AC Le Havre – 2025-26 Season Review

Transfer Update & Amortisation

Knowing full well that Manchester United were not going to continually agree to the renewal of Hannibal’s loan, I’d already sought out his replacement in Cüneyt Gür last year. However, when Borussia Dortmund came in for the midfield orchestrator, he was understandably keen to leave to a club playing Champions League football. After a little negotiation, the Bundesliga club agreed to pay an initial £25.5m with further payments to be made of 30% of any future profits on a transfer. Given our initial outlay of just £6,750, after one year, his book value was a measly £5,063, allowing a booked profit of £25,494,938 and a profit improvement (taking into consideration his remaining book value, wage cost for the rest of his contract and the booked profit) of £27,567,000. This transfer in itself will pay for the entirety of our basic wage expenditure for the squad over the course of the forthcoming season – a shrewd piece of business, especially when taking into consideration who I’ve brought in to replace Cüneyt Gür and Hannibal (more on this later).

When he was at Le Havre, and not out on loan, Mathieu Cafaro was nothing more than a bit part player. He’s play well during pre-season but then I wouldn’t give him a look in besides odd Coupe de France games, where invariably he would under perform because he lacked match sharpness. To recoup the transfer fee on him was seen as a good deal with only a year left on his contract.

It’s a somewhat similar story to Pité. We’d long since outgrown his abilities and he’d been out on loan at Clermont last season after only making four appearances off the bench in the season prior to that. Given he was a free signing, selling him on was something of a no-brainer before his contract expired.

Alan Navarro, Anthony Louis-Bonnet (both youth academy players) and Javi Ortega were players in the U19s who were deemed not good enough to make it and were sold off, with Javi Ortega being sold on at a not unreasonable profit. Transfers like these help to fund the spending that goes towards the youth team and makes offering contracts to players that I know aren’t going to play a minute of first team football but who can be developed and sold on worthwhile.

Tilen Ribic was a sale that I mulled over for a while. I’d previously sent him out on loan to Clermont alongside Pit, but his season with them in Ligue 2 was underwhelming (nine goals in thirty five appearances) and I wasn’t convinced that he was going to kick on in Ligue 1. His potential clearly is high, I just had doubts that he could match that potential. When Juventus offered us the chance to pretty much have our money back on the initial transfer fee, with a potential to rise to £9.75m, I took them up on the deal.

The final player sale actually took place during the January transfer window. You may remember from an earlier blog post that I had signed Elias Mesonero based upon his metrics whilst playing for Grasshopper Club Zürich. Elias had been a solid player for us whenever he has put on the Oxbridge colours. Yet, over time, he had seen his playing minutes diminish as Ariel Mosór was brought in and became the first-choice right-sided centre back. Guangzhou Evergrande were able to offer him wages we couldn’t dream of (yet), and so a deal was struck for an initial £20m with a further £5m in potential add-ons.

All in, player sales generated a booked profit of £51m and a profit improvement of £69m. Not bad for players that had a total initial transfer cost of nearly £9.2m. A more than useful set of sums to help progress the club both on and off the field. Player acquisitions will be addressed below, but improvements to the training ground/facilities were made for the senior sides and also for youth teams.

Taken at the start of the season after the Summer transfer outgoings were completed (and therefore not including the Elias Mesonero transfer), and not including those players that left on loan, our squad churn was pretty low. The 81.60% represents the percentage of minutes that were played last season by players still with a permanent contract at Le Havre (though may be heading out on loan for the 2025-26 season). Three loan expiries (along with Hannibal going back to Manchester United, Sassuolo and Porto both wished to give first team opportunities to Christian Dalle Mura and Augusto Rocha respectively) and the sale of Cüneyt Gür accounted for the players no longer with the team and in possession of a Le Havre contract (a nod to Ben Mayhew on Twitter for the ‘inspiration’ for the donut chart). As such, we have a relatively settled squad but are lacking at left-back, depth and quality first choice creative centre midfield and another player to slot in as second choice right-sided centre back as of January when Mesonero left.

