In part 1, I looked at Franklin’s time in Singapore and Thailand and in part 2, the Southeast Asian expedition continues as he describes about his time in Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia before discussing his time with the Central African Republic National team.
Venturing Into Vietnam
Hoang Anh Gia Lai FC in the V.league 1 (the Vietnamese topflight) would mark the beginning of his chapter in Vietnam. Interestingly, at the time, Hoang Anh Gia Lai had a partnership with Arsenal JMG academy and a French coach, Guillaume Graechen, helmed the club.
The partnership with the JMG academy was a big reason why Franklin joined the Vietnamese outfit. JMG had been started by Jean-Marc Guillou, who played alongside Arsene Wenger in the French National Team. They have established academies in various corners of the world and a slew of high-profile players had emerged from these institutions.
“The team was very young and I was one of the oldest. The objective of the season was to survive the V.League 1. Thankfully, we did survive and by the end of the season, I moved once again to another team. This time, I moved to another Vietnamese team, Long An FC.”
However, Franklin would only play a single season with Long An before ending his stint in Vietnam and moved on to the next Southeast Asian state.
The Final Legs In The Malay Archipelago
After tasting football in Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, Malaysia would be his next stop with UiTM, his new employers. During his time at UiTM, he would meet his long-term agent and great friend Razeen Kalid. Franklin began the season off very well in the Malaysia Premier League, and Razeen remarked how ‘‘many other clubs in Malaysia began to take notice.’’
Franklin remembered these words before his side’s game against the mighty Johor Darul Ta’zim and he knew a good showing against JDT would guarantee him a move to some of the best teams in Malaysia.
However, lady luck was not on his time around and despite some stellar performances for UiTM, he suffered one of the worst injuries against JDT.
“This Brazilian player and I went for the ball. It was 50-50 and I get the ball just before him but he falls on my knee. So, as a result, my ligament tore. Maybe not a complete 100% tear? I’d say 75%. I remember the first doctor I went to see told me that I needed surgery and then I checked in with a doctor in France, they said no. Then, I went to see another doctor in Malaysia and he said he knew the first doctor and that there was no need for surgery unless it’s a 100% tear. Instead, he said that the first doctor just wanted to make money.”
Not requiring surgery, Franklin returned to France for his rehabilitation and when he returned to Southeast Asia, he joined then Indonesian second division outfit, PS Tira (now known as Persikabo 1973). The club is the army team in Indonesia and Franklin linked up with the squad mid-way through the season. After helping the team survive relegation yet again, Franklin was primed for a Malaysian comeback.
However, it wasn’t a return to UiTM for the Central African Republic International. Rather, it was PKNP that he joined. PKNP had just promoted from the Malaysian Premier League (Second Tier) and Franklin was only one of two foreign players in the squad. It’s safe to say there was a lot of expectations placed on him.
He was deployed in the heart of midfield during the initial stages of his PKNP tenure and it went really swell up till – you may have guessed it – the midway point of the campaign.
“We lost our striker to injury. So, we signed a new one but just before the second half of the season began, he got injured as well. One day before the first game of the second half of the season, the coach [fielded] me as a striker. For the next three months, I helped the team as a striker and I scored 5 goals and when we managed to stay in the Super League.
The thing is Franklin did not want to become this journeyman player. If it were up to him, he would have loved to play at a club for 10 years. yet, different circumstances like his injuries and the foreign player quota prevented that reality from materializing.
Selangor United came knocking on Franklin’s door during the off-season and he signed up with the club. However, a dream start turned into a nightmare when the club stopped paying his wages during the latter half of the season. Despite that, Franklin continued playing and finished the season with Selangor United, helping them survive relegation from the Malaysian Premier League.
Selangor would however be the last club in Southeast Asia he would play for before returning to France.
International Experience with Central African Republic
As I mentioned in the first part, Franklin captured my attention when he first arrived in Singapore because he was one of a few international players plying their trade for Étoile FC. Franklin was a standout player for the Central African Republic and, according to some sources, is the second-most capped player for the national team.
The defensive dynamo has come up against some of the world’s best, including Liverpool’s Mo Salah, Marouane Chamakh and Mohamed Zidan. Even though the Central African Republic is a small country and not as organised as other major African nations, the team always played with passion and caused many upsets during Franklin’s tenure. However, Franklin was never able to qualify for the African Cup of Nations with his national team.
“Whenever I linked up with the national team, they used to call me the ‘Asian man” because I came from so far to play for the national team. I really love my country and I will always represent my country if possible.”
For the longest time, Central African Republic had a reputation of never losing at home. However, once war broke out in the state, the team was forced to play their “home” games in other states and it wasn’t long before that record gets shattered.
“It’s not the same as playing in your own country with the fans. Now, we see the team playing in front of no fans because of the war and you can’t expect them to be at their best because having the fans’ support helps to motivate and drive us. Once, we were top 50 in the world and top 10 based on our FIFA rankings. Now, the ranking keeps going down.”
Geoffrey Kondogbia is probably the most high-profile Central African Republic player that many football fans would probably know. Recently winning the La Liga with Atlético Madrid, many FIFA Ultimate team players would remember how his nationality messed up their chemistry links on the game. Interestingly, Franklin and Kondogbia essentially grew up together in Paris and are practically family.
“I told him to come to play for his country because, in Africa, he would be king. In the beginning, it was not easy for him because of injuries. He was also moving to a new team. You know from Valencia to Atlético. Our future is bright, though. We have Kondogbia but also many young players in France. I want to come back to contribute as a coach or help the football system.”
Thoughts & Future Plans
I couldn’t help but ask franklin about his time in Southeast Asia and for him to rate the leagues.
“Malaysia was very organized football-wise. The money is good but in terms of the quality of football, I think it is a little bit lower than Vietnam and Thailand. It is still a good league. In Indonesia, no other country beats them for their fans. Every match you have 20,000 to 25,000 fans. It was so different from Malaysia and Thailand. I do think Indonesia and Malaysia have similar levels of football.”
While many players would have hung up their boots by the time, they turned 35 years old, Franklin is still in fact playing competitively. Turning out for Racing Besançon in the Championnat National 3, the fifth tier of French football, he was also coaching the Under-16s of another club and plans to take up his coaching badges in the near future.
Who knows? A return of Southeast Asia in some coaching capacity is always a possibility and that may happen sooner rather than later!
When Tampines Rovers take on Asian titans Gamba Osaka on Friday, it will be a real David versus Goliath encounter. On one hand, you have the runners-up to the Singapore Premier League who will feature in Asia’s premier continental competition for the first time. Regarded as minnows by the wider Asian football fraternity, you might…
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…
You can learn a lot from a football player by his goal celebration. Kylian Mbappé’s understated shoulder fold comes to mind, a shout-out to his brother’s celebration of choice after scoring a goal in FIFA.A larger-than-life athlete, however, deserves a more glorious trademark – which calls to mind Cristiano Ronaldo and his now iconic (and…