Once upon a time in Auxerre: Part 1

It’s ten years since Auxerre fell out of Ligue 1 in France and maybe more since I managed at club level in France.

A club I would have fancied – or more so repeatedly bought Philip Mexes from in the Championship Manager days – have had it hard in the years since.

A mid-table finish followed in their first season at Ligue 2 level, slipping to 16th in the 2013/14 season. For every decent campaign, a poor one would follow with finishes as low as 15th and 17th in intervening years.

However, a sixth-place finish at the end of the 2020/21 campaign would show that the club is at least on the rise and it’s my job to help continue that journey.

Auxerre’s league positions over the past 20 years.

Glory Days

You really would have to go back into the 90s for the club’s best spell of success. It’s been sixteen years since L’A.J.A won a trophy. One-time winners of Ligue 1 back in the 1995/96 season, Auxerre made a good stab at the Coupe de France, collecting it in 1994 and 1996 before going again in 2003 and 2005.

My mission is to bring those glory days back to the club. To help me, I’m going to need a decent squad and this is what their best eleven looks like, spearheaded by Gaëtan Charbonnier who, after 46 goals in 125 games over four seasons with Brest, has joined the club for the start of the 2021/22 season.

Auxerre’s best eleven

Formation-wise, the previous management preferred a 4-3-3, running with two DMs, two inverted wingers and a lone striker. I may do things a little different.

The first day at the office

Somewhat strapped for cash, it was a cheap flight to Paris out of Dublin that landed me in Paris Beauvais instead of CDG followed by three hours in the car heading down the A6 out of Paris all the way to Auxerre.

My Leaving Cert French is enough to get by as I’m shown around the 19,154 capacity Stade Abbé-Deschamps, standing just over a hundred years old. There’s some decent looking training and youth facilities, perhaps something to build on straight out of the traps.

Settling into the office, it appears there is nothing too messy at the club in terms of transfers, loans or debts and a look through the books shows a transfer budget of just under €1m available, with a wage budget totalling €120k a week to cover the 22-man first-team squad.

Zhou James is the current Auxerre chair who politely informs me that winning a promotion to Ligue 1 is an absolute requirement of the season ahead. Yes, I’ll have to work within the wage budget and bring in more cash, but at least I know where things stand.

Youth is very much the hot topic of conversation with a focus on developing players through our youth facilities, ultimately leading to creating the best youth system in Ligue 2.

There’ll be no South American (or English) wonderkids making an appearance here either with league rules limiting the squad to no more than two non-EU players. Development plan? French, French, French. Maybe with a little bit of youth development.

Mission chosen, mission accepted.

A quick start

With just one week of friendlies, here’s how the first three months at Auxerre look like.

Pre-season is actually pretty short, with proceedings starting on 5 July and the season proper kicking off against Amiens on 24 July. A good run through August and September would be required with the likes of Nimes and title-favourites Toulouse cropping up in October’s fixtures list.

Taking a glance further down the calendar, it looks like we’ll be entering the Coupe de France in the eighth round at the end of November while the season wraps up on 14 May at home to Amiens. Squad-wise, there’s a couple of good prospects in there as well.

There are only four in the squad over 30 years of age with Rémy Dugimont leading the line at 35. He did bag 14 goals in 35 games the season previous though so he may well hold on to a place yet.

With plenty of homegrown talent and a reasonable mix of youth and experience, it should be a fun first season in France.

Ligue 2 rules: for the curious

So how does the second tier of French football work in general?

There are 38 games in the season with the top two in the league getting promoted to Ligue 1. The next three go into a promotion play-off with two sides making a quarter-final while one gets a bye into a semi-final.

The winner of that semi-final goes into a promotion-relegation play-off with their Ligue 1 counterpart. Similarly, the bottom two are relegated to the National with the side finishing in 18th into a Ligue 2/National play-off. Substitutions follow closer to our recent stint in Turkey allowing you five changes from seven named, under a maximum of three stoppages.

Outside of that, it’s nothing too wild.

This post was originally shared on kenmc.com in February 2022 with the mission of taking Auxerre from Ligue 2 back to the top flight of French football. Of course, by the time I got around to getting a few days out of the office to invest in the solo save, the club had only gone and done it in real life. There won’t be a cow milked in Auxerre for months…

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