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“It feels like forever since we caught up.”
The words ring loudly in my ear seconds after I instinctively answer the phone with one eye open, half asleep. It’s Gordon, my ex assistant manager at Lillestrøm. I manage to mumble out a few words between yawns, “How are you mate? I’ve been meaning to call.”
I know that he knows that I am lying.
“It was just to let you know that I’ve got a new job, so my family can eat again.”
Gordon is the new assistant manager at Hibs, back home in Scotland.
I wearily sit up, rub my eyes and congratulate him. He deserves it, our Gordo. I don’t think he’ll ever forgive me for not giving him that skiing trip he asked for (or bringing him to Bordeaux), but I am glad to hear he’s back on his feet. We say our goodbyes, and I slump back on the bed.
It’s pitch black outside. I can hear passing cars, that late night bar chatter and the odd clink of glasses, but it’s clearly very late. I look down at my watch. It’s 3am. It’s the 2nd of January (2024) and I am seriously hungover. I flick the switch to stick the coffee machine on. I am up now, I suppose, I might as well make good use of it, and review what’s gone on in the first half of my first proper season here in Bordeaux.
Before I do, I realise I have mail. Christ, the postmen here work early. I tear open the package and find that it’s a copy of GQ magazine. The lovely Alicia Vikander is on the cover. It makes a nice change from the usual takeaway menus that land on my doormat.
There’s a note alongside the magazine in the giant envelope. It’s just a hand-drawn smiley face, signed ‘Nicolaj Bur.’ A smile creeps across my own actual face, as the coffee machine springs into life.
Let’s have a closer look at this.
At Bordeaux in 2023, I mean!
When I last gave you an update, the board had just agreed to sell my playmaker and chief number 10, Irandust, to Krasnodar, for a sweet £19million.
I had to move quickly to bring in a replacement, but there was no one in the market that really jumped out as being the right player at the right time, so I did something I very rarely do. I snapped a player up on loan.
I’ve always been a big fan of Cervi, dating back to his Benfica days. I especially like the fact that despite being a tricky, quick and creative playmaker, he is also a determined, aggressive and brave tough tackler. Given my tactical system, where in possession I need a Riquelme, but out of possession I’d like a Makélélé; Cervi looks like a poor man’s version of both. Which still makes him a cracking player.
He’s been my first choice attacking midfielder in 13 games so far. Unfortunately 0 goals, 0 assists and an average rating of 6.7 isn’t quite cutting it. Granted, he is completing over 3 tackles per 90 minutes and 2 successful dribbles, but these statistics don’t make up for the fact that he just isn’t quite hitting the heights. I took him on loan for the season, with the option to buy for £8.25million. I reckon it was a shrewd move (instead of the permanent transfer), as I just don’t think he’s going to be worth that kind of money. We shall see, there’s still a long way to go.
I pass by Franck at his concierge station who smiles and nods at me as he always does, as I head out into the cobbled street for a cigarette. I have a think about our other summer signings, how have they performed so far?
Firstly let’s look at the three “Lillestrøm legends” I had to bring with me to France.
Lasse Nordås, £900,000. Now looking a little more like his age, Nordås is developing into a tall and strong option at number 10, as well as in his now favoured target man role. With Cervi not really doing the job, 21-year old Lasse might be getting a more regular role in the team going forward. 3 starts, 9 sub appearances, 0 goals, 0 assists, 6.68 average rating. Interesting additional statistic – 83% passing accuracy.
Perry Ng, £500,000. I had initially thought that Perry the comedian would have been the understudy to last year’s Mr Consistent Sofiane Alakouch or even the Swede Linus Wahlqvist, but instead he slotted in as our first choice right back almost immediately. A great signing. 15 starts, 0 goals, 2 assists, 6.81 average rating. Interesting additional statistic – 4.45 interceptions per 90 minutes, the highest in the squad.
