AJ Auxerre: Midnight Has Come for France's Cinderella Club
As the Ligue 1 season comes to a close, we will be seeing the end of what has been an incredible run. AJ Auxerre’s streak of 32 consecutive years in Ligue 1 will come to an end against champions-in-waiting Montpellier. While this has gone relatively unnoticed outside of the French borders, it is a sad ending for a fairy-tale run.
Auxerre was founded in 1905 by Father Ernest Abbe Deschamps and began playing in the Catholic league. For the next 75 years, Auxerre made the slow climb from local Sunday league side to promotion to the French first division. Overseeing their meteoric rise for 44 years was Guy Roux. Roux built the club to a contender despite the tightest of budgets.
At the heart of their success was the reliance on their youth academy.
The academy has produced some of France’s favorite sons. Laurent Blanc, Eric Cantona, Djibril Cisse and Philippe Mexes are all products of the Auxerre youth system. Coupled with some smart transfer signings, Auxerre not only reached the mountain, they scaled it.
Auxerre’s 32 years in Ligue 1 produced 4 Coupe de France titles, 2 Intertoto Cup winners and a Ligue 1 title in 1996.
Only two seasons ago, they finished 2nd to Marseille and qualified for the Champions League.
Last season, injuries took their toll and they fell to a mid-table finish.
Last summer, longtime coach Jean Fernandez left for Nancy and key players like Benoit Pedretti and Ireneusz Jelen found new addresses. With very little budget for reinforcements and enduring a dry spell from the youth ranks, Auxerre’s 32-year-old dream began to unravel.
By the end of March, the writing was on the wall.
AJA was in severe trouble, and it would take a magical run to lift them from the depths of relegation. AJA responded with fight climbing out of relegation just a few weeks back only to see a tough end of schedule run push them back in down.
When the whistle sounded last Sunday in a 3-0 loss to Marseille, their fate had been sealed.
The clock has struck midnight on Cinderella and their marvelous run has come to an end.
Their prospects for a return look bleak as the buzzards will circle for players like Alain Traore, Delvin N’Dinga and Dennis Oliech. Those who are not highly sought after will be put up for auction in an effort to meet the budget constraints of a Ligue 2 side with little sponsorship and a small area of support.
The club that my childhood heroes Joel Bats and Bruno Martini once called home has come down from the mountain, but what a memorable climb it was.
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