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.

AC Le Havre – 2024-25 Season Review

The 2024-25 season was a very successful one, relatively speaking. After achieving European football through league finish last season, we managed the same feat again with the latest campaign, improving our finish from 6th to 4th – as a result going through to the Europa League in 2025-26. With only PSG attaining more possession than us, we again dominated the ball against our opponents, though we did score notably fewer goals than our fellow European qualifying teams. Yet we pretty matched out expected goal difference – evidence that our formation does a good job in looking after the ball, but perhaps isn’t that cutting edge. Given our advance up the Ligue 1 table, perhaps a change in tactic might be required to have more thrust to goal scoring to hopefully match our dominance with the ball.

Once again we gave our younger players considerable minutes, with the majority achieving well over 50% of potential minutes. This analysis also helps to identify players who aren’t playing sufficient minutes and are likely surplus to requirements. Boulaye Dia falls into that category and will be earmarked for a move away from the club. Giulian Biancone has also usurped Godswill Ekpolo in the right back role, so consideration will go into whether he is the right man to be a back up. It’s worth noting that Jens Petter Hauge only joined the club in the January window, so as such, actually played a considerable number of minutes in relation to how many he was eligible for.

New central midfield signings, Depoorter, Zwane and Cüneyt Gür all played a good number of minutes without any of them standing out. The mainstay in the central midfield was on loan Hannibal (signified by the purple dot). This was to be his last season at Le Havre as Manchester United had decided that he was now suitably developed for a place in their squad and would not renew his loan agreement. His time at Le Havre has been instrumental to our achievements in not only retaining our status as a Ligue 1 club following our promotion from Ligue 2, but also to then progress up the league and into Europe. His chance creation has been exemplary – as pointed out in a previous blog with a player focus on him – but I feel it’s worth highlighting just how good Hannibal has been for us. Whilst his goal contributions have waned, his assists have been club-leading for us. Never falling below 0.30 goal contributions per 90 in his four seasons with us, he’s provided numerous open play chances for Ali Akman, our main striker, and our other forwards, and also from set piece situations.

In terms of goal scoring contribution across the entirety of the season (and not just Ligue 1), we relied heavily upon both Ali Akman and Ivan Saranic. The two contributed 37% (helpfully 37) of all goals, on a combined xG of 29.48. Ariel Mosór, our Polish right-sided centre back, signed for £6m from Legia last season but crucially (read stupidly) after the closing of the registration window, was the next highest – showing that our set pieces routines, in particular corners, worked well. This pleased the board as they’d mandated this a club focus. In total, seventeen goals were scored from set pieces (eight from corners and nine from free kicks).

Europa Conference League Review

Achieving European football well ahead of the expectations of the Club leadership, gave us a good chance to see where we were at. As it turned out, we were a lot further ahead than I had thought we were with our development.

Winning our group against relatively weaker opponents (Slovenia’s Maribor and Serbia’s Čukarički) and Bundesliga side Köln, resulted in us achieving a bye in the first round knockout as those sides who finished third in the Europa League and second in their Europa Conference League played off against one another. Two further victories over Czechia’s Slavia Praha and North Macedonia’s KF Shkëndija followed – with us brushing them both aside with reasonable ease, so much so in the case of KF Shkëndija that we were able to fully rotate our side for the second leg after a 5-0 victory in the first match.

It was the semi final result against Everton that really shocked me. A 2-0 win at home was surprising, but to then go to Goodison Park and win 2-1 away from home was a fantastic feeling. Ali Akman was the star of the tie with three goals across the two games and eight in the competition as a whole. Achieving a final in our first outing is brilliant and something I really wanted to win to make our mark on Europe.

Our opponents were to be Dutch side AZ Alkmaar. AZ had qualified for the Europa League proper, but a third place finish in their Group saw them drop into the Europa League Conference. Their path to the final was represented by a demolition of Parma, close ties against FC Midtjylland and Rapid Wien, before a semi final victory against our Group opponents Köln.

Europa Conference League Final Line Ups

Match Analysis

Setting up in a 4-2-3-1, AZ were plainly set to play very wide by Arne Slot after watching some initial attacking play. Their full backs, with Beukers likely playing as a complete wing back on the right, spread wide and rapidly once they’d won back possession of the ball. This left their central defenders with a lot of space to cover should a swift turnover occur with a Le Havre counterattack. We were already set to press them high up the field, so recognising their weakness in the centre of the pitch, I added a further instruction to the team to play through the centre. The below graphic shows with AZ’s average positioning with the ball. Our pressing helps to explain why they’re so deep when in possession of the ball – but also note the advanced position of Beukers, this will be integral to the first real action below and also the space for us to exploit with a quick counter.

After I adjusted our team instructions to focus play down the middle it worked a treat. The long kick from AZ’s Owusu-Oduro fell straight to Dvunjak who, untroubled by any opponent, has time to lay it off to Hannibal. He in turn spots Zwane, our Mezzala in space not being pressed by the deeper AZ central midfield players who haven’t advanced up the pitch. When they do come into press Zwane, Ali Akman in the false nine role drops back into this space and drags his defender with him. Chema Núñez runs into the huge gap between the right back, Beukers, who has initially advanced too far up the pitch and the other centre back, Van den Berg. All through the play from the moment we win the ball back to the first touch of Chema Núñez, the ball barely travels outside the width of the centre circle and we have a one-on-one which is finished emphatically.

We had to wait until the second half for our next goal. This time the goal came from an initial build up from our own half. We win the ball back and then look to spring an attack, spreading the play across to the right hand side. By the time it reaches Biancone on the flank, he lays it across to Hannibal who uses some of his flair to beat his man, playing it into Ali Akman who holds off his run into the six-yard area, with AZ’s defenders concentrating on the run of Saranic. With Chema Núñez occupying the mind of Beukers, Zwane finds himself unmarked and he finishes with aplomb into the bottom corner.

Our second goal seemed to free AZ’s shackles. They took the game by the scruff of the neck from their kick off following the Zwane strike. Their first response was in the 64th minute. We lost concentration following an AZ thrown in and it culminates in our offside trap being sprung by a Koopmeiners through ball over the top to Yusuf Barasi, who calmly finished past the on-rushing Sorano – 3-1. Biancone had been to distracted by the offside Karlsson, giving Barasi the perfect opportunity to rush past Mosór who was overloaded with Barasi and Taabouni to look after because Dvunjak had been dragged over towards the ball rather than sitting on Taabouni.

It only takes another minute for AZ to find the equalising goal. We switch off yet again from another throw in, with the AZ players running rings around our defenders, leading to Fedde de Jong popping a cross up for Taabouni to nod in. A poor couple of minutes have cost us a game that we had a stranglehold on and the players’ morale drops markedly. I try to encourage them, but to no avail…

We try to reassert our dominance on the ball and remove team instructions to time waste now that AZ are level. Yet this just leads to AZ exploiting us on the 85th minute as our players tire from our pressing. After yet another thrown in from AZ down their right flank, play eventually develops down their left flank. Saranic lets Esajas run past him and with Biancone and Dvunjak confused as to who is picking him up, as Reijnders off the ball run has them confused, neither of them pick up the run nor the player on the ball. Mosór was unlucky not to cut the pass out with his attempted sliding interception, but this just leads to Yusuf Barasi being free to slot home at the second attempt after Soriano blocks his first effort. Hearts sink and we look to go ‘very attacking’ but the game plays out with AZ sitting deep and keeping out any of our efforts.

You might think I would be disappointed by the result, and I was, but I was equally as pleased because we had made it this far – proud in fact. We shouldn’t be this far ahead of our plan and our overall play is generally encouraging – we are playing good football, if not full bore attacking chance creation on steroids. Quite how much we will miss Hannibal and his creativity, we will have to wait and see next season, but we have now earned the revenues from European football to help us solidify our finances and have some funds to reinvest. If we continue to be cautious with our spending on player transfers and wages, then Le Havre should at least have a strong platform to build upon going forwards. This should then help us progress our tactic and shape in the fullness of time once we have better players amongst our ranks to properly fulfil them.


As a break from the norm, I’ll be looking at player acquisitions and sales in the next blog, along with the usual amortisation in the season review for 2025-26. I hope you return for that soon.

AC Le Havre – 2023-24 Season Review

The previous post, released some time ago now thanks to the impact of workload in real life, hinted at the prospect of European football for Le Havre. In the very next season, so it came to pass – we qualified for the UEFA Europa Conference League. The clubs first foray into continental competition. With an actual goal difference of 18 and an expected goal difference (xG Diff) of 17.05, we performed broadly in line with where we were anticipated to have done according to the data. Marseille on the other hand were ridiculously lucky to have a goal difference of 29 given they should have had a goal difference of just 3.37 by taking xG-xGA – a massive over performance.

Whilst twelve draws weren’t ideal, we were comfortably ahead of 7th placed Stade Reims, who were even luckier to be placed just outside the qualification places with their xG differential. Equally, we weren’t close to LOSC Lille. What was most pleasing was the percentage of possession we averaged across the season – a Ligue 1 topping 60%. Our tactical style of patient build up, opting to work the ball into the box and play out from the back, saw us dominate the ball.

The 61 goals scored (by a Le Havre player – 62 including an own goal) came predominantly from our forward line – with Ali Akman leading the way, scoring 16 goals from an xG of 13.25 (including three penalty goals). Leon Bosnjak’s frankly statistic breaking 11 goals from an xG of 4.43 came from him either deputising for Akman or playing on either attacking flank. 46 of the 61 goals (or 75.41%) were scored from a player in one of the three forward positions – whilst the spread amongst them isn’t necessarily a bad thing, perhaps over-relying upon them might be and it’s something to review.

