stadium, the boys looked a little overawed in the early stages but by half time we were still level and growing into the game. Tounkara and Kightly had half chances but it looked like the game was to fizzle out into a draw which wasn't a bad point and then the referee decided to give OM a free kick right at the death, I swear he acted on the home fans reaction to what looked lie a good tackle.

    We lost 1-0, a cracking strike from the free kick settled the game but I felt the referee had done us and I let the media know exactly what I thought after the game.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-6-games-.jpg

    9 games to go, we sat 3rd in the table 6 points off automatic and 1 point clear of the chasing pack who were after the 3rd placed play off spot which was on offer. Tounkara was scoring again, the new wingers had really lifted our level of play and the level of optimism in the dressing room, we could do this.

  18. The Run in...

    Automatic promotion to the top flight of French football wasn't something we had really thought possible this season, With 8 games to go it was still a big ask. Chasing down AS Nancy was the task, Marseille had all but wrapped up the title but that was always going to happen when a side spends £30 million pounds.

    24 points available and 5 points behind them, we started our run in against Le Havre but a late goal cost us all 3 points and even though a win the following week against Stade Lavallois kept the dream alive I had started to look at the teams chasing us for the 3rd placed spot. A defeat to Auxerre left us vulnerable of finishing the season empty handed, we changed a few things I tried to make us harder to beat by bringing in an extra midfielder and it did the trick.
    We didn't lose any of the remaining 5, collecting 11 points in the process and finishing the season in 3rd placed guaranteeing a 2 leg play-off against AS Nancy of Ligue 1.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-run-s2.jpg

    The first leg was to be at home and I knew we had to make it count. With the two legs just 4 days apart it would be a crazy few days so I gave the boys 2 days off away from the club with their families. Having studied the analysts report I decided to revert to our trusted attacking style for the 1st leg, we needed to get an advantage, we needed to win.

    The game was on TV and played in front of a full house. It brought back memories of our epic cup run the previous season and we would need a performance as good as those if not even better. The game and even the tie was over after just 21 minutes.

    AS Nancy seemingly thought we would be a push over and their slow start played straight into our hands, goals from Tounkara and Cain were followed by a 21st minute own goal and we were coasting at 3-0 in the blink of an eye. At half time I made changes and decided to sit back, defend for our lives and be strong.
    It worked and when the referee blew for full time it was still 3-0, we had performed above expectations and although there was a second leg left to play we could taste Ligue 1.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-nancy.jpg

    We reverted to a 4-5-1 counter attack formation for the second leg. I knew if we could keep it tight we would be OK as on the counter we were dangerous and just 1 goal for us should be enough.

    An early Emiliano Salla goal for Nancy wasn't the ideal start but by half time goals from Kaikai and Kightly had extinguished and remaining hopes the home side harboured.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-nancy-2leg.png

    When the full time whistle blew the 1000 fans in the corner of the ground erupted along with the bench around me.

    We had achieved something nobody thought possible. in just two seasons we had reached the top flight of French football. The boys were celebrating wildly on the pitch, the look of joy on their face was something I would never forget.

    Since that night weeks had past by, I sat at my desk looking into the eyes of player after player explaining why after everything we had achieved this had to happen. 19 players, 19 men I had called friends and been on this incredible journey with for two years now looked at me like i had stabbed them in the back.
    Plain and simple the squad wasn't good enough, As much as I respected the players whose contracts were up I had to reinvest the money into new players. We needed a higher quality of player to start a new journey so as ruthless as it was we would start the new season with a new squad.

  19. What had I done?

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-transfers-out-s2.jpg

    Ruthless. That's what they called me in the paper but I had to do what I believed was right for the football club. The 19 players had long since left the club and with the new TV deal and prize money from the last campaign we had assembled a new look team.

    I made the decisions I made as I believe this is the future. This crop of new recruits, 15 in total will form the basis of my side for the next 3 years. Should we get relegated which the bookies believe to be a formality then these players have more than enough to get back into Ligue 1 at the first attempt.

