A good few months have passed in the south west of France since I last posted, with much happening and not much of it nice. The 2014/15 season was very much one to forget if you’re a LAP fan but one to savour if you like horror stories.
First up, before I cover that season of terror and pant-wetting, you’ll be interested to hear that we did manage to haul ourselves into the 2013/14 promotion race. After wins against Vendee Lucon and Ajaccio we had moved to within four points of our rivals and with them facing off against each other we faced strugglers Strasbourg, Dunkerque and Pont Du Gard.
For some reason we simply didn’t turn up, picking up just the point from those three games (although being a gentleman I couldn’t let Shrew lose his league status on my account) and missing out on promotion by six points.
A season of what could have been finished with a feeling of frustration but confidence that with the right recruits we were well-placed to build on our improvement from the second-half of the season.
How wrong I was.
First up, as a highlight of the season, I bring you club captain Sebastien Mignotte’s sending off against Orleans Loiret. Possibly the worst foul I’ve ever seen in FM – although he deserves credit for being able to mistime a tackle quite so catastrophically.
And now to something truly nasty.
The summer had gone pretty much to plan – along with recruiting the previously mentioned Hicham M’Laab I strengthened our midfield and picked up a very useful centre half in Bertin Ne Zdille, or My Animal Centre Half, as I think of him. Fleet of foot, strong in the tackle and with a jump that could intercept aircraft he’s the very definition of a star defender at this level.
I also went to work on the backroom staff, slashing wages from my spend by dispensing with my incompetent minions and replacing them with men blessed with stronger minds, better skills and self-worth so low that they would accept almost any wage I offered them.
As I mentioned in the previous post finances at LAP are a big issue, as the club slowly runs itself into the ground. I had not been able to right the sinking ship completely, but at least we were leaking less water, with the weekly wages down from £22k a year to nearer £18k. Stupidly, however, I promised the board a top-half finish for a little more cash, wonga that I ultimately never spent, and this gave me very serious problems as the nightmare of 2014/15 played itself out in front of me.
You’ll remember that by playing a 4-3-3 formation I didn’t rely on any one player to score goals, although I accepted I would probably concede a few more than was strictly necessary. Indeed, the defence did worse slightly, as my ancient captain morphed from an aggressive and inspirational leader into a dribbling old man with acceleration five and pace six, but it was at the other end that my problems mounted.
The beauty of not relying on just one player to score for you is that you’re less likely to fall victim to fluctuations in form and injury. However, you still need someone to score for you and this year no one rose to the challenge. My four strikers from 2013/14 notched 13, 7, 16, 12 but in 2014/15 managed just 2, 5, 4, 9.
Shrew thought it was because they were isolated with nobody linking the midfield to the attack but the exact same tactics the season before had seen them flourish. No, something else was afoot – they had just become incapable of scoring.
After a decent start that saw us a respectable sixth after six games we decided to take our foot off the pedal and coast to calamity. In the following twenty games we picked up just three wins, a run that finished with three draws and six defeats in nine games. We alternated between suffering bad luck and playing appallingly, and simply couldn’t stick enough points on the board as we slid into the relegation zone.
Something had to change, and it was very nearly the manager.
The board called me in for a meeting in early February (I actually had the option not to attend!) and after pleading that injuries were to blame I was left to beg for an extra month. The board agreed and I lived to manage another day.
First up was Amiens, and by this point there really was no shame in locking up shop against a squad that collected over £60k a week between them. We needed something – anything – from the game, and for once Lady Luck was with us; pretending to laugh at our jokes, acting impressed by our worldly experience and then gently, very gently, slipping her index finger up to her elbow into Amiens’ back passage.
Of their twenty-six shots none found their way into Westberg’s net, while my solitary effort on target yielded a precious three points. I survived for another week, while opposing manager Jean-Michel Cavalli bit the dust. Harsh.
We capitalised on our luck with three more points against Orleans Loiret and although we lost to fellow strugglers Carquefou (which I’m pretty sure literally translates as “where’s the mad car?”) the 3-0 defeat of Bourg-Peronnas gave me nine points from the pressurised month and I survived.
Taking four points from our remaining four games saw us survive by a point in fourteenth, a place above our predicted media finish, but for some reason I was ignored when it came to manager of the year awards.
In truth it was often a depressing experience managing LAP this season, our terrible form in the middle of the campaign exasperating and angering me in equal measure. We did survive, and I did keep my job, but it was grim viewing for most.
Still every experience is a learning experience so here’s wot I learned from the season as a novice. I appreciate most of you would never finding yourselves flirting with the sack with quite such a wanton abandon as I did, so feel free to scoff at my rookie errors.
1) Train your players’ fitness in the summer
It beggars belief that I ignored preseason training and when the action started my bloated squad was stretched to its limit. I regularly suffered injuries and while some of this can be attributed to the training there was another factor at work.
My pitch was the worst in the division – the only one rated as “terrible” in the game. While my board wouldn’t countenance relaying it due to financial constraints this meant that I not only had to hoof the ball forward too often but that one of my players almost always suffered an injury when we played at home.
3) Don’t let the match engine dictate your game plan
At one point I had nine shouts in a starting tactic, as my players struggled to differentiate one end of a football pitch from the other. Instead of making things simple for them so they could concentrate on what they knew, I tried to rectify the problem with more shouts. It rarely worked.
4) After fitness teach tactics
My players took too long to familiarise themselves with my tactics, meaning I had a disadvantage against many of my opponents for much of the season. I simply didn’t choose the right training option and again suffered.
And so we trundled into the summer. I’ve much work to do to rebuild this self-made shambles and few tools to do it with. The wage budget will come down again and I’ve replaced Westberg (or the £3,600 per week Westberg, as I came to think of him) with a younger, cheaper and almost as good option. Time will tell whether Loustallot sees us lose a lot, but I have high hopes for the young man.