Nonetheless, it is nice to see the acquisitions that were made last year settle in – with Leon Bosnjak, Chema Núñez and Cüneyt Gür (a 19-year old Turkish U21 international who was signed for £6.75k (yes, you did read that right) from Bursaspor with just 6 months of his contract left in January 2024) all being signed within the previous twelve months. It’s hoped that Gür will develop sufficiently to replace Hannibal in the long-term one his on-going loan inevitably ended from Manchester United, and continues the club’s ties to Turkey.

Another one of the new names on the goalscorers list is that of Yasser Kchouk. A youth team product, he has made his break into the first team at the tender age of 17. The left winger can play anywhere down the flank, and has been selected to play for Switzerland U21s. His development has been somewhat rapid and his breakthrough into the first team wasn’t the one that was anticipated from prior youth intakes given a previous youth team prospect, Sébastien Briand.

In truth, Briand’s development has stalled badly. He simply hasn’t kicked on at all, as can be seen by his attribute analysis below. Key role attributes are denoted in the Oxford blue (darker), non-key role attributes are in the Cambridge blue (lighter).

This as disappointing as it is frustrating. Quite why this is the case is probably down to a number of factors.

First of all is ultimately probably down to me – I probably promoted him too quickly into the first team at just 16. He could have benefited from staying down in the youth team and training, just concentrating on honing his attributes rather than being with the senior side. This could have aided his confidence levels, boosting his morale and thus his training levels. By lifting him above perhaps where belonged by being over excited about a youth team player that could actually kick in into the side, as per part of the goal of this save, has perhaps set him back.

To try to overcome this, he was sent out on loan for the second half of the season at Ligue 2 side, Troyes. Yet this might be another cause of his lack of development. I didn’t check what position he was likely to be playing him, not in the loan agreement, but by agreeing a loan with a manager that didn’t play with a defensive midfielder in his preferred tactical set up. Consequently, he ended up playing as an attacking midfielder, something that he’s completely ill-suited to. His attributes naturally lend himself to being a ball-winning midfielder, so by playing him as an attacking midfielder, his attribute development is completely antagonist to what I would want him to have been working on.

The third reason – luck. Player development isn’t a given. We’ve all seen real life players make their debuts very early in their professional careers before slipping down the pecking order and eventually being released/sold after not achieving their suspected potential. That may well be what’s going on here – it’s simply unlucky that Sébastien Briand, the best youth prospect I’ve had in a save where I wanted to promote youth players is actually… rubbish. Well, not rubbish perhaps, he did turn out regularly for Troyes, but definitely not capable of the high potential ability he had. He is only 18 so perhaps it will finally click, but I doubt it somehow.

On the other hand, Yasser Kchouk has developed nicely. Looking like he wasn’t all that amazing upon first inspection, yes, the only five star prospect to come through in his ‘class’, but his technical attributes are not at all something to remark at. Therefore, he remained in the U19s. There, he racked up 60 appearances, with a very credible twenty goals (including six penalties) and an incredible thirty-two assists since his promotion as a youth candidate.

His technical, mental and physical improvement is clear to see, especially the latter. His teamwork and work rate are already exemplary for someone so young, but it’s his physical progression which to me shows that there’s more to come in his quest towards first team football.

He has received just a handful of minutes so far, coming on for either Chema Nuñez or Arnaud Nordin. To ensure his player pathway isn’t blocked, Nordin, the weaker of the two left wingers in the first team already, will need to be moved on. This may seem harsh given his help to push Le Havre this far, but this is the nasty part of club management – you have to be brutal to achieve. Hopefully Kchouk can continue to progress to make this decision and easy on in hindsight and not something to regret.

Transfers

Before the transfer window even opened, loan renewals for Hannibal and Dalle Mura were negotiated and agreed with their respective clubs, Manchester United and Fiorentina. They’d been mainstays in the first team throughout the previous season and were terrific value for money given their quality.

As with previous seasons, players had started to attract interest from bigger clubs. Given the financial situation, with the lack of significant funds being generated from prize money, no European football income (though that its to come), and no big TV deal, we have to sell to fund ourselves. This time it was Diogo Nascimento who was sold to AC Milan for £20.5m, including various installments and a 20% profit on next transfer fee. The 21-year-old wanted to leave, understandably, and we weren’t in a position to stand in his way. The fee isn’t unreasonable, especially when taking into consideration that this deal represents pure profit when it comes to our accounts (bar his wages/signing on fees/etc.), as he was signed on a free transfer from SL Benfica two seasons ago.

This left us with a hole to fill in the mezzala slot in our midfield triumvirate. Our scouts had already identified a possible replacement – two in fact. The first is Belgian U20 international, Jef Depoorter. Signed from Mouscron for £7.25m, including installments a clause which pays out £500k if he plays five internationals for Belgium, the player comes with as much hype as he does promise. Despite his tender age of 19, he’s already made forty-one first team appearances in Eerste klasse B, contributing nineteen goal involvements and eight player of the matches. Being naturally left footed, he should fit in nicely into the mezzala role. His player trait of tries long-range passes should help to spread play and help start quick counter attacks, and with a degree of accuracy given his already top-level vision, technique, decisions and passing. His finishing is also a stand-out attribute. He has a real eye for goal and can offer a rotation option up front should we need him to. The only sticking point with him is that in his contract negotiations he demanded to be played in his preferred role of deep-lying playmaker in central midfield. Given that this isn’t a role we adopt in our system, he’s going to have to put up with being played out of position and hopefully come around to the idea of starting regularly in a higher league system than he was previously playing in.

The second option was Sifiso Zwane, a 6-times capped South African international despite being only 18-years old. Signed for his release fee of £825k, I’m sure you’ll agree that he looks to be something of a long-term bargain. Already well rounded when it comes to attributes for someone so young. He possess similar play-making abilities to Depoorter, and has that much sought after ‘wonderkid’ media description before even signing for us. He’s not naturally left footed, and his concentration is a little concerning, but he looks to be a star in the making given his technical abilities on the ball. This meant that I’ve brought in two replacements for one player and still have over £12m remaining. As a Club, this is how we have to operate to strengthen and improve depth.

With that in mind, Daouda Badiane was signed as youth prospect. Coming in for just £140,000 from Generation Foot, he’s been capped nine times by Sengal U20s, contributing one goal. At 6’6″, he should be a great threat, not just in defending set pieces but also in attack too. He’ll go out on loan to maximise his playing time, but I am excited about his potential.

Tilen Ribic falls into a similar category – a player signed for the future who isn’t likely to achieve first team minutes from the get-go and will go out on loan. Signed from Young Boys in Switzerland, he’s been capped seven times and scored two goals for the Swiss U21s. He has good player traits for a false nine, though I’m unconvinced by the shoots from distance given his relatively poor finishing, but there’s time to improve that. At £5m, he’s not cheap, but he should represent another good investment for the future if he can develop, hopefully a loan will help him to achieve that.

Camilo Moreno was signed on a pre-contract agreement. Yet to sign a professional contract with Independiente Santa Fe, the three times capped Colombian U20 international 18-year-old looks to have further potential to tap into. His passing, technique and teamwork should make him into a good deep lying forward or false nine. The £1.3m compensation fee will hopefully prove to be a shrewd investment. Unlike Ribic, Moreno will stay around the first team and pick up minutes in cup games and off the bench to replace Ali Akman.

Two other loanees arrived in the form of Albian Hajdari and Augusto Rocha. Hajdari was someone that I had been scouting for some time, and his existing club Juventus were keen to continue loaning him out for first team experience. It was his loan spell at Nice, where he played 15 games and scored one goal, that proved that he could hold his own at Ligue 1 level as a centre back. When his loan ended at Nice following the finish of the 2023-24 season, I approached Juventus with a loan offer of my own. Within that loan offer included an optional future fee of £4m. With only two years left on his current contract, and therefore just one year left at the conclusion of the loan should it go through, I was relatively confident that Juventus would accept such an offer. Along with a loan fee – they did. If he performs well, and we have sufficient budget, it’s likely that we’ll activate the option to buy. Augsto Rocha was signed as a rotational option at left back from FC Porto. Yet another 18-year-old, he’s not as developed as I’d have liked for a rotational option, but there was a paucity of available options within our price range and wage budget. Possibly a little better in defense then he is in attack, he should hopefully be a reasonable back up once he adjusts to life on the North West coast of France.

The name that probably catches the eye the most is Jens Petter Hauge. Unhappy at lack of playing time at AC Milan midway through the 2024-25 season, the Norwegian international was transfer listed for £6.25m with just a few months left on his contract. Rather than try to sign him on a pre-contract agreement, I took the decision to bring him in early. The attacking winger offers quality on both flanks. I will need to ensure that he doesn’t block the player development pathway for Kchouk, Naturally an inverted winger on the left, he will also slot in on the right when Saranic isn’t available as Boulaye Dia has failed to consistently step up to Ligue 1 level. To add a player of his reputation really shows how quickly we’ve come in from our initial promotion our of Ligue 2 and I hope that he can add to our chances in Ligue 1 and in Europe. He has demanded that we play him as an inverted winger on the left as part of his contractual negotiations, but as with Depoorter, I’m hoping that playing frequently and in a successful team will help him realise who holds the power in this side.

Other additions – Stefan Petrus, Emeric Schultz are punts on youth players who may/may not make it, but will go out on loan to see if they develop. Schultz was also signed on the basis of a requirement from the board to sign players from the lower leagues in France in order to develop them. Our scouts liked him – I’m not so sure. At £500k, I’ve almost certainly overpaid.

With the £20.5m recouped from Nascimento and £3m from other sales, including Nordin who left for Guingamp for £1.2m, saw a net transfer spend of -£4.5m, i.e. another profit in the transfer window(s). This resulted in an amortisation charge of just over £6.8m for these transfers (not including previous transfers).


