Yes, I have a knack for finding former Étoile FC players.
When the 2011 Étoile FC team first got announced, a few names caught my eye. These players had international caps for African nations before their stint with Singapore. Jonathan Justin had turned out for Mauritius. Mohamed Doumbouya clocked in an appearance with Mali in 2008, and of course, there was Franklin Anzité. Ten years ago, the Central African Republic International caught my attention after a Wikipedia search showed that he had played for some noteworthy teams like AC Ajaccio and Swindon Town.
After a pretty impressive season with Étoile, he signed with Home United the following year. This would mark the start of a football tour across Southeast Asia, and Franklin would play in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. I sincerely believe that he is one of the best graduates of the Étoile FC project and is probably second to Frédéric Mendy in what has been a pretty illustrious career.
As I mentioned, Franklin played for AC Ajaccio and Swindon Town, but it was at FC Martigue where his Journeyman phase was about to begin.
Before His Southeast Asian Expedition
“Really, I will tell you the truth. I never thought of playing for so many years in Asia. At the beginning [of my career], the plan was to have my career in Europe and play for the Central African Republic National Team. Possibly, help the national team to an African Cup of Nations. Then I got injured and that threw my plans off course. The transfer window had been closed and I did not know what to do.
“So, I had a friend who played in Charlton Athletic [Kelly Youga] and he came from Lyon, which was also where Johan Gouttefangeas came from. So [Kelly] introduced me to Gouttefangeas, who told me that he had a team in Asia. He said the club wasn’t playing in one of the top leagues but it will be a French team and it will be easy to adapt. So the coach called me up and told me how they had won the league the previous season .”
For Franklin, playing time was crucial for him to get selected for the national team.
The Start Of The Journey In Singapore
Arriving in Singapore, Franklin was blown away by the country. The hardworking mentality of Singaporeans, the clean and green environment and the great quality of life pleasantly surprised him.
A solitary season with Étoile FC saw him finish 5th in the league before the club pulled out of the league for the 2012 season. Many players were left without a club, and while some were lucky to secure a move in Singapore or somewhere else in the region, most players had to pack their bags and return home. Fortunately for Franklin, he was one of the lucky ones.
Franklin would sign a contract with Home United, and he thanks both Coach Lee Lim Saeng and Mendy for helping him. Yet, it could have been all so different for Franklin.
“After the first season with Étoile, I came back to France and I was trying to look for another team in France but it was difficult. I had some contact with a Kazakhstani team so I had to go down for a trial in Turkey – the team was there for pre-season. I played one [non-official] match for the team and they told me that they wanted to sign me but it was too early to sign. The transfer window had not opened. We’ll come back in one month to sign you.
“It was during this period when Mendy called me and said, ‘Coach Lee is looking for centre-back and he likes the way you play.’ He then asks, “do you want to play with me?’ I said of course. Last season, I was marking him and I know how good he is and this season he wants to play for me. Also, I knew how good Home United was in Singapore and they were going to be playing in the AFC Cup that season.”
That was it. Franklin gets his stuff from his house in Paris and he departs for Singapore.
Even though financially, the offer from Kazakhstan was good, Franklin felt that his first year in Singapore was so brilliant that he wanted to extend his stay. There were several other reasons why he decided to stay. Learning under the tutelage of Coach Lee was one of them.
“This guy is a very big [stature-wise]. You know, he played the World Cup in France in 1998. He also played as a centre-back and I played as a centre-back under him. I played at defensive midfield at first so he was the one who taught me so much about this position as centre-back. It was good for me. He was the first one to put me there in the [heart of defence]. And because of that, I played in the national team as a centre-back. So, thank you Coach Lee.”
Yet, playing in the AFC Cup was also crucial because Franklin realized that if he did well in that tournament with Home United, he could potentially sign a better deal with the Protectors or secure new opportunities in the region.
