AC Ajaccio: 2015/16 Ligue 2 Preview
Coach: Olivier Pantaloni
Stadium: Stade Francois Coty
Last Season: 17th in Ligue 2
Goalkeeper is a problem area for ACA. They have lost Oumar Sissoko (which might not be a bad thing because he struggled last season), but his replacement looks set to be Riffi Mandanda – the younger brother of OM’s Steve – and Riffi has yet to produce anything remarkable in his career, although is still only 22. He impressed during offseason trials and looks set to be given the No.1 jersey.
Anthony Scribe will be the backup, but he is as unconvincing as Mandanda. However, overall the defence wasn’t actually an issue for Ajaccio during the previous campaign. They conceded the fewest amount of goals out of anyone in the bottom half. Therefore it is slightly mysterious that they have shipped off a couple of their regular starters. Cedric Kante was perhaps getting too old at 36, but his solidity at the back might be missed. Full-backs Eric Marester and Laurent Abergel were not too bad either, but both have departed.
On the positive side, centre-back Zakaria Diallo comes in from Dijon, where he was completely wasted last year and not given enough minutes on the field. He could easily rebound here, as will the competitive Anthony Lippini who has Ajaccio in his blood. Corinne Diacre wasn’t a fan of him at Clermont, but he will bring a lot of desire and fight to the team. ACA should still be solid at the back, the likes of Joris Sainati and Paul Babiloni are still there, whilst youngster Pope Cisse was unearthed last campaign and should kick on this year too.
There is only one place to start here and that’s with Johan Cavalli who is the clear standout star. Ajaccio only scored 32 goals last season. He scored four of them and assisted in 11 others. When they were in Ligue 1, Cavalli was their one true quality player, but the question is how much longer can they rely on him.
Cavalli turns 34 in September so age isn’t on his side. Ajaccio might get one more elite season out of him at this level but there are no guarantees now. The Corsicans have lost Benoit Pedretti and Gary Coulibaly, both of whom are more than competitive in the second tier. Ryan Frikeche arrives from Angers and should do OK, whilst they’ve also snapped up Christophe Vincent from SC Bastia.
Take Cavalli out of this midfield and it could be pretty weak. They have to hope that younger players like Claude Goncalves and Hugo Aine develop, otherwise they could be a little bit lightweight through the middle.
ACA had the third worst goalscoring record last season and this was clearly their main problem area. Nicolas Fauvergue scored 12 of those goals and can at least be relied upon to repeat that tally. He’s been a consistent performer at this level for years and his strong physique is especially a weapon. Out wide, they have Benoit Lesoimier and Hugo Videmont. The former can be useful when fit, but that rarely seems to happen these days. The latter is a useful young talent who might develop. Their one (current) new signing in this department is Riad Nouri from Nimes. The positives are that he is versatile and very experienced in Ligue 2, but the consensus seems to be that he is no more than an average player. Ajaccio need more threat upfront otherwise they will continue to struggle in the goalscoring department.
They say you should ‘never go back’ but that’s exactly what club legend Olivier Pantaloni did midway through last season, making the coaching switch from Tours. In the past, he achieved a superb promotion with ACA, and also miraculously kept them in Ligue 1. He is greatly respected in Corsica and loved by the fans. He is highly rated as a coach and often seems to get the most out of his players. Ajaccio were poor under him last campaign but it is never easy to join midway through a campaign.
Traditionally, the Corsicans have always been strong on their island home, yet inexplicably they lost a whopping seven times in front of their own fans in 2014/15. City rivals GFC Ajaccio demonstrated the advantage of playing here and you would expect ACA’s home record to improve this year. Don’t expect too much from them on the road. They had the third worst record out of anyone last season and historically have struggled on their travels.
Expectations were that Ajaccio would suffer a hangover last season, but it was even worse than anyone could possibly imagine. We are continuing to see the fallout from their disastrous Ligue 1 campaign of 2013/14 and Olivier Pantaloni is going to have to keep picking up the pieces. ACA finished 17th last season and an improvement on that position is almost a certainty. They will be tactically strong under Pantaloni and should be defensively sound. But a lack of creativity and goals could be an Achilles heel yet again. It’s likely they will end up in mid-table and be a fairly boring team to watch.
Prediction – 11th