    I had strengthened every position in the squad mainly with young lads and then a couple of older heads in Stojkovic, Trajkovic and Guedioura as well.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-transfers-s2.jpg

    Guediorura in particular was extremely pleasing to land as I felt he could be a key player for us this season. Out of the lads I had kept, Michael Cain, Popoola and Youga were all players i thought could easily make this step up to the next level.

    Preseason didn't go as planned with 4 defeats in 6 games but I knew this band of players would take months not weeks to gel into the side I hoped they could become.

    A spirited opening day defeat to Marseille was followed by another defeat to Caen and 2 draws away to Lyon and at home to FC Lorient respectively, the latter a game where we created 37 chances and maybe showed signs of what this team can do.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-screen-shot-2016-12-12-13.57.46.png
    TheBattman likes this.

  20. 1 Step Forward 2 Steps Back....

    No wins in the opening four games but I'd seen signs that this team had potential. Diomande, the striker i had signed to replace Tounkara wasn't firing yet but his hold up play was promising. We had 6 games to play before the end of October and by that time I hoped we would have picked up the pace.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-endofocts2.png

    It didn't really happen. Yes we won a couple of games but the defeats were particularly hard to take.

    Key players had seen red on more than one occasion and I had started to question my own beliefs in how we would and should play.
    I had always played an open attacking style, something in me always thought we could outscore the opponent but in this league against this calibre of side it wasn't going to happen. I had to change but I didn't really want to.

    We have a cup game up next against Montpellier, a side who just demolished us 4-0 on our own patch two days ago so maybe this is a chance to try a new approach....

  21. It got worse before it got better

    An early exit from the Coupe De La Ligue was then followed by three more defeats. Our record showed 9 defeats in 13 games and only two wins recorded. The way we were shipping goals something had to be done so we had spent the last few weeks training hard on a new formation, it was a variation of 3-5-1-1 and I hoped it would give the players more cover in the defensive positions.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-formation.jpg

    I didn't just want to change the formation so I moved players into positions they weren't natural at. We had a centre midfielder at wing-back, a midfielder at centre half and a winger in the middle of midfield. None of this was done without judging each payers attributes and putting faith in them that they could do what was asked of them.

    Our next game was away to Lille, a side not yet firing but all the same it would be a huge task to come away with anything. We would blood the new tactic for the first time.

    The game started like the previous games and we went 1-0 down early to a Joel Campbell goal but within minutes Enzo Zidane had levelled with his first goal for the club. We grew into the game, restricted the hosts from creating chances and somehow scored twice more before the break through Diomande and Soumauro. We looked like a solid unit but one with a great threat going forward. Diomande was a physical presence up top and Zidane was unlocking doors for Yeboah to bomb into from his deeper central role. The game ended 4-2 and although this was just one game it was a step in the right direction.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-screen-shot-2016-12-14-11.32.43.png

    We went on to win 3 of the next 5 games, it should have been 4 from 5 but our finishing in Nice was way below par. The new formation had brought us a change in fortune and hopefully we could start to creep away from the relegation zone and to safety.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-change-attack.jpg

    On a side note this past 6 months had seen Swansea, Lille, Montpellier and Aston Villa (again) come knocking for my services. Only the Lille job had really sparked an interest in me but not a great enough one that i would be leaving Le Berrichone.
    TheBattman likes this.

  22. Fighting for every point

    It is a lot tougher than I ever imagined it would be, Being punished for the slightest mistake then not capitalising on the ones our opponents make. We have been fighting week in week out for every single point and although our results weren't the best we were slowly battling our way to survival.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-screen-shot-2016-12-18-19.51.45.png

    The change in formation had initially worked but as our results show it didn't take long for new weaknesses to be found. We played some excellent football at times and some awful football at others but on the whole I was very proud of the lads, we needed one last big push over the last 7 games of the season.

    One result we had achieved was to beat reigning champions PSG, the french giants had not lost a single game all season when they arrived in the south of France, A rare Baba Traore goal had secured us a memorable 1-0 victory.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-screen-shot-2016-12-18-19.56.40.png

    The squad has come together now, it feels like they have been together longer than the 6 months they have. If we were successful in staying up then maybe 3/4 new faces and we could push on into mid table next year.