Toughening It Out In Thailand
His stint in Singapore would only last a season before a new opportunity beckoned elsewhere – this time Thailand – but moving after every season or so would be something that would characterise his playing career in Southeast Asia. Take a wild guess as to who Home United signed to replace Franklin? Yeap, that’s right, Sirina Camara.
Besides Franklin, Mendy would also end his tenure with Home United and move to Portugal to play with Estoril.
Franklin would first sign with Samutsongkhram F.C. to begin the Thai chapter of his professional career. Yet, Franklin did not like the coach’s playstyle. With an overbearing emphasis on physicality and long balls, Franklin was also not a fan of the lengthy training sessions he had to endure.
“It’s no problem if it’s tough because football is tough but for me, it wasn’t the right place. In England, it was tough but this was way too old school.”
However, after the start of the season, the club asked Franklin if he was interested in a loan move to Thai second-tier side Trat FC. Franklin had limited knowledge of the Thai football scene at the time but thankfully could seek advice from former Étoile FC teammate and goalkeeper, Antonin Trilles, who was playing at Bangkok United since 2012.
“I asked Antonin about Trat because to be honest, I was not enjoying it at Samutsongkhram and I know for a fact that [Antonin] knew about the team having spent a year in the country. He said that he played against the team during the pre-season and said they were outstanding. He said they played with a very good style and they were excellent on the ball. And [most importantly], they paid on time.”
Why was he loaned out?
According to Franklin, another Thai club had closed down and the Samutsongkhram F.C management wanted to sign that team’s foreign centre-back instead. It was a no brainer for Franklin, but he had to depart to play national team fixtures while the deal was being negotiated. When he returned to Thailand, officials from Samutsongkhram brought him back to sign on the dotted line and the deal was sealed.
It would be a fantastic start to the season for Franklin and Trat, who had been recently promoted from the third tier of the Thai football system [then known as the Regional League Division 2]. In the first half of the season, Trat were in the running for a promotion spot.
However, during the latter half of the season, things did not go quite as planned and the club finished 7th – still a worthy accomplishment but not the promotion spot that would have given them a fairy tale ending.
What happened though?
Well, Franklin believes three reasons for their inability to keep the momentum going during the second half of the season. Firstly, just like in Samutsongkhram, the weekly training load was too heavy and this wore out players really quickly by the mid-point of the season. Secondly, for many of the players, this was the first time they played in the Thai second tier, and they were initially playing with a lot of excitement. However, coupled with the heavy training regime, this excitement was bound to end sooner rather than later. And lastly, by the second half of the season, the other Thai sides became familiar with the Trat style of play and learned to counter it. There was no longer that surprise factor.
“That being said, I liked my time in Trat. The president is a very nice guy and I am still in contact with him. During my time in Trat, I also played against Ayutthaya FC. They were managed by this English coach [Phil Stubbins], whose wife was Australian and at the end of the season, he would fly to Australia. So he calls me up and tells me to meet him in the airport before he flies off because he wants to speak to me.”
Franklin was amused at this request and he was genuinely curious as to what Stubbins had to say in person and made his way over to meet him. At the airport, Stubbins offered Franklin an opportunity to play for Ayutthaya the following season and quite literally jotted all the terms Franklin wanted on a piece of paper. The next day, Stubbin’s agent contacted Franklin and he swiftly went to sign for Ayutthaya. It was a nice change for Franklin, who need not attend a trial to secure a transfer.
On top of that, Franklin enjoyed having the mid-week off day. It reminded him of his time in England where no one trained on a Wednesday – clearly something that Stubbins incorporated from the British footballing culture.
The first leg was going well for Ayutthaya but then Phil Stubbins left mid-way through the season to join A-league team Newcastle Jets. Like in Trat, Franklin’s team declined in the second half of the season and he left the club following the conclusion of the campaign. It would also mark the end of Franklin’s time in the land of a thousand smiles and a new Southeast Asian state and league became his home.
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