This is one episode of a wider series. To instead start at episode one, please click here.
Welcome to France!
First things first, let’s sort out our physiological situation.
To suddenly be earning £12,750 a week is quite a shock. Life has really transformed since living in the hotel back in Varberg. As much faith as I have always had in my own ability to make a living from football, I never dreamt it could be quite so exquisite.
To adopt a slice of classic psychology, it’s important that we get a roof over our heads before worrying about anything else. Living in a beautiful part of France with that sort of income, this shouldn’t present an issue.
The club provides me with a dedicated personal assistant. I keep offering to make tea for him and giving him heartfelt thanks repeatedly for even the smallest favour. I am NOT used to this. He follows me around in a suit.
Eric (I now know his name) helps me find an apparently suitable apartment. One that is not at all irritatingly ostentatious. I get settled in.
I am introduced to Franck, the apartment building concierge (it’s a thing?!). Franck shakes my hand enthusiastically, telling me he is a lifelong Bordeaux fan. He is almost giddy with excitement when I tell him I haven’t yet experienced a full Matmut Atlantique, bouncing on match day.
Moving to a new club in a new country is always going to bring a little bit of anxiety.
The biggest reason for that, of course, is when you remember that you have moved to France, and therefore might have to drive a Peugeot or a Citroen. I’ll happily live and work in France, but I’m not driving one of their cars! (writer’s note – ah! So you are a snob about cars but humble about everything else? Just trying to figure you out here mate.)
I’ve never managed in Germany, but man do I like their vehicles. My Volkswagen Golf was of course German, but I really hope this electric car thing is just a passing trend. Sadly, I know that it is not.
While manufacturers still make beautiful cars powered by fossil fuels, I speak with the ‘management liaison team’ at the office (the what?) to get my hands on one. They arrange for me to pick up an Audi for getting me around my new city. I am delighted. They managed to get me exactly what I wished for!
I arrive at the Matmut Atlantique for a few meetings and our first training session together.
It’s only when I accidentally take a left instead of a right when heading down a long corridor, that I discover there’s a wonderful restaurant actually on site at the stadium, the Brasserie St Once.
The restaurant maître d, Nicolas, is almost as excited to see me as Franck at the apartment reception was. This is where a lot of the meetings will take place. I like it a lot.
I sit down for a glass of famous Bordeaux wine. Even the ‘house red’ here is better than the stuff in Tesco that is £14 a bottle. Shocking, really. My head is swirling with all the names I now have to remember. Franck is the apartment concierge, Eric is my PA (I only remember that because I call him ‘Cantona’ and he loves it). Nicolas is the maître d at the stadium restaurant. Joseph is the club owner and president of Girondins de Bordeaux, aka our new boss.
On that note, do you think he’d be happy about me calling him Joey? What if I slid into the Brasserie St Once at my first performance review, winked and said “How you doiiiiiin?” in an American accent? At this level, football seems to have become a serious business. He probably won’t enjoy that.
Let’s fast forward a few days and get down to business. We’ll have a look at what we have here.
After a shock 5-2 away win over high flyers Marseille that I enjoyed from the stands, our new team sit in a very respectable 8th in Ligue Un. I have to stop pinching myself that this is really where we are.
The squad looks in good shape. Thierry seemed to like a 4231, but I am bringing some fresh ideas. The 433 system that saw me promoted with my beloved Lillestrøm is what I’ll opt for, with some minor tweaks. Once I’ve run through the squad’s key men, I’ll dip into a bit of analysis on the tactical strategy I have used before, and will adopt again. (writer’s note – Thank God, I thought you were starting to forget you were writing about football!)
It looks like our star man is Greek international striker Efthymis Koulouris. ‘Efe,’ as I call him, has bagged a decent 24 goals in 60 league games for Bordeaux since his move from league rivals Toulouse in 2021.
My fluent Swedish stands me in great stead when I speak to our first choice number 10, the wonderfully named, gifted Swede Daleho Irandust. The left footer’s dribbling, first touch, technique, flair and vision give me reason to believe that selecting him as the team’s primary creator, is the right decision. The language is also incredibly useful when speaking to our Swedish full back, Linus Wahlqvist.
I meet our club captain, the hardworking and unselfish Swiss left-back, Loris Benito. I wonder if he’ll keep the armband long-term? Unfortunately he has a twisted ankle and we won’t see him in action for the first three or four weeks.
Now for our two most promising youngsters.
Warning! Semi-sensible tactical chat incoming.
I’ve been asked quite a few times about this 433 tactic I’ve adopted, and apart from telling you that it was inspired by a number of articles, blogs, Tweets and comments I’ve read over the last few months, I thought I’d give you a bit more contextual detail.
In an attacking phase, the concept is that the ‘back 7’ will spread out as they push forward. The wing-backs become wide midfielders, on or around the half-way line. The two centre backs and the anchorman form a high line of three, cautious of any counter attacks, but capable of playing a slightly longer, forward ball. The two Segundo Volantes are the key pivots here, as they drive from deep to almost play like a pair of number 10s at their most advanced, freeing up the actual number 10 (Irandust in the screenshot) to roam in and around the front two. The target man’s job is to pluck the ball out of the air and hold it up, while the advanced forward (previously Viktor Gyökeres at Lillestrøm) is the key goal-getter.
In a defensive phase, the responsibilites differ slightly. The number 10 drops to almost become a traditional centre midfielder, alongside the two Segundo Volantes, who adopt more of an N’Golo Kante-esque shuttling central midfield responsibility. The anchorman drops very deep to sit where the centre backs would usually sit, and the two centre backs themselves actually drop even further (on ‘cover’ duty) to try and prevent those nasty balls over the top from hurting us. on the counter attack.
In a case of history repeating itself, my new club is in urgent need of some new staff around the Matmut Atantique. Gordo (Gordon Young, my previous assistant manager) of course would be a good addition (and God knows he’s been calling me), but for this role I have a specific target in mind.
In total, 15 (!) new staff join Les Girondins, with three in particular worthy of a specific mention.
The next move shocked a lot of the football media, especially in England. Arguably the greatest playmaking midfielder in history comes to the Matmut Atlantique to pass on his incredible wisdom to our current generation of footballers. Could he inspire a class of (20)22?
I close my leather-bound notebook and place my newly gifted Montblanc pen in the inside chest pocket of my suit jacket.
I take my final sip of my Château Leoville-Barton, and stand up from the table at the Brasserie St Once.
I give our maître d Nicolas a nod and a smile as I leave.
There are ten (almost bonus-like) league games to go before the curtain comes down on this season, then I have the summer to train, tweak and improve this Bordeaux team to be the best they can be. On that note, are there any of the old Lillestrøm legends you’d have here at this club? The iconic Viktor? Albert Ejupi, who has been with me since Varbergs? The young Will Poulter, Lasse Nordås?
I get home and step into the beautiful marble bathroom of this Bordeaux apartment. I think about the job ahead as I look at the man in the mirror, remember the time that I turned every performance into a thriller, and do you know what? I won’t stop ’til I get enough.
Did you really think I could stay on the serious football talk for that length of time without building up nostalgic references I just had to get out? Why you wanna trip on me? You must be new here. (writer’s note – Christ.)
Thanks for reading.