The next blog will review our first foray into European football, along with the regular season review.

AC Le Havre – 2022-23: Sailing out to a European waters?

The 2022-33 season saw us fall into an initial slump, with poor results against our opponents in the opening fixtures, seeing four defeats in the first seven games and only two wins. This form saw us sat in 15th. Only after around nine games did we find our rhythm. Reducing the number of goals conceded by minimising the quality of chances presented to the opposition helped significantly, and as confidence and morale improved, so too did our goal scoring. Working on our defensive set up in training, as well as dropping Václav Jemelka after doing some metric analysis into our performances in favour of Dalle Mura, on loan from Fiorentina, helped to solidify our back line, dramatically bringing down our xGA.

This is reflected in our eventual finish of 6th, one place outside of European qualification (due to the winner of the Coupe de France), and in the amount of points we gained above that of those that my self-calculated model said we should have attained come the end of the season. The dip in form after the crazy run of fixtures following the Winter World Cup is mostly due to the need to rotate our small squad (more on this later). A strong finish to the last third of games saw our league position soar.

If we look at the cumulative net points (points minus expected points using xG differentials), then we were largely outperforming the number of points we should have had, with a big dip after the 4-1 battering at the hands of Lille. Earning three more points by the end of the campaign than we were predicted to using xG differentials helped us to overachieve by way of our expected league position finish.

I alluded to the heavy rotation that we had to adopt due to the fixture congestion thanks to the Winter World Cup. This can be plainly seen in our squad profile – taking minutes played and player ages. In trying to protect our plethora of young players against burn out, only goalkeeper and captain Juan Soriano played more than 80% of potential minutes in Ligue 1 (in fact he played every minute). With the minutes shared out, you’d think that the development of player attributes would have been evenly shared, but because of the number of midweek games and a near month long holiday in December, player development largely stagnated because they weren’t on the training field as often as they would have been during a normal season.

This leads me onto a player I want to hone in on and almost pay homage to as a result of his performances.

Player Focus – Hannibal

Hannibal Mejbri, known simply as Hannibal, has been on loan with us at Le Havre for the last two seasons. Over that time he’s made 58 appearances and 27 goal contributions, one every 160.22 minutes, or roughly 0.56 per 90. He has therefore understandably come to make the 8 position his own on the right-hand side of midfield.

Despite his young age, he already has an eye for a pass, with fantastic vision and technical ability. His underlying technique, flair and first touch enable him to make defence splitting passes for players running through on goal.

This is reflected in his third place finish in the Ligue 1 Meilleurs Passeurs for 2022-23, after racking up ten assists, behind Neymar (20) and Marseille’s Maxime Lopez (12).

His attributes naturally lend themselves to playing as an advanced playmaker, and to an extent, the team has somewhat been moulded around him in this role.

With a false nine ahead of him (Ali Akman), a winger on the left to flank (typically either Nordin or Pité), an inside forward cutting in from his right flank (either Dia or Šaranić) and a mezalla acting as another 8 to his left (normally Nascimento), he’s not short of passing options. Combine this with the right sided full back going forward on a supporting duty, and he has a gamut of choices.

With the adopted tactic set to play at a slow tempo with shorter passing, this does act as something of a constraint on his creative abilities. However, it does mean that the team can build possession together to look for an opening rather than have to continually press in exhaustive fashion when the ball has been lost in an effort to recycle possession. Equally, if the ball is turned over, because the team have progressed up the field together, it is then easier to enact a meaningful press by blocking multiple passing lanes rather than a solo press.

This helps to hide Hannibal’s main weakness – he’s a poor defender. He can shirk his defensive responsibilities, with 2.96 defensive actions per 90 (tackles and interceptions adjusted for possession) over the last season, a metric which puts him in the bottom 24th percentile for Ligue 1 central midfielders. This is part of the reasoning for opting to play a defensive midfielder in behind him and the other 8, as Nascimento is similarly uninspired by having to defend (with 1.82 defensive actions per 90 – in the bottom 2%).

With this cover, Hannibal is able to play the creative role, and was amongst the league leaders in all manner of passes (attempted, completed, key and assists per 90), dribbles and in being fouled (leading to the potential for attacking free kicks, which he himself takes). His pass completion is poor, but I think in part this is because he takes set pieces, but also because he’s looking for the through ball which will often be cut out by opposition defenders.

The below shot you can see Hannibal’s ability to deliver a cross to pin point perfection. Following an interchange with right back, Godswill Ekpolo, which created separation for Hannibal away from the opposition defender. Hannibal then swung in a cross, picking out Pité who has eluded his marker at the far post for an easy finish. This is only made easy because of the quality of the delivery itself from Hannibal.

It’s at this point that I wanted to delve into Hannibal’s fantastic passing ability and vision further, but sadly I’ve come across (yet) another bug in the game with a divergence between recorded assists outside the ME to what is shown inside the ME when going back to old fixtures, so instances in some matches are wrong, including passing maps, times of goals, goal scorers, assist makers… I’m hoping it was the update that threw this all out, but who knows.

Club update

After receiving the prize money for our league finish, I immediately request that the board reinvest the proceeds into the recruitment of youth prospects, and improve our training facilities for both the senior and youth sides. This should aid player development amongst the senior side who have stagnated as previously mentioned thanks to the lack of time on the training ground. Fingers crossed it will also help develop our own youth players as this is a key part of the club focus and as you can see by the squad profile, I’ve not done a great job of bringing any through, instead favouring external recruits.

The problem of this long term strategy was that it left us without much immediate cash with which to extend contracts of key staff, and a tiny budget to initially spend on transfers. As a result, early incomings on the playing staff were nil –  we simply didn’t have the funds to bring anyone in. This was fine, as I felt that bar left back, with Carole departing following the expiry of his contact, I had two players of adequate or good quality in every position.

This though, didn’t solve the issue with staff. I was unable to negotiate contact extensions with a number of staff because their weekly wage expectations had risen following the club’s success on the field. Yet this wasn’t matched with the wages I was in a position to offer them. As such, a number left and were replaced with unemployed coaches, analysts, physios and scouts who were willing to join for lower compensation for their gainful employment.

My thoughts regarding squad depth held until I had an offer for Guilherme Montóia from Arsenal. I knew as soon as Arsenal bid for him that I was not going to be in a position to reasonably stand in his way. Whilst the Club is just about washing its face when it comes to finances, player sales were going to be required to pay for the growth and development of the Club as a whole. The initial £7m bid was negotiated up to £12.25m, including £5m in £1m payments staggered over semi-annual payments for the next three years, which should help with our cash flow. The big bonus though was the fact that Arsenal were happy to loan Montóia straight back to us to continue his development. Montóia could remain first choice whilst his eventual successor bedded in.

Looking into the finances of this deal in more depth, because we can book the proceeds of the sale of Montóia straight away, i.e. record the receipt of funds immediately and not when actual payment is received. This results in us making an instant paper profit of the £12.25m that Arsenal agreed to pay because Montóia was signed on a free transfer – his book value to us was nil, so the transfer fee represents pure profit.

The other transfer that I couldn’t possibly refuse was that of Brahima Ouattara. Juventus were negotiated up to an offer of £11.5m, including three guaranteed payments of £1.33m over the next three years to further bolster future cash inflows. The Ivory Coast international made twenty three appearances but never really shone in the mezalla role. Given the depth we have in central midfield, I was more than happy to let Ouattara go to Turin and try to break through into i Bianconeri’s first team.

The fee we had paid RC Abidjan for Ouattara was a meagre £275k and he had signed on a four-year deal. Given that there were still two-years left on his contract, this meant that the booked profit on this transfer amounted to a whopping £11,362,000 (whopping relative to our club size at least).

In booking this £23,612,500 profit, this provided the Club with funds to reinvest back into the transfer market where we could find more ‘wrinkles’.

With Carole leaving, I went searching for a left back. After much deliberation, largely because no one was as good at the soon-to-be outgoing Montóia, we brought in Jonathan Augustinsson from Djurgården in Sweden for £1.4m, rising to £1.8m after 50 league appearances. His appearances for Sweden and his relatively older age compared to those around him in the squad I’ve assembled at Le Havre (note the number youngsters in the earlier squad graphic above), should add experience to the side. His personality of a model professional certainly made my mind up when deliberating over his transfer – hopefully he can climb up the player hierarchy to become a team leader so that he’ll make a perfect mentor for any defender in the side.

We also looked to invest into a back up for Ali Akman and brought in Leon Bosnjak, a young Croat from NK Varaždin, for his £2.6m release fee. Looking at his attributes, he looks well developed for an 18-year old. Whilst his finishing is below what I’d normally look for, I realise I can’t have everything at this level, especially not for an initial back up player. His composure and off the ball movement, along with his excellent with rate and flair should mean that the can bamboozle defenders to increase the quality of chances he creates for himself/find himself free in pockets of space to be find by the likes of Hannibal.

Chema Núñez signed on a free transfer from Albacete to improve the quality of our attacking output down the left hand flank. The pacey Spaniard likes to dribble down the left flank, yet also moves into channels, so should confuse the opponents he finds himself up against when coupled with his flair, technique and dribbling ability. His vision and passing is also excellent, with his trait of playing one-twos and killer balls, he should offer a fantastic threat going forward.

Dual national, Giulian Biancone came into to offer a challenge to Godswill Ekpolo. Ekpolo will remain the first-choice, but at £750k following his transfer-listing at Monaco, this looked a good deal for the former French U21. He’s attacking in his nature as a full back, looking to bomb on down the right flank, so will help to add width given the inside forward that is played ahead of him. His decisions, technique and composure could be better, but there won’t be many, if any, better players at this price in his position.