Viktor Gyökeres, £1.2million. In the move that everyone expected, Viktor has been consistently the best trainer at the club since his arrival. There is not a week that goes by that I don’t get a training report with him rated 9.1+. Incredible, really. Competitively, his performances have been strong, and I am convinced there is more to come from him as he learns the language and relaxes into the French footballing culture. 17 starts, 6 goals, 4 assists, 7.12 average rating. Interesting additional statistic – 23 key headers in 17 games!
What about the other new players?
Vassi, Real Madrid, Free. Unfortunately an underwhelming capture so far. In spite of his incredible pace, dribbling, first touch and finishing, the 22 year old Spaniard just hasn’t worked well in our current system. He is another player I have faith will come good, however. 2 starts, 13 sub appearances, 3 goals, 1 assist, 6.84 average rating. Interesting additional statistic – 1.36 shots attempted per 90 minutes, the second highest in the squad.
Haris Belkebla, Gent, £1.3million. Injuries and suspensions have prevented the Algerian from playing a more important part so far. When he is in the team, however, his form has been impressive. Has the highest average rating and chances created per 90 minutes in the squad (0.63). 10 starts, 3 goals, 2 assists, 7.33 average rating. Interesting additional statistic – His 1.36 key passes per 90 minutes is the second highest in the squad, behind Walter Naranjo, who plays in a much more naturally creative role in attacking midfield.
Augusto Caneca, Santa Clara, £500,000. The tough tackling Portuguese has played well so far, improving steadily. A player who can only become more important going forward. 8 starts, 4 sub appearances, 0 goals, 0 assists, 6.73 average rating. Interesting additional statistic – 84% passing accuracy, the highest in the squad.
Kevin N’Doram, AS Monaco, £2.1million. My most expensive signing to date has integrated seamlessly here at Bordeaux. Strong in the air (84% headers won) and tireless across the pitch (13.3km covered per 90 minutes), N’Doram has brought a certain steel to the defensive midfield, and an eye for opportunistic goals. 16 starts, 3 goals, 1 assist, 7.15 average rating. Interesting additional statistic – 0.93 shots per 90 minutes, the highest of any player not considered a forward.
Alicia Vikander, actress. Not a summer signing, but someone I felt I should mention again.
So what does all this mean? I finish my cigarette and head back upstairs. I know that Joe the president wants a meeting early in the morning to discuss our progress, since we are 19 league games into a 38 game season.
Impressively, we sit 5th at the halfway point of the season. A handful of disappointing results aside, it has been a solid season so far. Another half-season like this will see us in the new UEFA Europa Conference League next season. In even better news, we are currently just 3pts behind a Europa League group space, and 5pts behind a Champions League qualifying slot.
In other news, my restrained approach in the transfer market has put the club in a brilliant spot financially.
Now that it’s the January transfer window, my main job is to repel any bids from some of the giants of Europe for some of our top players. We have already had some teams sniffing around top striker Efe Koulouris and first-choice centre back Silvan Hefti. I really hope that the board continue to back me in rejecting these bids. *Cough* Philip Slørdahl to Leverkusen, anyone? (writer’s note – people don’t remember you arriving in Bordeaux, what makes you think they’ll remember the centre back you lost at Lillestrøm?!)
I am thinking I might invest in a first choice number 10. The Cervi loan hasn’t worked and I don’t think either Naranjo or Nordås can capably step up. I wouldn’t argue with the idea of bringing in a top-quality centre back or left-back either. Any thoughts are welcome in the comments!
Since this is a reflective episode, I thought it would be nice to check in at my former clubs, fly over and take in a few December games, especially as the seasons in both Norway and Sweden both finish at the end of the calendar year.
By now it’s morning, and time to head back to the Matmut Atlantique.
I get in the car, stick on the FM Creators podcast and think about that disappointing email I received that predicts that my next youth intake will be a weak one.
What will Mr DaGrosa say? Is 5th good enough?
The journey is pleasant. I hope the meeting is too.
Thanks for reading.