The deal to loan Albian Hajdari from Juventus last season included a £4m optional future fee which, given this was below his market value and he’d played 3,204 minutes for us last season, was triggered well before the end of the season. Hajdari had played very well over the course of the season, displacing the aforementioned Dalle Mura as the left-sided centre back. To give you some idea how much we dominated the ball, and to an extent Hajdari’s reading of the game, he completed less than one tackle/90, even allowing for possession adjustment. He also completed 97% of all his passes – impressive when this also includes clearances within the metrics. With our tactical style set up to recycle possession at every opportunity, seeking to patiently pick apart our opponents, it’s an important cog in our wheel to have a defender who is as comfortable in possession of the ball as he is without it.

The standout signing, and a club record fee, is Tiago Cavaleiro. The Portuguese arrives to replace Hannibal as the conductor in our midfield. His almost natural passing abilities, with his tremendous vision, technique and passing, make him ideal for such a role. He had long since been identified by my scouts as a talent, but his price tag was beyond the means allowed by the Board’s set transfer budget – at least until the sale of Cüneyt Gür. That transfer alone provided sufficient additional transfer funds to be able to offer Tondela a deal with structured payments so that they would agree to his sale. £17.25m is a considerable fee for a club like Le Havre to pay, but I’ve every confidence that if Cavaleiro is as good as the appears to be, we could have a superstar on our hands and the outgoing transfer fee will be much greater. His sixty-eight appearances for Tondela yielded twenty-nine goals and eight assists (so thirty-seven goal involvements) and fifteen player of the matches. This all before his nineteenth birthday – this boy should be some player.

Slobodan Jucic is a fantastic prospect – the Serbian goalkeeper is already well developed in terms of his attributes, bar one or two mental areas to focus in on with specific training, which should be easily achieved given his young age. To sign him on a free transfer after his contract with FK Voždovac expired, initially be a back-up to Soriano, should leave us in a good place to have a first-choice goalkeeper already integrated into the Club going forward. This deal also enables me to allow Alfred Gomis to leave as he was rapidly deteriorating in terms of his attributes and isn’t worthy of a place as a back up. Jucic’s forty-three appearances in the Super liga saw him concede forty eight goals and keep twelve clean sheets, including a player of the match performance on his first-team debut for Voždovac. For a young goalkeeper, these are, at least on the face of it, relatively impressive without having access to the xGA he faced.

To address the issue of depth at left back, Frenchman Mathieu Goncalves was picked up from Rennes where he was on the transfer list. He had only picked up one appearance in two years at fellow Ligue 1 competitors before spending a year out on loan at Bordeaux, where he made 4.32 tackles/p90 in twenty four appearances, with a passing success rate of 87%. Happy to come in as a fringe player, and on a relatively low wage, this deal pleased me greatly as he is a genuine back-up option for the side with his energy and pace to push on down the left flank. He filled the gap left by Augusto Rocha.

In looking to add depth to wide attacking options, and in all likelihood looking sell him on for a ‘free’ profit, Juan Cruz arrived on a the year deal from Malaga. The Spaniard comes in as a rotation option but will almost certainly be loaned out to maintain his value before his eventual sale. This is a player trading tactic that I often look to implement when trying to build up a club so that funds can be enhanced through signing plays on pre-contract deals, loaning them out to them sell them on before their contract expires.

Dylan San Juan, besides being excellently named, is a bright prospect to be a long-term successor to Mosór in central defence. He had played thirty-four games for River Plate, making 2.04 tackles/90 and a remarkably low fourteen fouls against across the season (almost bizarre given the reputation for Argentinian defending). At £3.9m, he will be back-up at first, and I will look to integrate him where allowing given Mosór’s and Hajdari’s blossoming defensive partnership. His personality type isn’t one that I would normally seek to recruit, but I’m hopeful that with some mentoring and time spent in our professional squad, this should adjust.

