Guide to the 98/99 DB – Massive shoes to fill: AJ Auxerre

It’s time to hop back on The MadScientist’s time machine and take a trip to the 1998-99 season. This time, we leave the heights of the Premier League and move to the league of the recently crowned World Cup winners. French football is living an unprecedented golden age, and so is our recommended club; however, you’ll have some pretty massive shoes to fill if you want to keep AJ Auxerre a contender.

Six hundred francs

One of the many casualties of the arrival of modern football was the era-setting managers. You couldn’t tell back in 1998, but very soon the days of a single man taking into his hands the destiny of a club for decades were ending. In the English game, no move symbolises this as much as Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, which was quickly followed by the last nail in the metaphorical coffin, Arsène Wenger’s resignation. However, in the French game, the warning would come long before.

There’s virtually nothing more rewarding in Football Manager than taking a side from the lower leagues and propelling them to greatness, and it could be argued that nobody did it in real life quite like Guy Roux did with Auxerre. When he was given the job as manager, the Burgundian side languished in the regional divisions, and by the time he was done, they were French champions. And yet, by 1998-99, the end looks nigh, and whoever takes over after him will have to do it under his shadow.

Guy Roux joined Auxerre for the first time as a 16 year old and left 51 years later for the last time

For a man so deeply identified now with Auxerre, Roux’s life began quite some distance away in Colmar, a town in northern France near the German border, in 1938. His connection with Burgundy was born during the early years of World War II; his father was taken prisoner, so the family decided to relocate west to Appoigny, just ten kilometres north of Auxerre. At the age of 16, Roux made his first-team debut for AJ Auxerre in the nearby Burgundy League; it was the first chapter in his 50-year relationship with the club.

AJ Auxerre was founded in 1887 by Apollinaire Geste, vicar of the Saint-Pierre church, as the Saint-Joseph Patronage, with the Abbot Ernest Deschamps being made its president. When at the turn of the century, as the idea of ​​a separation of Church and State began to take root, Deschamps took advantage of the existence of a law which allowed him to transform the religious association into a sports association based on Christian principles, which became the Association de la Jeunesse Auxerroise. Activities practised at the association included gymnastics, military fanfare music, shooting and football.

The first recorded games were played in 1905 against members clubs of the Gymnastics and Sports Federation of French Patronages, with AJ Auxerre establishing themselves as the best Burgundian club in the federation by winning the Burgundy Championship uninterrupted between 1906 and 1914. In 1917 they became one of the founding members of the Coupe de France, although they were eliminated in the first round. However, when professionalisation arrived in French football in 1932, the club struggled to make waves, getting stuck in the regional Burgundian divisions. It would be almost another thirty years until the club made the decision that changed it forever. 

The AJ Auxerre ground still bears the name of its founder, the Abbot Deschamps

By 1961, Guy Roux had understood his future wasn’t as a footballer, never leaving the amateur level. In 1957 he moved another 250 km south to the town of Limousin to continue his education, playing for Stade Poitevin in the regional division, and then again in 1958 when he took a job as a teacher in Limoges, joining Limoges FC who played in the third tier, still an amateur level. His first coaching training would come in 1960 when he was selected for a learning trip to Britain; Roux wrote to Arthur Rowe, former Tottenham Hotspur manager who was then coaching Crystal Palace and did the internship there, training with the first team for a month.

After learning that AJ Auxerre was looking for a new manager, Roux, still 22 years old at that time, sent an ambitious application, detailing the plans he had for the future of the club, focusing on youth development. Despite that, ambition was far from club president Jean Garnault’s mind. “If you give me the job, I will give up match bonuses and settle for a salary of 600 francs”, was Roux’s down-to-earth proposal, and in the end he was hired simply because the cheapest of all the applicants.

Regardless, the frugal, youth-focused approach paid dividends. He did not only take up the coaching side of club running, conducting training sessions, working on transfers and selecting the team but did other jobs (much like a young Brian Clough in his early days), operating the club’s scoreboard and dealing with nearby farmers, getting them to donate manure to better grow the training ground’s grass. Roux cultivated a professional mentality in the club’s volunteer employees, centred around work ethic and sacrifice-oriented culture.

Roux (left, tackling) was player-manager until 1970

Auxerre struggled between 1962 and 1963 as the then-24-year-old manager did his military service, finishing twice near the bottom of the table, but upon his return in 1964 they went back to the top half of the table, and hard work eventually paid in 1969-70, when Auxerre won the Burgundy Honor Division and gained promotion to the Division 3, still amateur football, but the first of the national divisions. This, in Roux’s own words, would become his happiest memory in football: “That night I waited for the first copies of the local papers to come out so I could read what was written and celebrate until dawn,” he recalls in his autobiography.

The team’s quality would show as their start to life in the third tier proved an easy transition. After two seasons finishing on the podium and a Coupe de France run in 1972-73, Auxerre was promoted in 1973-74. They actually finished fourth, but since the top three teams were B-teams, they gained the right to play in Division 2, the first professional division in French football.