Just prior to the start of the season, Juan Soriano picked up an injury which meant that he was set to miss the opening three games of the forthcoming season. With only the under-developed Yahia Fofana as a back-up option, I brought in Alfred Gomis from Rennes as a reserve goalkeeper. This is quite some come down for the player chosen by his previous club Rennes to replace Edouardo Mendy after the latter signed for Chelsea. The 6’5″ Senegalese international joined for just £1m, after his transfer listing. Having played just four games in 2021-22 and zero in the 2022-23 season, Gomis was more than happy to cut the cord from Rennes and be the second choice behind Soriano when he returned to fitness.

Hannibal and Dalle Mura both had their loans renewed, so will be with us for the 2023-24 season. All deals saw us spend £5,750,000 in total on first team players, with a further £1,855,550 spent on U19 potential prospects. This was in part trying to becalm the directors who were ‘devastated’ at my inability to purchase players from lower leagues in France, develop them to the first team before selling them on for a profit. In total, five such players were brought in but they will not be expected to feature in the first-team and anyone older than 18 will be loan listed to encourage their development.


Will this addition of depth to the squad help our onward march to European places? Find out in the next blog post.

AC Le Havre – 2021-22 Season Review

HAC Foot – Safe Haven in Ligue 1

The winter break saw HAC Foot in 8th place and it is there that we finished in our first campaign in Ligue 1. Quite some effort for a team expecting to be relegated back from whence we came.

The second half of the season actually went better than our first. Picking up nine wins and four draws saw us achieve four more points we did before the Winter break. Notable performances included a 3-0 victory at home to Lyon, 1-0 win against Nice and a 3-3 draw versus Monaco where we raced into a 3-0 lead only to see Monaco rage back against us.

The results enabled us to finish just outside the European places – perhaps as well given the lack of depth we have in our squad. This is evidenced by the fact that eight players played in excess of 75% of the possible minutes in the league – six of which were new additions to the team. It’s great that the players we signed had the natural fitness and stamina to last the season. However, this will be taken into consideration when looking to utilise the £6.78m we’ve been allocated in transfer spending and nearly £100k p/w in wages.

Gibaud’s, Gorgelin’s and Club captain Fontaine’s contracts are all expiring and they will not be signed to new deals. This may be a little harsh on Fontaine who has been with HAC Foot throughout his career. When delving into his data for the 2021-22 season, his first ever in Ligue 1, it looks even more ruthless. Fontaine, despite playing as a deep-lying playmaker in the defensive midfield strata, produced some elite level metrics, delivering key passes, being efficient with his use of the ball and managed a goal involvement 0.41 per 90, almost a goal or an assist every other game. It is worth noting that this sample size isn’t huge with only 14.62 90s played, but he did play in a good number of the games in the second half of the season alongside our improvement in results.

However, at 33, his physical attributes are starting to wane. Whilst Ligue 1 isn’t the most physical of leagues, a two-year deal did not seem like a good use of the clubs finances, would block the player pathway of Briand, and could open wage budget for other recruits too to fill the gap between Fontaine and Briand, besides just Lekhal.

For Gorgelin, whose performances saw us keep eleven clean sheets – the decision could have also have been said to be heartless. Again, the contract that he was demanding was not acceptable to the Club in terms of how he was valued. That might seem strange given the number of clean sheets and the fact that we conceded just 42 goals as a club. However, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia‘, “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts”. So let’s take a much closer look at the data.

Further investigation into our metrics demonstrates a clear down turn in form in keeping out goals over the second half of the season compared to those the data tells us we should have conceded (GA-xGA). We conceded nearly four goals more than we ought to have done according to xG – not awful, but perhaps there’s room for an upgrade in this area. This would so easily be overlooked given the improvement in results from the pre-Winter break.

If we take a deeper dive still into the data, you’ll notice that over the course of the season the 10-game rolling average goals, xG, goals against and xGA drifted together. Once we are beyond the “noise” of the first ten games, we see that bar one small spell, there never was much gap between all statistical measures, both actual and theoretical. In other words, we were performing roughly as expected over a rolling ten game period and we were perhaps a little lucky to be ultimately as high as 8th. Therefore, if we can upgrade in the goalkeeping position, this could see us improve further still, should we bring the goals conceded back towards xGA and xGA remains low next season.

To an extent, this is backed up on the cumulative xPts data too. We broadly achieved the number of points we should have done, with us dropping only two points using the cumulative differences between G-xG and GA-xGA. Accordingly to the data, we statistically could have picked up two additional points to those we achieved.

Therefore, it could be said that although 8th place was something beyond our wildest dreams before first fixture kicked off, this is an indication that we actually underperformed in our first season in Ligue 1. This comes despite the bookmakers having us odds on to be in the bottom two and relegated. Definitely some to ponder on when deciding the balance of the squad over the Summer transfer window.

Stand out player

Before we progress onto the Summer dealings, it is worth highlighting the speed at which Ali Akman became an integral part of the squad. Eighteen goals on an xG tally of fifteen, and an xG per shot of 0.25, meaning one in every four of his shots would likely result in a goal. The latter statistic was the best in Ligue 1, and for a 20-year old that is seriously impressive. Especially so given he was playing as a withdrawn striker in the false nine role. His actual xG tally was fifth best of all strikers, behind Ligue 1 top goal scorer Harry Kane, and Akman ranked second by shot to goal conversion. So despite playing in a far deeper positions than any of his peers would likely been playing in, Akman looks to have made a fantastic start to his time on the French coast. If he can improve his interlinking to set up his teammates to up his assists, his time be at HAC Foot might be limited as bigger clubs start to take notice.

Transfer planning

With the aforementioned contracts expiring, deals needed to be done to replace these players and to deepen the player pool in terms of quality.

Before the transfer window opened, a deal was done to make Arnaud Nordin’s stay a permanent one, with him happy to stay on at HAC Foot after his deal with Saint-Étienne expired. Saint-Étienne coincidently were relegated. He signed a 3-year deal on a basic salary of £9,250/week with various bonuses and clauses attached. His hard work as part of the forward line to press and win the ball back with his tackles and interceptions (T&I/90) and the willingness shown to take on his opposite number with a dribble saw him create seven assists. These metrics are easily good enough for a Ligue 1 player, so to acquire him for no transfer fee is a big bonus.

Also prior to the transfer window re-opening, Manchester United were approached to extend Hannibal’s loan. Whilst he didn’t see much over 50% of the possible minutes, his importance to the system was growing, despite his inconsistencies in performances. Both the club and player accepted the offer, so Hannibal stays in his home country for another year and on a lower wage contribution to boot. It’s not hard to see why I was so keen either given his metrics. In the first year of his loan spell, he was elite at goal involvement and key passes per game when on form. Whilst his passing success rate is low, as an attacking playmaker, this is not that much of an issue if he is creating chances and assists for his team mates. He was second in the list of key passes played by either defensive or central midfielders with more than 1,000 minutes played in Ligue 1 – he will be welcomed with open arms upon his return from holiday.

It was adjudged that Yahia Fofana did not have the required skills and attributes to step up to the No. 1 jersey, and as such, scouts had been focussed on finding a new goalkeeper. Scouts had for a long time been keeping tabs on Spaniard Juan Soriano. He’d spent the 2020/21 season on loan at Malaga from his parent club, Sevilla. Over that season he kept seven clean sheets from 41 starts, conceding 50 goals, with four player of the match awards. However, over the 2021/22 season, he had returned to Sevilla and found himself a third wheel behind Tomas Vaclik and Yassine Bounou, who shared the goalkeeping duties. With the picture clear that he wasn’t going to receive first team action at Sevilla, when we approached the once U21-capped 24-year old with a contract and promise of being the first-choice goalkeeper, he didn’t hesitate in signing a three-year deal on £6,500/week. Although a tad eccentric for my liking (15), he is excellent at one-on-ones (16), has a high level of concentration, reflexes and agility (all 15),

To replace Fontaine, we looked for an experienced player to offer a mentality of leadership and positive attitude, alongside a considerable number of minutes in Ligue 1. Defensive midfielder Abdoulaye Touré became available on a free signing after being released by Nantes. He took some convincing to join, with negotiations being protracted over a number of weeks after the player initially turned us down on two occasions, but we eventually managed to come to an agreement with the Frenchman signing a 3-year deal on £17,000/week, making him our highest paid player. At 28-years of age, he has made 175 appearances in Ligue 1 and has a fairly determined mentality with strong attributes for determination, teamwork and work rate.

Mathieu Cafaro had also been impressing domestic scouts in the Stade de Reims team. Following his transfer listing, we saw an opportunity to sign a quality young French player who could rotate with Hannibal and had the versatility to play in a number of other roles if required. A fee of an initial £2.6m, climbing to £3.2m, was agreed with Stade de Reims, with Cafaro signing a deal worth £13,000/week. If we can flip the player for a profit, this could prove a shrewd deal.

With Umut Meraş not receiving many minutes because of his consistently poor performances, another back up to Carole was required. Carole’s age of 31 meant that the Club were in a position to sign a young player with Carole passing on his experience to him on the training pitch. Guilherme Montóia was available to be able to discuss a pre-contract as S.L. Benfica had neglected to renew his contract. A considerable number of top clubs were after his signing – yet because we were in a position to offer a clear pathway for him to be a key first team player within the next two years Montóia looked favourably upon our contact offer. He did seek a reassurance that we were going to be an established Ligue 1 side over the next few years, but having achieved 8th in our first year, we felt confident we could match that promise.

Scott Fraser’s first season at the club was less than successful. It became apparent that he did not play well alongside Hannibal. Both players weren’t significant contributors to defensive actions (tackles and interceptions), and Hannibal outperformed Fraser when it came to goals and assists over the season. Whether this was due to a language barrier, the jump from League One’s MK Dons being too great or finding himself playing in a slower, a less direct and slower playing style than he was used to, it’s hard to determine, but it was clear that a replacement option was required.