    Having said that safety is still a long way away......

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-screen-shot-2016-12-18-19.57.37.png

  23. A Close Call....

    Staying up was always the target this season, I thought it might be a step too far but the boys had worked very hard and delivered my instructions to a tee, even when they were the wrong instructions.
    With one game to go we needed to better Montpellier or FC Angers result to assure our safety. We faced Marseille at home and controlled the game from the first whistle. The 90 minutes told the story of our entire campaign, we looked good going forward but time after time we spurned glorious gilt edge chances and in the end suffered to a 83rd minute penalty and lost the game 1-0.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-screen-shot-2016-12-30-14.29.35.png

    We waited for news from Montpellier as Angers had won their game 2-1, for 2 minutes we stood on the pitch in a huddle and waited. I feared the worst but spent the whole 2 minutes praising the boys and the season they had delivered. For a club this small to go from the National league to Ligue 1 football in such a short time was an incredible achievement and even though a lot of the faces had changed everyone knew where this club had come from.

    It started in a small area behind the goal but soon spread around the ground. The cheering and singing meant Montpellier had failed to beat Nancy and before I could say well done the players were running round and celebrating with the supporters. We would be a Ligue 1 side again next year and that was all that mattered.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-screen-shot-2016-12-30-14.29.20.png

    The squad was lacking depth especially up front where Diomande for all his hard work had probably cost us 15 points with the chances he had missed. I wanted to keep him but only as a option to help out from the bench. A striker would be key and support for the wingers but we had three months to deal with that problem, tonight was for celebrating!

  24. Summers go so fast

    Three weeks and a holiday in Southern Italy later I was back at my desk. Recruitment was our biggest tool and our only way of improving from the season just gone. The previous summer had seen 18 players brought to the club permanently or on loan and 21 players leave for pastures new. This wasn't a sustainable model and maybe the reason for our erratic and indifferent form.

    So this summer I started out with the plan to tweak the squad not completely rebuild it. 7 players were shown the door for a total of £700K, a modest figure but with the new stand under construction any money I could bring in was a bonus.

    My trouble has always been my inability to say no to a new player. In theory I wanted 3 players but somehow ended up with 9. Two new strikers were bought, Peter Harm 21 year old Dane from FC Kobenhavn and the one I was really looking forward to working with Nikos Vergos. The Greek centre forward had joined on a free but his wages had smashed our wage cap and the £15k a week striker would need to it the ground running.

    They weren't smash and grab signings, I had scouted them both thoroughly. I had wanted someone with similar attributes to Diomande but with added ability in finishing. Vergos fitted the bill and after a lot of negotiating he agreed to join for half of what he originally asked for.

    Other players to join included the permanent signing of Enzo Zidane from Real Madrid, he had been a fan favourite whilst on loan the year before and he jumped at the chance to mover permanently. We spent £2 million pounds on the new recruits and I hoped that we would be stronger for it.

    Preseason went well with 4 wins from 7 games and I believed that we could maybe step up another gear once we got the season underway.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-preseason4.jpg

    Our first game of the season would see Champions league side Monaco come to town, a thrilling 2-2 draw was the outcome where twice we equalised and showed some real fight.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-monacos4.png

    We followed that up with a 2-1 win away at AS Nancy again showing some real fight to come from behind. I couldn't have been happier after those two games, the only low point was the performances of Vergos who hadn't opened his account for the season just yet.

    De Ja Vue! We failed to win any of the next 6 games, we didn't play poorly apart from one game in Lyon but just like the season before we were extremely inconsistent. The one shining light was Peter Harm, who after missing the opening games through injury had taken Vergos's place in the side and scored 3 goals in his first 3 games.

    Nikos, my star signing had suffered an injury that would see him out until at the earliest mid November. It all ready feels like its going to be a long hard season battling relegation once again.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-opening8s4.jpg
    TheBattman likes this.

