So you may have read Petr’s update introducing his own Luzenac side (if you hadn’t then you really should and you can read it here), and I guess it’s my turn to give you a bit of detail on my half of the network game.
As Petr stated in his update, we have decided to play our game in the lowest playable league in France – the Championnat. Petr picked his team based on a pretty shirt (which says a lot about him really) and I’ve based mine on something equally superfluous but surely much more manly – war.
Dunkirk was the scene of the famous evacuation of June 1940 as thousands of Allied troops were ferried from the French mainland to safety in the UK as Guderian’s 2nd Panzer Division were frustrated by a single British battalion. It may be tenuous but it was this which drew my attention to US Dunkerque… and the rest will be history.
What I didn’t know at the time was that US Dunkerque were, in fact, only promoted from the CFA last season and really aren’t even Championnat class. Similar to Petr’s Luzenac side, all our players are out of contract at the end of season 1. Unlike Luzenac, nearly all of them are welcome to go. Our squad is really quite poor with only 3 or 4 players that I would consider keeping on next year.
The first thing I was required to do, then, was to sort some tactics out to find out how best to utilise the few strengths that I had. I ended up setting up a system which is worryingly one-dimensional and revolves almost exclusively around this fine gentleman:
Pace, pave and then a little bit more pace. With our defensive weakness, our tactics therefore resort to something like: “defend in numbers, kick people hard then punt it to Tamboura and let him run really fast”. It’s worked surprisingly well.
In fact, understanding that he’s only scored once in his last 8 games, he was scoring at a rate of a goal a game before the winter break. This would ordinarily be a significant problem for any team – for a team that has been as one-dimensional as we have been then it’s nigh-on catastrophic.
Having just come up last year, we are predicted to finish 15th this term and although we are currently exceeding those expectations we have suffered a remarkable slide down the table since the heady days of October when we were 3rd.
As it is, we have now slipped to 12th – still 3 places and 6 points clear of relegation which was one of my two pre-season targets. The second being not to get beat by Petr’s Luzenac side.
We have had one head-to-head, the second game will come on the second last day of the season when I may well need further points. The first saw us visit Luzenac not having won in 7 games with sagging morale having given away a last minute equaliser to Vannes in the previous game. I was not confident.
And that confidence dissipated further as a combination of shocking defending from us and offensive overloads from Luzenac put Petr 2-0 up in the first half. We were, frankly, shocking and a half-time bollocking just wasn’t going to cut it. Desperate measures were required… desperate measure like 4-4-2.
It allowed us to both play direct beyond Luzenac’s high-press with the front three and maintain a 2v1 on the flanks. To be perfectly honest, though, we didn’t deserve the draw that the excellent Tamboura earned us. But when your talisman is scoring goals like this then you’re better just to give him the ball.
My luck hasn’t been limited to unjust results, either. With Petr hosting the game, we have occasional network issues and when I get kicked out of the matches the game simulates my results with my assistant in charge. When we played last weekend, we got through 4 games in the session. In the 2 that I took control of, we lost 4-1 and 3-0… in the 2 games that fell to my assistant we won 5-1 and 1-0, the latter against table-topping Ajaccio. Were it not for those 6 points, we’d be in real trouble.
As it is, survival is well within our reach. Our next 3 games are crucial as we face 3 of the bottom 4. If we can get 7 points from that, we should be well positioned to survive and build for next season.
So 6 points behind Petr but there’s no shame in that when you consider the financial differences between the clubs – I have roughly half the salary budget available to Luzenac. The biggest effect this has had, for me, is an inability to plan for next season.
Whilst I’ve been able to extend the contracts of key players, in particular Tamboura, I haven’t been able to commit any players to Bosman moves as the board won’t let me offer any reasonable contracts given our current poverty. So it could be a long and potentially difficult summer, assuming that we actually do manage to stay up.
Neither Petr or I plan to stay at our current clubs forever. Rather than develop the clubs, the plan is to journeyman around – primarily in France but I’m not averse to a foreign move in future. If either of us are to convince a bigger club that we’re worth a punt, I get the feeling that a promotion is going to be the minimum required… and that’s a bloody long way away on current evidence.