Diogo Nascimento was identified as the player to come in and take Fraser’s place in the starting eleven. Available on a pre-contract agreement after running down his contract with S.L. Benfica, much like Montóia, the young Portuguese starlet was similarly wanted by a host of top European sides from most of the Big Five leagues. We moved quickly to secure his signature on a five year deal. The left footed midfielder will hopefully adapt to life quickly in Le Havre so he does not have the same fate as Fraser. The Scot will be offered out on loan to try to drum up some transfer interest with the aim of recouping a transfer profit from the sale.

If Fraser was a failure, then Boulaye Dia couldn’t have been anything more different. Dia had a fantastic campaign – his superb metrics show how important he made himself to our HAC Foot side. His twenty four goal involvements saw him in the top 90% of all wide attacking players with more than 1,000 minutes. His attacking nature saw him drive at defences, and have a better shot to goal conversion rate than players like Mbappe and Neymar. Yet when Dia wasn’t available, the drop off to players like Pité was notable. Therefore, a second option to add depth to the playing squad was required.

Scouts had spotted Ivan Šaranić playing in the UEFA-21 qualifiers, alongside fellow Croatian Tomislav Duvnjak and came back raving about both. Šaranić possesses the attributes that mark him out as an ideal initial back-up to Dia, but he was keen to impress upon us that if he was to move to France at such a young age, then he would want to do so with a fellow Croat to help him settle. Duvnjak, who was playing alongside Šaranić at GNK Dinamo Zagreb also looked like someone that we could sign to develop and then sell on, hitting the Club vision of signing players under-23 who we could flip for a profit. A bid was then tabled for him to, and whilst Duvnjak had his own reservations, his wages demands were reasonable. Both players signed for a combined £5.3m split across four years payments, rising to £7.2m after various criteria are met, largely player performance-related.

In analysing the performances of our three main centre backs, whilst Mesonero is showing the possible ability to make the step up, with the Swiss defender making the most interceptions per nine across all central defenders, Jemelka and Mayembo look to have struggled. Their tackles per ninety and tackle success rates are very poor, with Mayembo’s seeing him in the bottom five percent. I haven’t included heading data within the below player data profiles, largely because it’s not possible to discern between an attacking heading attempt and a defensive effort, but all of the HAC Foot defenders struggled to win the ball in the air. With only three defenders as an option, more depth was required, but if we could improve the quality of defenders then this would be beneficial too, especially with the metrics making it clear that Mayembo has been ground to be lacking at this level.

Scouting reports had highlighted the availability of David Costas who had not accepted contract offers with Celta Vigo. Costas likely won’t necessarily improve us in the air at only 6’0″ tall, but he will add to our ball-playing ability as he is a natural passer. Given our desire to play passing, controlled football, this should allow us to build up from the back. To add greater depth in the left centre back position, Christian Dalle Mura was signed on loan from Fiorentina as a squad option, with the intention that he goes in behind Jemelka to rotate in and out of the squad when the fixture list piles up, with nine games inside January alone after the Winter World Cup.

With these new additions to the squad, we’ve hopefully achieved our objectives in the transfer market to both strengthen and deepen the team to help prepare for the fixture madness of January and February to catch up from the games that have been moved from November and December. This was despite having only been issued a transfer budget of £6.78m – spreading payments out over four years with the use of installments helped us meet our objectives. With an overall spend in the region of £8m with regards to transfer fees, with further in add-ons if certain targets are met, were should find ourselves better resourced to avoid the so-called difficult second season.

As to how we’ve progressed against the Club objectives of signing under-23 players to sell on and from domestic lower leagues, well five out of eleven players were under the imposed age bracket. Where we missed the prescribed goals was not signing anyone from Ligue 2 or below bar technically Nordin from Saint Étienne. It’s not for the lack of player search, there just wasn’t the talent there, or if there was in the relegated teams, they wanted wages well above what we could reasonably offer with our wage structure. We’d already stretched that with some of the above signings. Hopefully this won’t be too much of an issue for the Board. To address the problem head on, two scouts were immediately assigned to Ligue 2, National leagues and the junior age group leagues for a better overview.


The next post in the series will go onto look at the 2022-23 campaign, as well as highlight some youth prospects starting to emerge from the academy, skipping the usual half season analysis. I hope you’ll return for that post. Until then, au revoir et bonne santé.

AC Le Havre 2021-22 Mid-Season Update

HAC Foot Steps

Having been promoted to Ligue 1 ahead of schedule, and having spent only around £4m in improving the squad, the bookmakers had us in the bottom five of the league after we made our additions to the squad. The Board and the players weren’t holding out too much hope when it came to avoiding the drop either, with the expectations largely to fight bravely against relegation. Understandable when our wage expenditure was a Ligue 1 low of £9.63m (see later graphic for more on this).

Being overpowered by our fellow competitors in the Ligue 1 labour market is all well and good, but with an encouraging pre-season behind us, spirits are high. If we can remain tactically solid, then we stand half-a-chance against some of our opponents.

Tactical analysis

The defensive set-up is the most obvious place to start in analysing how HAC Foot are going to go about trying to survive in Ligue 1.

A traditional back five, sees a sweeper ‘keeper with clear guidance to distributor the ball out to those directly in front of him in order to maintain possession, with our aim for purposeful and considered build up. With a more aggressive left wing back and a right back playing as a full back on support provides width in attack but also tactical solidity out of possession because of the instinct of the right back to return back to his defensive position as possession is lost.

Since none of the options at centre back are especially gifted with the ball at their feet, they’re told to play it simple when passing. If they can reduce the risk of turning the ball over to the opposition, they cut the likelihood of the opponent being able to score should they win the possession with only a solitary defender or two between them and the goal. José Mourinho riled against possession statistics after defeat to Liverpool, “It is a little bit like the efficiency of players and sometimes you say: ‘The stats say Player B had 92% of efficiency in his passing.’ But the stats don’t say that player only made passes of two metres, they don’t say that the player was a centre-back who only passed to the other centre-back”. Whilst he has a point, I am still more comfortable with a centre back who can repeatedly make that pass, potentially away from the press, than one who is like a panicked chicken with a fox bearing down on him. This approach has seen us average 57% possession in our games up to the half way point – second only to PSG.

To provide some defensive rigidity, a defensive midfielder operates as a single pivot. However, the role varies depending upon those entrusted with their name in the playing eleven. If either of the HAC Foot stalwarts, Lekhal or Fontaine play, then they act as a deep lying playmaker, looking to recycle possession and keep the ball moving as we methodically look to pick our way through an opponent’s defence. Should we pick youth team graduate, Sébastien Briand, then he plays in his more natural role of a ball-winning midfielder, acting as a combatant, utilising his bravery, teamwork and aggression.

The remaining central midfielders are more set in their roles, a mezalla on the left and an advanced playmaker on the right. The latter has been rotated between another youth graduate, Abdelli, and loanee Hannibal, whilst Scott Fraser has been assigned the mezalla role he was signed for. When on song, Hannibal can take a game by the scruff of the neck and dictate play, looking head and shoulders over anyone else on the pitch. He is only young, but if he can improve his consistency, Manchester United could have a world beater on their books.

Down the left flank, on loan Nordin plays as a winger, utilising his pace and dribbling ability to stretch opposition defences. Dia has taken well to the inside forward role on the right, cutting inside with regularity, either to meet a cross or with the ball at his feet driving at the defence.

This leaves lone front man, Ali Akman, playing almost as a hybrid false nine. His desire to push the boundaries with offside sees him more advanced than a typical false nine, but he will still often drop back into the hole between the defence and midfield of the other side to link up play with, Hannibal, Nordin or Dia. Constantly busy, his off the ball movement and anticipation has aided our style of play.

So far, by and large, it’s a system that it seems is working.

Half-season break results

As you can see from the results and our current League position, things have been going much better than anyone outside and even inside the Club would have initially expected. With the defeats, all but three (Angers, Dijon & Lens) were anticipated and of those, all of those losses were away. Further still, bar the Monaco loss, in none of the matches were we trounced. Not even away against PSG – though admittedly we were playing for the 0-0 and hardly registered a shot, never mind one on target. We were undefeated at home until Lille turned up in November, something I don’t think anyone could have dreamed about.

It’s worth revisiting the start of this review post at this point. Our wage expenditure is just £9.63m for the entire squad, yet we find ourselves 8th.

Having a strong start to the opening fixtures certainly helped bring a feeling of belonging in the top tier of French football. The new signings were clicking well. Hannibal had a goal contribution of five – or one every 198.8 minutes if you prefer; Ali Akman was performing well in the false nine role, with seven goals from fifteen appearances, and Boulaye Dia had also made fast start to life a HAC Foot, with a goal contribution of eleven (six goals and five assists) – registering a goal or an assist every 110 minutes.

This gave the recruitment team the confidence in their talent spotting abilities, with so many of the Summer transfers having seen substantial first team action and doing well. Six of those signed in the Summer had been involved in at least 80% of potential minutes thus far.

Window shopping

Their talents were to be put into action again in the January window. Prior to the closing of the Summer transfer window, Ertuğrul Ersoy demanded to leave because he felt that there was too much competition for places at centre back, presumably threatened by Vaclav Jemelka’s arrival and starting berth. He left for Kasımpaşa for £925k. Without the necessary time to replace him, the decision was made to wait until January and spend the first few months of the season identifying a series of potential candidates within the allotted wage and transfer budget. The situation was exacerbated further still when Yanga-Mbiwa was unsettled by his lack of first team action after his physical attributes taking a downturn after his lengthy last off in the previous season. He asked to be sold – with his contract expiring at the end of the season, an offer of £205k from Auxerre was gladly accepted.