  25. Same sh*t different day!

    Inconsistent - a word I have heard or read over and over again for the past 4 months. The fans still didn't grumble as they knew what we had achieved to even be in this league but the press every now and again smelt blood. They were always too quick to put us down or comment on match tactics and pick at our failures. We are a tiny club with a small budget trying to operate in a league where the clubs don't think twice about spending tens of millions on a single player.

    It is now the beginning of March and since the last update back in September we have only won 6 games. We have played extremely well in lots of matches but not got the desired result, Adding them up now I count over 20 points we have lost to goals in the last ten minutes of games.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-season4results.png

    We are still fighting for safety and have a decent chance of staying up if we can arrest our current slump and break the 8 games without a win run.

    The January transfer window saw one of our more influential players leave as Sulley KaiKai returned to London and QPR for £1.5 million pounds. He would be a big loss, I have signed a couple of players on loan to try to fill that gap and Julien Ngoy from Stoke City for £750k.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-season4transfers.png

    Nikos Vergos who was my big hope for the season has done OK, 4 goals in 16 games isn't the best record but he definitely has potential, Unfortunately for us that potential will be utilised by another club. When we signed Nikos we made him the clubs highest ever earner on £15k a week, what i didn't notice was a clause in his contract stating when he played 20 games his wage would double! After his 19th appearance the board told me that due to our league position he wouldn't be allowed to play until safety was assured. They and I couldn't put a player on £30k a week in Ligue 2 should the worst happen and we go down.

    Nikos was a free transfer but currently valued at £5 million pounds, I worked quickly and found an interested party in RC Lens. They were currently chasing promotion to Ligue 1 but had the cash to spend and promptly offered me the asking price. This alone showed what we were up against when teams from lower divisions could spend this kind of money. Nikos agreed to move and after i explained to the fans our predicament it was all signed and sealed. He would have to spend the remainder of the season in the reserves before joining his new side.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-nikosvergos.png

    Back to the league, we currently sit 17th with 9 games to go. We would need a change of fortune if we were to stay up, our run in was tough, 4 of the top 6 were still to play us and in our current form we wouldn't fair well against them.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-s4league9togo.png
    TheBattman likes this.

  26. LB Chateureuax will play 4-4 F**king 2! (Mike Bassett 2003)

    8 games without a win, various formations and players used so what do we do to turn this around?

    Back to basics, 2 up top, 2 sitting midfielders with the whole team told to get it wide fast then get it in the mixer. It wasn't a formation we had really used in the past but i hoped the simplicity of it might just work.

    We played FC Lorient at home and went 2-0 up within 15 minutes, Happy days I thought..... but then it started again, the inconsistency found a way to come through and by the 50th minute it was 2-2 and Lorient had a penalty. The formation hadn't really worked, we weren't creating enough chances and Lorient were attacking with ease.

    Before the penalty was struck we reverted back to 4-1-2-2-1 and told the boys to attack thinking we would need to get an equaliser, I was wrong AGAIN, Gomis saved the penalty and it gave the boys a real lift. We won 4-2 and the bad run was finally broken.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-screen-shot-2017-01-07-09.29.49.png

    Our next two games brought 2 more victories and for the first time in 2 seasons we won 3 Ligue 1 games on the spin. Safety wasn't assured but one more win would do exactly that. It didn't come until the penultimate game against Stade De Reims but in the end we didn't need it. The lads had stayed up and achieved a 15th placed finish.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-screen-shot-2017-01-07-09.29.57.png

    In the end we had finished higher than the year before which is all i could ask for. Looking at the league table I know we could have comfortably finished higher, we gave away so many points late in games and that had to change.

    Financially we had just gone into the red but the new sponsorship and TV money would correct that. Vergos would soon be leaving to newly promoted RC Lens and im already expecting that move to come back to haunt us.

    On the transfer front I was adamant that I wouldn't bring in more than 4 players, lets see how that goes........