Vamouti Kouao (ASEC Mimosas) and Bryan Joubert (Brest) were signed as low cost youth players who may or may not develop into first team players, but expectations were low and little risk was attached to the deals. They will be loaned out to see how they fair with first-team football elsewhere.

There were four further signings during the January transfer window.

Hécto Amaral falls into the same category as San Juan. The once-capped Mexican central defender, picked up for £1.1m from Liga MX side Pachuca, made forty-eight appearances in his four years there. After San Juan had spat his dummy out when I was unable to register him for the Europa League because of the restrictions in terms of homegrown/national, San Juan refused to back down and tried to kick up a fuss. Consequently, he was first sent to train with the U19s before later being promoted to Le Havre 2. Amaral will be put out on loan to hopefully hone his defending skills and benefit from first-team football which he is a little away from being ready for at Le Havre as yet.

Federico López was a player whom I had actually signed as a 15-year old. Pucker up from Peñarol, the Uruguayan had already reached the feat of earning five caps for the national U20s-side. He comes to us a much more developed and well-rounded 18-year old. He too will be sent out on loan to continue his development as the midfield ranks are well stocked for the moment. His mental abilities at such a young age were an incredible appeal, and so too were his player traits. He’s already set up to be a top-level player if he can kick on with his growth.

Gonçalo Esteves came in on loan as a second choice right back from Porto – I seem to have established a reliable source of full-backs from them over the years on loan. A pacey player, and more than able to handle himself offensively and defensively, his stamina and abilities off the ball make him a useful emergency back up to Biancone.

Lastly, along with the earlier transfer of Cavaleiro, the signing of Brazilian Thiago from Atlético Mineiro demonstrates how far we’ve come as a Club in a very short space of time. He’s the second Brazilian to grace Stade Oceane behind fellow countrymen Lucas Gomes and could prove that the tide has turned seven it comes to Brazilian’s showing an interest in joining us. Thiago doubles a wing back and a left-sided centre back, offering fantastic flexibility to go alongside his physicality. We triggered his minimum release fee of £13.25m and signed him up on a five-year deal.

After the transfers have been completed (* note Elias Mesonero is included to demonstrate positional places for prior to his January transfer) our squad depth looks something like the below.

Ligue 1 Finish

After the season was completed, our squad profile ended up looking like the below graphic. In terms of minutes late, Tiago Cavaleiro took to French football well, playing the fifth most minutes out of our squad. Lucic didn’t manage to displace Juan Soriano, in part down to errors from Lucic in games that he did play, but there’s time for him to make yet.

At an average squad age of 23.06 (thanks @FM_Stag for helping me crack how to calculate that), weighted by the minutes the players played and their age, our squad as a whole still has further potential development left to go, and it’s pleasing to be able to bring so many of these ‘youth’ players, if not homegrown players through.

That being said, Kchouk gained yet more minutes over the season and I was able to give a debut to another promising youngest in Dumont (as you’ll see later). If Dumont can kick on with his technical, mental and physical abilities, we could have a heck of a player on our hands straight out of the academy.

The Ligue 1 season was actually something of a drab disappointment. An eighth place finish saw us fall out of the European places and my job was on the line with the final game of the season for failing to meet the Board’s objective of continental football. A 1-0 victory at home to Strasbourg was enough for a stay of execution. At least up to and including the following game but more on that below.

I’ve written previously about the tactic I’ve implemented at Le Havre, setting out our desire to control the ball and nullify opposition chances. Yet this was the season that changes had to be made. Our football and become something of a taupur, slow mechanical football that simply wasn’t creative enough and not positive enough (no points for spotting the song reference there but it was definitely true. We had a net goal difference of eleven and an net expected goal difference of exactly the same football – we weren’t worthy of a place in Europe. When your lead striker scores only nine goals in a season and even that out performed his xG of just over six, you know that something is awry. As as you can tot up from the graphic below, on fifteen occasions we had an xG of less than one. We’d become stultifying to watch and perhaps we were missing Hannibal more than we had realised.