Since the Board were keen to sign and develop youngsters, a number of scouts were given the remit of finding central defenders who were at most 23 years old, not paid in excess of £12k/week and valued at no more than £2m. Below are the profiles that made the final shortlist:

Elias Mesonero: Pros – Top-ranked by averaged percentiles across defensive metrics for those of whom the club had knowledge and who were interested in signing for the club, considered a leader, driven in pursuit of goals, high level of determination, anticipates situations well, likely to be a good fit with the squad, fluent French speaker, 4 U21 caps. Cons – none.


Emin Bayram: Pros – Impressive jumping reach, balanced/normal personality, fairly consistent performer, good in the air, 9 U21 caps. Cons – needs to work on first touch, won’t fit in easily to any social group, would need to learn French and Galatasaray aren’t willing to listen to any offers, whilst he wins a lot of tackles and interceptions, his tackle success rate is <80% and a good deal lower than other potential signings.


Dimitris Nikolaou: Pros – No problems adapting to another country, very brave, balanced/normal personality, enjoys big matches, fairly consistent performer, good in the air, 1 senior cap (20 U21 caps). Cons – high agent fee, poor first touch, won’t fit in easily to social group, would need to learn French, appears to give the ball away too frequently judging by passing efficiency.


Kamil Piątkowski: Pros – Strong player, fairly determined attitude, good stamina, 17 U21 caps. Cons – peripheral figure in social group, would need to learn French, looks pretty solid statistically but falls outside our transfer budget with Raków demanding his minimum release fee be paid up front for permission to speak with him.


Jan Sobociński: Pros – Model citizen, adaptable to living in new country, enjoys big matches, good in the air, good at marking, 12 U21 caps for Poland. Cons – demonstrates a lack of composure, has a competitive streak, would need to learn French and likely a peripheral figure in social group, makes almost as many fouls as he does tackles – likely to be booked frequently and be suspended/cost the team goals from free kicks when matched with his competitive streak.


As you can see, detailed player profiled were put together for each potential signing. Everything from their personality, recurring injuries, likely wage demands to details on their existing contract were assessed, beyond simply their player data – both attributes and metrics.

The stand out from the above and primary target was Elias Mesonero. Mesonero’s metrics shone – with the highest average percentile across all the key defensive statistics considered of not just the shortlisted players but of all players aged 23 or less with 250+ minutes. Other things that were looked upon favourably when evaluating Mesonero was that he had the second best average rating in the Swiss Challenge League and led the league for blocks, indicating his eye for reading the development of play. A bid was tabled, structuring the deal over three seasons to alleviate any cash flow concerns that were brewing, with Grasshoppers Zurich for £1.1m. rising to £1.4m. He joined after agreeing a contract over four and a half year for £5,750/week.

The second part of the process was to agree never to face a situation where a first team squad member was to leave and not have an identified target – either a youth team player to promote or a new player to come in from outside the club. This led to the establishment of a shortlist of players who were added to the ‘back up squad’ list. Players added to this list were deemed of sufficient quality to at least match the existing first eleven, or could have the potential to do so in the very near future. Scouts who were not assigned the duty of finding a replacement centre back were asked to monitor Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Scandinavia and Africa for information gathering with a broad net. Anyone who was highly thought of would then be monitored by the Director of Football, Jean-Michel Vandamme. His overview would help to determine whether or not they were the kind of player HAC Foot would possibly look to potentially sign.

Whilst the Club laid out their desire for young signings, older players weren’t ruled out of being shortlisted, but they had to come in under budget and be a clear and obvious improvement in the current player in possession of the shirt. It was also agreed that the shortlist was to be reviews on a six monthly basis, prior to the opening of both transfer windows so that those deemed not to be of a good fit for HAC Foot would be delisted and new additions brought on following recommendations from the scouting reports.


The next blog post will be the end of 2021-22 season. Will HAC Foot’s season continue on the right path and will Mesonero settle in to life on the French coast? Time will tell.

AC Le Havre 2020-21 – La joie de vivre

Ligue 2 – Fais toujours de ton mieux même si personne ne regarde

After the change in formation to the 433DM Wide, rolling goals against, i.e. average goals conceded over a rolling period of 10 games, plummeted to well below 0.5 goals per game. In part, it was this up-tick in the number of clean sheets which went a long way towards HAC Foot’s rise in the table from a low of 12th to the summit of Ligue 2. It is there that we stayed for a total of eight game weeks, winning Ligue 2.

It’s true that the increased frequency of goals scored meant that we were winning games relatively comfortably, but it’s clean sheets that helped deliver the wins too. In truth, as you can see from the comparison between the rolling G v xG, we considerably overachieved against the number of goals that we should have scored. This overperformance isn’t particularly concerning now. After all, promotion to Ligue 1 when we were only meant to finish 5th is fantastic. HAC Foot’s Board duly offering me a new contract, which I gratefully accept, even putting in a relegation clause that lowers my salary should we be relegated, to ensure the financial security of the club.

The most pleasing aspect of the below radar is oddly probably the pass completion. Setting the team up to retain control of the ball so that we could facilitate chance creation has yielded winning results, off the back of a high shot frequency and positive gap between xG and xGA.

On a game-by-game basis, the difference between cumulative G-xG rose to the extent that the goals we were scored at the back end of the season overcame the deficit that had been created at the half-way stage. This big upswing over and above goals we were expected to score evidentially helped our rise in fortunes. When you combine this with keeping GA under control, then this highlights the secret to success for the side.

The self-calculated xPts rose to over four points above what we should otherwise expected to have achieved. The in-game analysts agreed that we overperformed but their xPts still had us top (72.1 xPts – +4). We were truly the best team in Ligue 2 and deserved winners of the title.

Squad analysis

Taking a look at the squad profile using the number of minutes played gives the chance to review progress in utilising the club’s academy prospects.

The opportunity to blood more home grown youngsters increased as the season went on and rotation options were needed. The change in formation suited one in particular – Himad Abdelli. He became the first choice in the advanced playmaker role on the right hand side of the central midfield pairing. He was on the pitch for a total of 1,621 minutes, and contributed six goals and five assists. Given that HAC Foot have a history of naming youth academy graduates in their captaincy roles, with Fontaine currently the captain and Lekhal the vice-captain, perhaps Abdelli is future captain material?

Planning for Ligue 1

Promotion secured, and news of an £11.53m share of TV revenue from Ligue 1 to come our way over the course of the next season, the Board made a £3m transfer budget available.

With numerous first team contracts expiring on players who weren’t going to make the grade at the higher level (shaded light blue in the above graphic), this was an opportunity to free up the wage budget. This included players like Bonnet who had had his testimonial at the start of the season after 12 years of service. The alleviated expenditure on wages could then be reallocated towards new recruits to come in who would improve the quality and possibly depth of the squad. With Ba and Meddah seeing some minutes as indicated above, but far from ready for Ligue 1 football, they too were placed on the loan list. After assessing the situation with the squad and discussing about the future and the quality of the squad, it was clear recruitment was needed.

Under Chief Scout, Bernard Pascual, the recruitment team have been out looking for possible player acquisition targets and these missions yielded some recommendations that were favourably looked upon.

Four deals had already been agreed prior to the transfer window opening and before it became clear that we were to be promoted – those shaded in purple. Two of the three signings were from Africa, in particular Côte d’Ivoire – Jean N’Guessan and Ibrahima Ouattara – both prospects signed for their release fees of £275k each from RC Abidjan. Both will be added to the development list with the newly hired Loan Manager tasked to find them appropriate playing time at another club to aid their development. The third deal was one that was probably actioned too soon. Matthieu Saunier was signed to provide depth at centre back but does not look good enough to be back up at a Ligue 1 side. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The remaining deals were going to have to be both shrewd and more considered.

The other pre-agreed deals that comes under that category was for Lionel Carole, who joined from Strasbourg. He came in to provide competition in the left back role for Meraş, who was largely unimpressive following an injury hit year. The 30-year old French former youth international signed a two-year deal after his contract expired. A well-rounded player with no real weakness to his technical, mental or physical attributes, Carole adds experience to the youth that’s already been added to the side.

A deal was struck with Manchester United to bring in 18-year old French midfielder, Hannibal. The French U20 player will slot straight into the advanced playmaker role as an upgrade on Abdelli, with ratings of 15 for a lot important attributes. Paying only £5k of his wages seems like a bargain for a player of his talents. His technical attributes make him stand out from the rest of the squad – his ambitious mentality and consistency should hopefully provide him with the drive to succeed at HAC Foot.

With Romain Basque the main option in the mezzala role, Scott Fraser was brought in on another free transfer to step into the starting eleven. Being post-Brexit, Fraser counts as a non-EU player (something that’s quite that’s difficult to achieve when you look at the list of countries that are treated as EU citizens by the French). The left-footed Scot offers flexibility in playing positions given his versatility, but it’s hoped he will form a good relationship with Hannibal and either Lekhal or Fontaine in behind. Whilst not blessed with acceleration, his willingness to try high risk/reward passes and penchant for arriving late into the opponents box mark him out as a good fit for a mezzala.

Ali Akman is another teenager brought in to strengthen the first team. As previously stated, the Club is seeking to exploit transfer markets where there are ‘wrinkles’, and Turkish scout, Burul, highlighted Ali. Goals from the front man during the previous season were hard earned, and even when they did come, they came from on-loan striker Simon Banza (whose loan was renegotiated for another year as a precaution, after some initial reflectance from his parent club). Therefore, a player with not only a higher ceiling but also an improved ability in front of goal was sought. Signing on a free transfer, after being not agreeing a contract renewal with Buraspor, 19-year old Ali has the ability to play as a false nine, which could be a pivotal change in HAC’s approach play, enabling Ali to drop into space in front of the opposition back line whilst the two attacking wide players push on beyond him. Despite his young age, he looks a talent destined for bigger things than here at HAC Foot.