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-screen-shot-2017-01-07-09.36.49.png

  27. The best laid plans...

    I was entering the final year of my contract at LB Chateauroux and my fifth year in total a the football club. The board were keen to tie me down to a new deal but after 2 years battling relegation I was considering a new challenge. It had been 3 years since our Europa League adventure and that was something i really wanted to experience again. There had been many offers over the past 24 months and as long as this year didn't end in disaster I felt confident there would be plenty of suitors next summer.

    It had been an incredible summer, I landed my targets early and with the 5 new faces that would be joining when the window reopened would give us probably our strongest ever squad.
    That was until Rapid Vienna came knocking for Enzo Zidane, they tabled a huge cash bid of £4.3 million and the board decided that it was too good to turn down. We lost Enzo which left a huge gap in the side but I now had a transfer kitty close to £10 million.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-screen-shot-2017-01-10-09.16.14.png

    Money burns a whole in my pocket so Ludovic Soulard was signed from Sochaux for a whopping £4.6 million pounds, the 19 year old had bags of potential and I knew he would be some player in the years to follow.
    More players left over the next few weeks and our squad which had looked so strong only a fortnight ago was now lacking depth and a bit of experience. Carlos De Pena and Mark Noble were both the wrong side of 30 and both looking for a club, they fitted the bill and after a lot of negotiating they joined on 12 month deals.

    Once again I was happy with a settled squad and then once again the board through everything up in the air when they accepted a bid of £10.75 million for Yaw Yeboah. The right winger was one of the cornerstones of my starting 11, since joining in 2018 he had been nearly ever present but a bid of that size for a player who joined for just £800k was too good for the club to turn down. Yeboah left and i went back to the drawing board.

    I had money to spend but couldn't find the right player to bring in. The scouts brought player after player to me and the DOF football did his best but nothing really took my fancy. I didn't want to waste this money as the majority of it I wanted to be earmarked for securing the clubs long term future, i wanted to leave the club with a huge cash balance and a Ligue 1 squad to be proud of.

    Kevin Mirallas, the Belgian winger had been released from his contract at Everton after suffering from injuries over the last 2 years. He had played in the french top flight before and at 32 years old he was by no means past it. Mirallas would be a huge coup for this club, a real name in European football and after negotiating a 12 month contract he joined in time for preseason training.

    Other key signings made were of a Portuguese duo Lino Luis and Oscar Fransico. The strikers were both 19 and both highly rated. Luis would stay in Portugal as part of his deal for this season but Fransico joined immediately. These were both huge financial deals for the club but like Soulard earlier in the month these boys had all the potential in the world and i was positive for their future at Chateauroux.

    By the end of the transfer window we had spent 14 million pounds, 14 million pounds - WOW! We made £18.5 million in sales of players and received another £12 in sponsorship so financially the club was in a very comfortable position.

    Preseason training was a joy, we travelled Europe playing sides from 4 different countries and the time on the road really bonded the lads. We were unbeaten throughout this time and played some big sides.

    When the season got underway I was confident that this side was better than what we had wheeled out before. The opener against Monaco was a real thriller which ended 2-2 with 2 goals from Michael Cain, we created plenty of chances and played some real attractive football. Our next game saw us travel to Toulouse, last years surprise Ligue 1 runners up were a tough opponent but again the boys applied themselves fantastically well and a Kevin Mirallas goal secured us the 3 points. FC Lorient were dispatched next 2-0 and the lads were flying. Mirallas was a joy to watch on the right wing and our possession statistics were out of this world. A cruel defeat in Nice followed and i wondered how hard the boys would take it but when Marseille came to town the following weekend the boys dispatched them with a comfortable 1-0 win and a 3rd goal for the Belgian, Mirallas.

    So, 10 points from 5 games. What a start. I'm just waiting for the inevitable slump in form which will surely be just around the corner.


    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-screen-shot-2017-01-10-09.16.33.png

  28. It's Always Sunny in Chateauroux

    It had been a few years since our form had looked this solid, I had forgotten what the impact on the team was like when a few wins were strung together. Our home game against Marseille had made it 3 wins in our opening 5 matches and travelling to Stade De Reims the following week we had a real chance of finishing the month in the top 2.

