UNTOLD STORIES: GUY ROUX & AUXERRE

UNTOLD STORIES: GUY ROUX & AUXERRE

Guy Roux was 22 years old when he sent off an application for the vacant head coach's job at local amateur club A.J. Auxerre in the summer of 1961. 

His resume was brief, a month in London observing Crystal Palace and a less than stellar career as a teenager in Auxerre’s youth teams were about as much as he could offer. He was keen though. 

In his application, he said he was prepared to 'do whatever is needed for the club, even chop the wood'. His patent eagerness combined with a seemingly maniacal obsession with frugality made him an appealing option for the side in the Burgundy regional league.

 

 

He asked for the smallest salary among the handful of applicants and the job was his. 

He did everything at Auxerre. From picking the team, scouting players and organising transfers. He even spent time persuading local farmers to donate manure for the pitch. Late at night, when everyone else had gone home, it fell to Roux to man the clubs switchboard. His work ethic was beginning to build a reputation, and so was his side. 

Roux’s first real taste of success came in 1970 as Auxerre got promoted to the third division. They followed this with another promotion in 1974. For Roux and Auxerre this was only the beginning. 

He knew that fundamentally the club’s grand future, if a club from a town of 40,000 people can reasonably have a grand future, lay in producing players. With Auxerre located just an hour from Paris, Roux knew there was a vast talent pool sitting on their doorstep, but his ambition lead him to cast the net even wider as Auxerre began to look the length and breadth of the country for talent; and it worked.

 

Basile Boli came from Paris while Eric Cantona from Marseille. Later Djibril Cissé and Phillipe Mexes came from youth clubs in the south of France. Roux had taken the club from having to plead with farmers for manure to producing European cup winners and global superstars.

Roux, however, was far from done. 

The team made it to a Coupe de France final in 1979 and progressed to Division 1 in 1980, 19 years after Roux took charge. For the remainder of the 80’s Roux and Auxerre built steadily. 12th, 14th, 8th, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 4th, 9th, 5th and 6th place finishes in the decade established them as one of the strongest sides in France. It was to be the 90’s though, in Roux’s fourth decade of leading the side that their achievements began to be scarcely believable.

 

The 1992/93 season would see Auxerre, compete in Europe after qualifying for the UEFA Cup. During the 80’s Auxerre had twice qualified for European football, Succumbing in the first round in 84 and 85 to Sporting Lisbon and AC Milan respectively (the latter featuring the European debut of Paolo Maldini). 

This time, however, would be different. 

After dispatching Copenhagen 7-0 on aggregate and sweeping aside Standard Liege, they met reigning champions Ajax. A 4-2 win at home was enough to earn them a path to the semi finals, despite a lone Frank De Boer goal in the return leg. Auxerre was just one game away from European glory. The tie did not start well. A convincing Dortmund side, roared on by their vociferous support, comfortably won 2-0. The return leg started well, a goal on 6 minutes gave Auxerre hope before a 71st minute equaliser sent the home crowd into a frenzy. Despite all the momentum and several more chances they could not find a third and the game went to penalties.  In the end it was all too much for Auxerre. A heartbreaking 5-6 loss ended their European dream.

 

It seemed the logical high point for a club from a tiny town, largely willed on by one man, albeit a force of nature like Guy Roux. Just two years later the heartbreak would be well and truly forgotten. 

The Auxerre side of 1995/96 was packed with talent, Laurent Blanc was the talisman while Taribo West, Sabri Lamouchi, Alain Goma, Bernard Diomède, Stéphane Guivarc'h and Lilian Laslandes were all strong players in their own right.

Despite this the side started poorly. By week five they were hovering just above the relegation zone. 9 goals in two games proved the catalyst for change and the side never really looked back, climbing the table steadily. With 8 games to go they sat 3rd. A win against Nice the next week took them to 2nd before they faced off against league leaders PSG. At home they coasted to a 3-0 win, leapfrogging the leaders to sit atop the table with just 6 games remaining. 

 

The remaining games, on paper, looked very manageable for an Auxerre side full of momentum, the only difficulty would be balancing the league finish with the latter stages of the French cup. One week before the PSG result Auxerre had beaten Valence in the quarter-finals of the competition to book a semi-final against Marseille. After 4-0 and 2-0 wins over Lille and Bordeaux in the league the cup semi final had arrived. 

With just three days rest after the Bordeaux win Auxerre arrived in Marseille for the semi final match up. After a gruelling encounter it looked all but over after Auxerre’s Lamouchi scored in the 118th minute but Marseille equalised in the 124th minute and Auxerre would once again be in a semi final shoot out. This time, mercilessly, they held their nerve. They would be in the final. 

A draw and a win in the league kept Auxerre in pole position for a truly historic double as they entered the cup final against Nimes with high spirits. But by half time it looked to be slipping away. A 25th minute goal had put Nimes in the lead and Auxerre looked toothless. 

It was clear Auxerre needed a spark and the talismanic Laurent Blanc, just seven minutes into the second half provided one. His bullet header levelled things and Auxerre were back. For another half an hour nothing happened, it was in the 87th minute that Auxerre won a free kick forty yards out to the side of the pitch. The cross was swung in expertly and in a sea of bodies rising Lilian Laslandes got highest. His glancing header had won the French cup, the unthinkable was on. 

 

 

A week later they drew with Guingamp, but it didn’t matter. A loss the week before and a draw for PSG meant no matter the result of the last game of the season Auxerre had done it. 34 years, 10 months and 18 days after the then 22 Guy Roux had landed the job as the cheap east candidate for a regional French side he had won the league and cup double. Becoming just the 10th different side in French history to achieve the feat. 

Roux, unbelievably, went on for another decade. In all, Roux led Auxerre through about 2,000 games, including a European record of 890 top-flight league matches.

 

 

Sure there was another side to Roux, one I haven’t really touched on in this piece, he truly could be tyrannical. From chastising employees to checking the mileage on youth players’ cars he was obsessed with control and the success of the club. Some might question who wouldn’t be this controlling, after pouring their heart and soul into a project for over four decades. 

Perhaps, as well, it was empathy for the people of Auxerre who turned out to watch his side week after week. A fan through and through, it was a position he understood better than most.

 

 

"Sometimes I add up how much it costs someone to come and watch us five times a month behind the goal - there are guys who probably go without meat to come to the games. Knowing you've made him unhappy by losing is a huge weight to-bear." - Guy Roux 

 

Words by Andy Gallagher

 

 

 

 

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