As a result, or rather because of a lack of positive results, I needed to make changes to our tactical set up. In moving a way from the 4-3-3DM to a 4-2-3-1, Tiago Cavaleiro gave us the perfect player to slot in behind either Ali Akman or Lucas Gomes, the latter of whom had found form at one of our affiliates, IFK Göteborg and came back to us in the January transfer window. With both forwards preferring the advanced forward role, the false nine was ditched too. The deep-lying defensive midfielder moved up a strata to form a double pivot, changing to a central midfielder on defend and the mezzala shifted to a deep-lying playmaker on support since this is Depoorter’s natural player role and suits his left-footedness. The other change was to move the right-sided full back to a wing-back on support.

The shift was made prior to the Lyon home game towards the end of the season when after only winning two games in twelve matches in Ligue 1, it became clear something had to be done. That Lyon game did see us have an xG of less than one but it did also yield a positive result and from there the points flowed and we began to be more creative, despite having had very little time to implement the tactical changes on the training field, in part due to our commitments in the Europa League.

Given we finished out of the automatic places in Ligue 1, some of you might be questioning how is it that the final league table graphic shows Champions League qualification against our name. Well, after missing out on UEFA Europa Conference League glory last year after AZ’s dramatic (and worthy) fightback, we won the UEFA Europa League at our first attempt.

Our route to the final saw us top our group despite stiff opposition in RB Salzburg, who were the only side to beat us. We then played the not at all related side RB Leipzig in the second round, scraped past Porto and beat off fellow Ligue 1 side, Lyon in the semi final.

Our opponents in the final, Napoli, had crashed out of their Champions League group, in spite of Celtic achieving a negative goal difference and only scoring four goals. If that isn’t a record, it can’t be too far from one… Once in the Europa League, they overcame Ajax, narrowly beat last year’s Europa Conference League winners, AZ, dismissed Slavia Praha comfortably before vanquishing FC Midtjylland in the semi.

Whilst the final saw the team in some reasonable form after the improvement in league results, player form and squad morale was some way of desirable levels. This made selection to start the Final tricky at best, so as to ensure that those on best form started the game to give us the best possible hope of victory. As you can see by comparing the team graphic below against the squad depth graphic and the squad profile of minutes played/player age, there were one of two big decisions that I made when it came to who to start.

Saranic had been in very mixed form prior to the final, and had picked up an injury in the Montpellier fixture which resulted in him missing the final two league games of the season. As a result, I made the decision to switch Chema Núñez across to the right hand side away from his usual left wing role, and bringing in Hauge.

In the six Ligue 1 games that he had played prior to the Final, Lucas Gomes had scored five goals in contrast to Ali Akman who had one goal in six. Whilst on the face of it, this might seem like an easy decision, I had a strong loyalty towards Akman that had to be overcome by looking the data and putting trust in Gomes.

The other difficult decision was whether to start Depoorter or Zwane. Neither had been on exhilarating form and thus making them a must pick, but I went with Depoorter for his leadership and prior three assists in the Europa League.

To help improve morale, I also spoke to each individual player when deciding upon the first eleven to praise their conduct just to eke out that little marginal gain. Boy how it worked. Depoorter ran the show, making 105 passes from 118 attempts, creating a clear cut chance which Gomes tucked away as part of his four goals from an xG of 1.5 – some return for a final to land him with a perfect 10.0 score. Núñez returned a goal and an assist, running rings around Di Marzio.

Going into UEFA Europa League Final v Napoli still facing the sack to win 6-1 was a magnificent achievement from the side and seemingly vindicated my selection choices. Gattuso was actually the manager to be sacked following the final. Now we’re in the Champions League, the Board are far happier with me – having more faith in my managerial abilities.


How will we get on in Ligue 1 next season and our debut in the Champions League? Check back again next time to see which players are signed/sold and a review of the 2026-27 season. I hope you enjoyed an admittedly longer read that normal – please hit the ‘like’ button to let me know you did.

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