    It was a very close game where both team created chances in abundance but due to either poor finishing or excellent goalkeeping it would be just the one goal that was scored on the night. Peter Harm, the Danish striker who had joined the previous season had shown real signs of improvement this year, it was his beautiful header that landed us the win and another 3 points.

    The final game in August would see surprise league leaders Saint Etienne come to town, the game was selected for Live TV coverage and moved to a 8pm KO time. Who ever won the game would be top of Ligue 1, a feat that LB Chateauroux had never achieved before.
    It was a terrible game, we never looked like posing a threat and for the first time in 5 years of my management we failed to place a shot on target in the whole game. Saint Etienne were a good solid outfitted with electric pace up front and it was that pace that won them the game 1-0 when a ball over the top caught us out late in the 2nd half. Kevin Mirallas who had so far been excellent was carried from the field and would miss the next 4-5 weeks with a calf injury.

    We had one more game before the international break, a tricky trip to Le Harvre which i was keen to bounce back in. We changed a few faces and tweeked the system, it was a disaster and although we created a few chances fully deserved to be on the end of a 2-0 defeat.

    The 2 defeats at the end of the month were a little disheartening but we had to look at our earlier form and with 2 weeks to work on a few new set pieces I felt confident we could pick up and kick on.

    After the break we grouped together and went back to the original attacking formation that we started the campaign with. Bordeaux were the visitors to the Stade Gaston Petit and thanks a Ludovic Soulard penalty were dispatched 1-0. The following week saw the same scoreline as we travelled to Caen and this time a Popoola thunderbolt landed the 3 points in our lap.
    5 of our 6 wins had come from 1-0 victories, I was so pleased for the lads at the back who had endured a lot of bad press over the last 2 seasons. We finally looked like a solid Ligue 1 side and with a bit of momentum who knows what the season ahead could hold.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-s5-10-results.jpg

    On a side note Marseille were now on manager 7 in 5 years and found themselves rock bottom of the league losing all 10 of their opening games.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-s5-10-games-.png
    Tom26 likes this.

  29. 1-0 to the Chateauroux!

    What a 3 months it has been!

    Since my last update we have had a decent cup run and recorded our longest ever run of consecutive victories (7).

    November wasn't the greatest month, we competed in games but concede sloppy goals at key times. Lille, Nancy and Montpellier all recorded victories against us but we did progress in the Coupe de la Ligue.

    After working hard on fitness and pressing techniques along with our defensive duties we saw a drastic improvement on the pitch. It started with a 0-0 game against Nancy in the cup, a game which we won on penalties. After that we put together 8 straight wins in the league and cup respectively. That on it's own is remarkable but the boys only conceded 1 goal throughout all that time.

    Special mentions go out to Ludovic Soulard, many wondered if it was mad to spend £4 million pounds on an 18 year old but he was looking a real steal at that price. One other player to make drastic improvements was Brazilian right winger Valteci Angelo. Since joining 3 years ago he had spent the majority of time out on loan but now he had ousted Kevin Mirallas and made the number 7 shirt his own.

    LB Châteauroux - Allez Les Bleus-screen-shot-2017-01-16-17.46.24.png

    We were now proudly sat in 4th position, clear and safe of relegation looking forward to what we could achieve. That started with a Coupe de la Ligue semi final away to big spending PSG. The French giants were really Europe's version of the Harlem Globetrotters. They had spent up to £200 million every single year and this year was no different, Lacezette was the latest big name to join the champions elect.

    Hours before kick off Angelo had twisted his ankle meaning he would miss a few weeks, it was a huge loss as we used his pace as a weapon when playing away from home. We still set up the same as always and with our defensive line playing so well I hoped we could keep it tight. Antoine Griezmann however had different ideas about how this game would go and after 27 minutes he wrapped up his hat-trick. We battled hard and pulled one back but we were outclassed and the game ended 3-1. PSG are a real mega power with De Bruyne, Hazard, Costa, Griezmann, Kane and Lacazette all at their beck and call nobody would be topling them anytime soon.

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