Speaking of wide players, new recruits were added here too. On the left, Arnaud Nordin was signed on season-long loan from Saint Étienne to provide competition for Pité who may be moved across to cater for the other attacking acquisition – more on him soon. Nordin is relatively quick and a good dribbler and although he will start out in the winger role, he will look to cut inside towards goal. Given the switch to a false nine, this should increase the threat upon goal beyond the traditional wide man. His fear of big matches is a concern, but overall consistency and relatively low cost of only £6k/week mean that he will be a valuable acquisition for the team.

The other attacking player signed is none other than Boulaye Dia. Signed from Reims for a bargain fee of just £900k, Dia hits the club’s ambition to sign players under the age of 23. Heavily backed to do well in real life, Dia looks like a good player in the making. Rather than playing up front through the middle, he will be trained to play as a right-sided inside forward. His pace, strength and finishing ability should enable him to score goals at this level.

At right back, improving the quality of options was more important. With transfer fees limited as previously stated, the search turned to more unfancied markets, in this case, Scandinavia. BK Häcken’s Nigerian defender, Godswill Ekpolo had caught the eye of scouts with his solid defending ability, work rate and physicality. The most expensive deal done over the summer window, Ekpolo arrived on a 5-year deal for £1.5m, rising to £1.7m after appearances, broken up in a series of payments over the next four years.

A left-footed centre back was missing from the first team squad and a player search using attributes for a central defender. One of the players who cropped up within budget was 26-year old Vaclav Jemelka. A naturally fit and physically strong player, with good positional sense and tackling, the Czechian was signed for £975k, rising to £1.2m, from SK Sigma Olomouc. He is somewhat limited with regards to his mental attributes, fingers crossed he won’t be exposed too often due to his poor decision-making and anticipation of what is going on around him.

After a busy transfer window with no fewer than eight additions to the first team, and more to the wider squad/HAC 2s, the squad looked like this as the season began.

Using some relatively basic accounting principles, using amortisation to divide the cost of the transfer over the duration of the contract, the total basic expenditure, before player agent fees, loyalty bonuses and player performance/appearance bonuses, all of the players brought in cost in the region of £4.6m for the first (or only) year of their contract. Less than £5m spent on, hopefully, improving the team for Ligue 1. Thanks to spreading the payments over several years, this still left some funds in the transfer budget of the original £3m for the January window, should we need it. Think on this when PSG have signed Harry Kane.


The next blog will review the half-way point of the Ligue 1 2021-22 season – time will only tell if HAC Foot have managed to get themselves in through the door of the top league in France.

AC Le Havre – Youth Intake 2020-21

Youth Intake 2021 – A golden generation…?

As you see from the image below, there appears to be at least one incredible stand out player from this year’s youth intake. Sébastien Briand is a versatile, tough 15-year-old who looks set for the big time, if not with HAC Foot, then with a big team in one of the big leagues. The rest of the players in the youth candidates are suggested to show high potential, but it’s Briand that everyone is talking about.

The robust defensive midfielder can also play in central defence and at right back, providing options for different positions should he find his pathway blocked when coming up through the ranks. After agreeing terms for a senior contract at HAC Foot, he was promoted straight into the Second Team, with U19 football being deemed to be below his level.

If you’re good enough, you’re old enough… When you’re old enough!

His ambitious character is backed up by his hard work rate and teamwork. His reading of the game with regards to his anticipation and marking of opponents belies his tender age, as does his remarkable strength. He truly looks to be incroyable et formidable. Already operating at Ligue 2 level – despite not yet being able to be registered until after his 16th birthday, which comes after the 2021 season has ended – indicates that the future for Briand is likely to be fruitful. The one dark spot against his name is his passing. As such, he was immediately given a personalised training plan to boost his abilities with the ball, in an attempt to make him not just a destroyer but also more of a creator. This will hopefully stand him in good stead when he is able to make his début for the First Team, very possibly in the 2021-22 season.

It is not anticipated that he will be with the club long, and if/when the right offer comes along it will be accepted. In the mean time, everything will be done to ensure the progress of Briand is as smooth as can be. Given his call up to the U20 World Cup not long after signing a professional deal for HAC Foot, I’d like to think this is going to be rather plain sailing.

Time will only tell how he progresses and how fast, but the early signs are very positive for a youth player that could see First Team action very quickly thanks to HAC Foot’s famous academy. It will be fascinating to watch his development as this save plays out.

The below are the other youth academy graduates. I would suggest that there is much promise, but doubt that any of them will deliver upon their potential ability given their current ability judging by their attributes.


The next blog post will be an end of season review of the 2020-21 season.

AC Le Havre 2020-21 Mid-Season Update

This mid-season update sees a review of the transfers that were made in the opening transfer window and how the season has progressed thus far at HAC Foot. There’s also a sneak peak at the youth intake.

Transfer Methodology & Practice

With a limited budget and no room in the wage budget, the available transfer funds were reallocated towards wage spending. A clear focus on transfer dealings was needed – no spare cash means next to no mistakes can afford to be made. As such, free transfers and loans would be the chosen methods of bringing players in and bids would be considered for players who were considered surplus to requirements.

As shown on the previous blog, HAC’s squad is a relatively young one, with players who have come up through their youth academy being given the chance to play first team football. The identified youth prospects that are in the wider squad don’t yet look ready for first team minutes. Only Meddah and Fofana have played any minutes this far, with Fofana seeing action in an opening day 3-1 defeat to Châteauroux. The youth prospects will be kept in the reserves to play together or given the chance out on loan to learn from first team action where possible.

With some hope that these players will be ready to represent HAC in the future, the best option is to bring in players on relatively short-term contracts, which have the added bonus of protecting the club if the recruitment were to fail. Accordingly, where possible, incoming players will be given a two year deal maximum. With gaps in terms of the level of experience in the side, older players are not automatically ruled out given the increased likelihood of these players being without a club.

Some additions have been made to the squad in line with the above restrictions that were self-imposed. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Dorian Dervite were both added to the squad to provide a challenge to Mayembo and Ersoy. As the only two centre backs in the squad and with no youth prospects to promote in this position, depth was required. Neither player wanted eye watering contracts and appeared better than other options available after Simunovic turned the club down. Fans of Newcastle United, Roma or Lyon should recognise Yanga-Mbiwa’s name – sadly, he broke a leg during one of his first games for the club and is yet to regain his fitness. Dorian Dervite’s name may be familiar to Tottenham supporters as he came up through their youth team and earned caps for France’s youth teams. However, it’s likely that Bolton Wanderers fans will be more familiar the Frenchman. Dervite’s time thus far at HAC has proved to be less than successful as the centre half has made a number of mistakes and has found himself on the bench more often than in the starting eleven as a result. As stated earlier, mistakes cannot afford to be made with transfers so time will only tell how costly these ‘misses’ will be.

The best ‘hit’ signing in terms of output would have to go to Pité. Picked up on a free, the Portuguese player wanted £11k/week, which is more than any other HAC player. However, his qualities have shone through and are seemingly more than justifying this outlay. With six goals and four assists, he has been a big upgrade on any wide player already at the club. As his minutes played demonstrate, he’s already become one of the first names on the team sheet. A versatile player, he has been playing as an inside forward on the right wing, cutting in on his favoured left foot and appearing at the back post to finish crosses from the left. His conversion rate of 12% is pretty good, and bested only by two of the other forward players in the squad.

Yannis N’Gakoutou is the other permanent addition to the side, again being picked up on a free transfer. Whilst initially unfancied by the coaching staff, his attributes appear well suited to the wing back role on attack, at least if you ignore his lack of natural fitness. He’s so far contributed a number of useful crosses, taking advantage of the space in front of him created by Pité cutting inside and dragging the opposing defender with him.

Goals were seemingly impossible to come by for HAC in the early part of the season for striker Thiaré. With an xG of only 2.68 in 901 minutes and no goals scored, Simon Banza was brought in on loan from RC Lens after impressing off the bench with three goals in three substitute appearances. Banza has added more dynamism to the front line with more movement off the ball and has been instrumental to a change in fortunes at HAC since his arrival (more on this later). Within 487 Ligue 2 minutes, he’s already scored five goals, with an xG of 3.31 – 0.78 goals/90. His goal conversion rate of 30% is exceptional – scoring his goals from just fourteen shots. Fingers crossed Banza’s performance can be maintained over the rest of the season.

£215k was raised from player sales, the bulk of which came from Khalid Boutaïb (£95k – KV Oostende) Ayman Ben Mohamed (£76k – AC Ajaccio) and Abdelwahed Wahib (30k – Châteauroux). All of these players were adjudged to be surplus to requirements due to better players being available in their respective positions.

League Table – on the right track?

As you can see from the graphic below, it hasn’t always been plain sailing for HAC over the first half of the season. With intermittent form, a loss against Guingamp saw HAC slip to 12th in Ligue 2 – well off the target of play-offs.

The gap between the rolling number of goals for and against, both in terms of actual and xG/xGA, was narrowing quickly and so a tactical switch was implemented. Shifting away from the 4-2-3-1 to a slightly more considered 4-1-2-2-1/4-3-3 DM Wide saw a rise in the number of chances being created. With the ball being retained more easily, with wide and advanced players having the safe go to option to play back to the defensive midfielder to re-establish an attack, fewer balls were being forced and lost, leading to fewer turnovers and counter-attacks from opposition sides. If you take a look at the below graphic, the 4-2-3-1 was actually hurting the side, with opponents creating more clear cut chances per 90 than we were creating for ourselves. The bottom right part of the graphic shows the last five games under the 4-3-3 DM Wide – only one goal conceded in the last five games with an xG of just 2.55 – a significant improvement in both the quality and quantity of chances being created against us has improved our standing in Ligue 2 no end.