“The difference between success and failure is attention to detail”, one claimed Roux. At Auxerre he left nothing to chance

They quickly became established as a second-tier side, with consecutive top-half finishes. However, Auxerre’s first big splash under Roux would come in the 1978–1979 season. They went on a Coupe de France run, beating bigger sides like LOSC Lille and would-be champions RC Strasbourg to reach the final. It was the first time a Division 2 club reached the final since 1959, and the first an amateur club did it since 1933 and 1959. They eventually fell to FC Nantes by a score of 4 to 1 in extra time, but Roux’ Auxerre proved they were an up-and-coming force. The following season they were promoted to Division 1, after overtaking Avignon on the final matchday. 

The Double

Just like they did in Divisions 3 and 2, Auxerre didn’t take long to adapt to life in France’s top tier. A 10th place finish was solid enough for a 42-year-old Roux who incredibly celebrated 20 years in charge of the club that season; those were followed by 15th and 8th place finishes to secure the team’s spot as a Division 1 side. Then, the manager started working his magic.

A third place in 1983-84 secured a spot in the UEFA Cup, a European debut for Auxerre the following season. Despite a quick elimination at the hands of Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon, it would be just the beginning. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Auxerre would never finish outside the top half, and would regularly enter the UEFA Cup, getting into the semifinals in 1992-93. In 1993-94 they managed their first big piece of silverware, lifting the Coupe de France after beating Montpellier with a comprehensive 3-0. However, Guy Roux’s magnum opus was yet to come.

AJ Auxerre’s 1994 Coupe de France win was a landmark for the club, but the best was yet to come

They came into the 1995-96 season far from being favourites, particularly as several top players had left the squad. However, Roux oversaw a big transfer window, with names like Guivarc’h, Tasfaout and Laurent Blanc joining the side. Their UEFA Cup campaign would meet a quick and unsavoury end as they were eliminated in the Round of 16 against Nottingham Forest, with a lawful goal wrongly disallowed.

It would be a slip in form by league leaders PSG, who lost three straight games in February and allowed Auxerre to close down a 10-point gap at the top of the table. Despite PSG gaining a 5-point cushion later on, it meant that their visit to Auxerre in late March left the league wide open when the Parisians lost 3-0. 

Barely dropping points from that point onwards, Auxerre clinched the title with two games remaining in late April. This would prove a blessing, as Auxerre was also enjoying a cup run that saw them reach the Coupe de France final. Having beaten favourites Marseille in the semis, it was Nimes Olympique that awaited them on the big day. The Parc des Princes, who had hoped to see PSG lift the league title, instead witnessed a 2-1 win by Auxerre to do the double.

The 1996 double winners, perhaps Roux’s best team

Their Champions League qualification proved a burden for any potential title defence. Auxerre’s season wasn’t particularly successful and they finished in sixth place, 18 points off league winners AS Monaco. However, their first appearance in Europe’s elite competition showed that Roux’s team weren’t a flash in the pan. Auxerre finished first in their group stage, overcoming last season’s finalists Ajax as well as Grasshopper Zürich, and Rangers; they were only eliminated by the would-be-champions Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals.

At the end of the 1999-00 season, the mythical manager would step down, claiming later that “when you manage men, you have to give it all. And then, the batteries were empty”. They’d recharge rather quickly, as he was back in the job for the 2001-02 season, managing a third-place finish. This earned Auxerre the ticket to take part in their second participation ever in the Champions League, where they even defeated the team of another famous Alsatian-born manager, Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal at the legendary Highbury. and two more Coupe de France wins in 2002-03 and 2004-05. At the end of that season, the then 67 years old Guy Roux announced he was stepping down, this time for good. His tenure lasted over 40 years, 36 of which were uninterrupted, from January 1, 1964, to June 30, 2000.

Throughout all those years, Guy Roux’s method was incomparable. He watched all the matches of the five youth teams, and his dedication to training was total. As Jean-Marc Ferreri, who came through Auxerre and went on to earn 37 caps for France explained, “I lived in the coach’s house, I attended high school with his son and I followed Mrs Roux’s lessons. At home, Guy was never there; he was always on the training pitch from 7 in the morning to 9 in the evening”.

Roux developed a number of talents throughout his time at Auxerre, perhaps none bigger than Eric Cantona

He was very much the force behind Auxerre. “The secret was his character, his will and his faith in football, in the club and in men”, explained Ferreri. Under the guidance of Roux and with the support of club president Jean-Claude Hamel, Auxerre became renowned throughout the world for their work with young players. Profits were invested not in big-name signings on the pitch but rather in facilities off it. This meant the likes of Eric Cantona, Roger and Basile Boli, Philippe Mexès, Djibril Cissé, and many others found the right tools to develop at Auxerre. Even more so, many other players were “saved” by Roux, with names like Enzo Scifo, Alain Roche, Jean-Alain Boumsong and Laurent Blanc experiencing career revivals after a move to the club.

AJ Auxerre would remain a top-tier side until 2012, when despite having finished in the Champions League positions just two years prior, they ended up at the bottom of the table, ending a 42-year streak at the top of French football. It was only logical, as the ways of modern football began to show. Auxerre is a small, provincial town in the middle of France where it would be very hard to sustain a club competing in one of the biggest leagues in the world. However, for over 20 years, that’s exactly what Guy Roux did.

AJ Auxerre in the 1998/99 MadScientist Database

By 1998-99, Auxerre were coming to the end of the journey. Within two years, Guy Roux will step down as manager for the first time since 1962. Even after his return in 2001, the club will never reach the heights they once reached. The project, which has remained virtually the same since the day Roux signed the dotted line on that 600 francs wage, will have to adapt to the new realities of football.

Guy Roux had offers from Bayer Leverkusen and the French National Team after 1998. Suppose he did bid farewell then and there… are you ready to fill his shoes?

It would have been a miracle that after finding an era-defining manager they would find another one, but in the 1998/99 MadScientist Database you can be the one to keep Auxerre hitting well above their weight. Let’s see what are the tools at your disposal.

Economy and Facilities

Guy Roux has taken care of the club’s facilities for over 40 years and it shows. Top training and youth facilities make it an easy job developing those youngsters. However, there hasn’t been that much progress done in the talent searching and training of those youth players, with sub-par Youth Recruitment and Junior Coaching, surely a good place to start investment for any new managers. The Stade Abbé-Deschamps is far from the league’s top venues at only 19,000 capacity, so that could be another place for investment.

Roux’s frugality shows in the club’s economy, with over €6M in the bank and solid projections.

Club Vision

The board seems to understand that Auxerre have been punching above their size when it comes to the vision and only look towards keeping the gains made over the last two decades, sustaining a spot among French football’s established top-tier sides.

There’s a big focus on continuing to be one of the country’s premiere youth developers and doing it in accordance with the budget.

Squad Review

Stephane Carnot

An incredibly talented, yet somewhat frail and indecisive talent, Carnot is coming off a rather disappointing stint with AS Monaco where despite showing his class against Manchester United in the Champions League, he only accrued 21 appearances in his only season.

Now at Auxerre, he can be a key player if you can get him firing. An incredible passer of the ball with the eye to thread a needle, he’s the ideal man to provide service to a top goalscorer.

Gerald Baticle

That goalscorer could very well be Gerald Baticle. An incredibly versatile man up top, he can finish and he can head the ball, but he can also pass and works extremely well off the ball.

Getting his and Carnot’s roles in the right combo will be key to hitting the ground running at Auxerre in your first couple of seasons.

Bernard Diomede

Another man who could prove instrumental in scoring the goals is Diomede. Blisteringly quick and a deadly crosser of the ball, he wouldn’t have looked out of place with Blackburn servicing Chris Sutton.

As it stands, he could become a key piece in the cog to get Baticle scoring regularly, although you should watch out as his injury proneness means he could be out for big stretches of the season.

Potential Signings

Auxerre are fairly short when it comes to transfer budget, meaning you’ll have to be shrewd for the first couple of transfer windows. Still, there are some moves to be done.

Afonso Martins

As a quick scan through your squad will show you, as important as Diomede is, you have little in ways of replacements should that injury proneness kick in. In order to fix that, we can sign Afonso Martins.

More of a creative midfielder than an out-and-out winger, he’s still quick and skilled enough to play the winger role, while also adding a whole new dimension to your squad. Incredibly, Sporting Lisbon wants just €100k for him, and he will settle for very affordable wages. He also has the bonus of not needing French classes, as he came through AS Nancy with his family moving there when he was a kid.

Gilles Grimandi

Frederic Danjou and Pedro Reyes provide a solid starting centreback pairing, but options fall off a cliff rather quickly in that position. While you have some young defenders to develop, I’d bring a stopgap in between, and that’s where Grimandi comes up.

Arsenal have him transfer listed at the start of the season, meaning you can get him for peanuts, and he’s very keen on a return to France. I got him for €80k plus another 25k when he reaches 50 appearances (doubt he will). Wages are a bit steep, as per Premier League mathematics, but he provides a much-needed solution at the back, and his skill on the ball should prove useful.

Eric Carriere

Options for mixed midfielders are rather limited as well. Cyril Jeunechamp carries the torch almost on his own and while he’s good, he’s young and there are few alternatives. Enter FC Nantes’ Eric Carriere. 

The man can do no wrong in the middle of the park, as well-rounded of a player as you’ve ever seen, and his work rate combined with his anticipation mean he’ll be at the right place at the right time more often than not. He’s a bit expensive for French league standards, costing us €500k and some top wages, but very much worth it.

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