This adjustment might look defensive, taking a player out of the attacking central strata, but it actually added to the attacking fluidity of the team because there was now more space ahead of them to run into and meant that the opposition defenders now had to mark players that were running at them rather than those trying to find pockets of space. Given that many teams were sitting catenaccio-type approach against HAC, space within this area was at a premium. This also helps to explain why Thiaré has such a low xG, the players around him were struggling to progress the ball through to him to take advantage of his elite speed and put him through on goal. The under performance against xG is also explained in the below radar graphic demonstrating our performance against the Ligue 2 average. Clearly we’re above average (in a good way), which of course is explained through our league position. Our xG/Game to Goals/Goals drop off is a concern though.

Indeed, using the in-game graphics, our analysts have us down as being shot happy but wasteful, which is curious given our tactical instruction to work the ball into the box. Perhaps our players grow frustrated by the defensive low block in front of them and then shoot front distance. Yet when we do score, it’s from within the box, with just two exceptions (see the bottom right of the graphic). You can also see how important the right hand side and central parts of the pitch are to our build up with the frequency of assists from these areas (see top left of the graphic).

As part of the move to 4-1-2-2-3/4-3-3 DM Wide, some player roles were also changed, with the deep-lying playmaker who previous sat on the right side of central midfield switching to an attacking playmaker on attack, and the advanced forward changing to a pressing forward to reduce the gap between attack and midfield. This helped to avoid the forward becoming isolated in the build-up play, linking up a little more with those around him, as well as pressing opposition defenders to stop them lumping long balls for their attackers to run onto over our high defensive line.

Whether playing 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 DM Wide, we haven’t faced many shots per game, but have seen opposition forwards score at a rate of just shy of 14 shots per 100 taken. This may not sound bad, but that’s the second worst in Ligue 2. The fact that we don’t face many shots is therefore a blessing. Our mantra of keeping hold of the ball in possession is clearly a necessity to reducing the frequency of shots faced. Through balls and set pieces account for 63% of the goals conceded – fingers crossed the changes made to the tactic help minimise the regularity of both, with an extra player in the defensive midfield pivot.

Despite this, the gap between the xG and the actual number of goals scored is somewhat of a concern. Hopefully, as players adjust to this tweak to the system and adapt to their new roles, the frequency of goals will rise and the under performance against the xG will disappear.

You would also think that having seen fortunes seemingly improve following the change in tactic that the expected points (xPts) would be broadly in line with actual points, and to a degree, you’d be right. Mikel Arteta would be relatively pleased. Yet according to some calculations taking from here, using both xG and xGA then looking at the difference between the two across each game, there is still some improvement to be had from this HAC side. The change in tactic does appear to have steadied things from the precipice that they were headed down following the defeat to Guingamp, but the side are still light around three points from where xPts has them at the half way point in the season. Only an over-performance against both xG and xGA will see that gap disappear. With both on the ‘wrong side’ thus far on a cumulative basis, this does not look likely to be eradicated any time soon.

Indeed if we take things a step further and look at cumulative G-xG and GA-xGA then we see a chronic under-performance in terms of goals scored against what the metrics tell us that HAC should have scored. Around six goals more should have been scored. Additionally, the team has conceded two extra goals than they ought to have done given the probabilities. A swing of eight goals over a nineteen game period could have had a dramatic impact upon HAC’s fortunes over the season so far. If they are to reach their goals of teaching the play-offs, it’s likely that they will need to rectify their relative waywardness in front of goal and look to be more clinical.

Youth intake – first glance

Looks promising given that this is rather the point of the save. Let’s hope it’s as good when it comes to March.


The next blog post will focus on the above youth intake.

Football Manager 2021 – AC Le Havre

For Football Manager 2021, I’ve decided upon AC Le Havre. Given the addition of xG to the Football Manager series, this save and indeed this blog was going to continue the focus on team and player metrics as per the approach I adopted for FM20. However, as FM Stag has documented in FM Slack, metrics appear to be very much broken to the point of being rendered useless when comparing against players against leagues without human managers. Even within human manager leagues, data is wrong with tackles attempted and key tackles not being registered across any games whatsoever.

I will likely still use some metrics to compare across the league that I manage in, largely relying upon the player radars that are in game, but beyond that it’s going to be impossible to use metrics for recruitment purposes. This does rather makes you wonder what the point is for recruitment analysts in the game if SI can’t get the metrics to be simulated properly.

Why AC Le Havre?

My reasoning for choosing AC Le Havre was because of their famed youth academy. There are a number of high profile past academy graduates that have come through and out of Le Havre – including but not limited to Paul Pogba, Lassana Diarra, Dimitri Payet, and current Manchester City pairing Riyad Mahrez and Benjamin Mendy. Throughout FM20, I did not see any youth graduates come through that were even close to ever pushing for first team football despite playing for over a combined ten seasons at both AC Milan and Liverpool. My hope is that by taking over at Le Havre, their patience towards demands for promotion to Ligue 1 and their youth academy should enable me to develop youth prospects from their youth academy.

As you can see from the above screenshot, the youth facilities are listed as ‘great’, as is the training facilities. This should, with a lot of luck, see high quality youth prospects being generated through our youth recruitment. Fingers crossed they will be prospects that will find themselves in the first team in coming years.

AC Le Havre start the game with some youth prospects in their youth squad with Daylam Meddah, Josué Casimir, Ylan Gomes and Abdoullah Ba. Back-up goalkeeper Yahia Fofana also looks to be a player with reasonable potential. Their training will be bespoke, rather than left to the AI and their progress monitored throughout the season. Ba and Meddah are shown for your own viewing.

Squad analysis

Taking data from transfermarkt.com on the minutes played by AC Le Havre players during the Ligue 2 2019-20 season, we also see that AC Le Havre aren’t afraid to play youth players, with a number of them playing more than 50% of the minutes available over the course of the league season. It’s noticeable how few ‘prime’ age players played considerable minutes for the team – this is likely because these types of players are either fully developed and asking for wages above a level that AC Le Havre can afford, or because they have been replaced by younger options that the club could develop. The latter definitely appears to be the case at Le Havre, with the former being more difficult to prove.

The issue in taking on this team? Only three of the six youth prospects remain. In truth, the club only owned four of the players that played more than 50% of the available minutes. Both Éric Ebimbe and Tino Kadewere have returned to their parent clubs following loans. The bigger problem is the departure of players like Pape Gueye, who left on a free transfer to Olympique Marseille. In fact, AC Le Havre recouped exactly zero euros from transfer fees in the off-season. Of course, this is entirely unsurprising given the financial impact of the pandemic, but this is also something to take into consideration given AC Le Havre’s business model evolves around developing younger players and selling them on to fund the running of club. Without the incoming transfer fees; no prize money on offer in Ligue 2; only £2.5m being generated in sponsorship money by the club and French football in a financial crisis following the collapse of the MediaPro TV deal, finances are going to tight in the extreme. Therefore, development of the youth prospects is going to be crucial if the club is going to make any money going forwards. Equally, any incomings are likely to do so on free transfer only – the club isn’t in a position to be spending money on transfer fees.

Note that the club also released players who did to play many minutes – this shows a ruthlessness to the club and an inability in the current situation to carry any excess wage. Ayman Ben Mohamed looks to have failed in terms of the number of minutes played – as such, his ability will be reviewed upon taking over. With regards to Victor Lekhal, he had a long-term injury, which explains his lack of minutes. The other problem that crops up from the above graphic – Tino Kadawere scored 20 goals over last season, with Jamal Thiaré scoring 8 goals from a not dissimilar number of minutes. Time will tell if Thiaré can up his scoring efforts.

Staff Recruitment

Under the previous managerial incumbent, Paul Le Guen, Le Havre have sought to utilise markets beyond France to bring players in at a transfer fee below the levels expected from teams in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2. Using Le Guen’s contacts from his time in Turkey, two Turkish players have previously been brought into Le Havre – Umut Meraş and Ertugrul Ersoy. Given the link, Yilmaz Burul was recruited to help fill the gaps in the recruitment team, which were considerable given AC Le Havre start with only a Chief Scout. It helps that Burul has some excellent scouting attributes, although he is a more than little blinkered to Turkey, so he won’t significantly increase our world knowledge when it comes to player knowledge. Hopefully his fantastic adaptability rating will help him to adjust to other countries when assigned scouting assignments by Chief Scout, Bernard Pascual.

To supplement Burul’s appointment, a Director of Football, Jean-Michel Vandamme was brought in. Formerly at Lille, his experience at a top Ligue 1 club should help the club to progress. Jeannot, Brisson and N’Kongue have also signed contracts as scouts to expand the recruitment team, alongside two recruitment analysts.

Decisions with regards to recruitment cannot be taken lightly given the lack of funds to spend on players, so it’s important that mistakes are minimised. Data on player personality, past injuries and naturally their player ability will all be gathered and analysed when potential incomings are reviewed.

Tactical set-up

With regards to tactical set up, a 4-2-3-1 will be the formation of choosing, with a focus on dominating possession. With the aim of breaking teams down slowly, distribution from the goalkeeper assigned to be given to the defenders to build up the attack. Shorter passing will be adopted, instructions to dribble less and playing at a low tempo are all designed to maintain control of the ball and limit the frequency of opposition attacks. The players will hold shape if the ball is won back, but counter-press when the ball is lost, with a more urgent approach towards pressing intensity. The team is well-balanced when it comes to right and left-footed, which means that even in central midfield, left-footed Basque can play on the left hand-side of the midfield slot. Player recruitment will be required to provide more options for this shape, but as explained earlier, these will need to be constrained to free transfers only.


The next update will come at the half-way point to the season – with a focus on player trading and progress of the team with regards to results and expected points.