Football is a game with rich and enormously deep-rooted past. A game played in over 200 countries featuring over 250 million players and followed by half of the world’s population, has some figures that have earned their place as legends. Guy Roux is one such name who guided AJ Auxerre (AJA) from a humble amateur team to worldwide prominence in his amazingly long over 40 years of association with the team as a coach.

Roux’s story begins from the small city of Auxerre located at the center of France, populated by over 39,000 people. In 1961, the 23-year-old Guy Roux made his way as the coach of the fledgling fifth tier AJA that barely had any recognition in the French football regime. But when Roux departed 40 years later in 2005, the team has gone to become a national and worldwide force with a Ligue 1 title, 4 Coupes de France, 2 Intertoto Cups and several appearances in the Champions League.

Born in Colmar in 1938, a town near the German border on the north-east side of France, Roux moved to Appoigny near Auxerre, during the early years of Second World War for safety. It was here that he developed his love for the game and decided to pursue a career as a footballer. In 1954, 16-year-old Guy Roux made debut for Auxerre in the local Burgundy League that was a beginning of an association that would last for almost 50 years. 

After spending three mostly nondescript years with the team, Roux went on to play for Stade Poitevin and Limoges but his endeavors were not as fruitful as anticipated and it was clear that he lacked the requisite talent to make a career. It was evident that if Roux has to be associated with the game making a living, coaching is the only viable option.

But for a 22-year-old to be taken seriously as a candidate for a position as a coach, lack of experience was a serious threat. This is why Roux decided to take attention off his limited experience by promising self-sufficiency and demanding low personal wages. It worked for him as Auxerre was already experiencing money clinch. And in the summer of 1961, AJA hired Guy Roux for just 7,200 francs annually, a decision that would change the course of the club forever.

The parsimonious approach was a character of Roux’s personality that most of his dining partners perceived as stinginess. But to an extent, it was his frugality that was responsible to make Auxerre one of the best clubs for youth development that reignited the careers of the likes of Laurent Blanc, Teemu Tainio, Eric Cantona, Basile Boli, and Philippe Mexes. It was not that Roux was not willing to spend when it was required but he had an unmatched sense of responsibility to maintain the financial health of the club.

Once in position as a coach Roux was well aware that to avoid boardroom pressure, he had to get players onside quickly. Don’t forget that at this point the young lad only had a month of experience he has spent observing training at English Fourth Division side Crystal Palace that he earned after writing to Eagles boss Arthur Rowe. Between 1962 and 1964, Roux has to serve the conscription that interrupted his coaching regime but after his return, AJA witnessed steady headway in the following years. His demanding standards instilled a professional attitude among the players and staff. In 1970, Auxerre has climbed to the national third division when Roux retired as a player. By the end of 1974, the team has obtained its place in Ligue 2 and soared in professional ranks.

As the head coach, Roux knew that his responsibility was not just to improve the game on the pitch but also away from it which is why Auxerre soon unveiled a world-class training center with unprecedented facilities. It was made possible because of both Roux and Jean-Claude Hamel, who was club president by now shared the vision that appropriate training infrastructure was necessary for long term success. This belief was perfectly encapsulated when in 1980 AJA choose to invest in a state-of-the-art youth academy in lieu of signing French international striker Olivier Rouyer. Roux’s gamble on the new youth center proved to be a prudent choice and the setup produced players like Cantona, Frédéric Darras, Raphaël Guerreiro, Stéphane Mazzolini, Pascal Vahirua, and Boli.

The year that followed brought Roux’s charges to the attention of the French public when they defeat Lille, Strasbourg and Montpellier. Reaching to the Coupe de France final was a stunning success for Auxerre as a second-tier club. In the final game, AJA locked horns with the four-time Ligue 1 champions Nantes. Although the team lost they earned plaudits for their courageous display. The following year AJA booked its seat in Ligue 1 beating Cannes. 

There were doubts whether such a small team will sustain in France’s leading division but Auxerre would remain among the top team in the table until 2012, that’s seven years after Roux left the team. Auxerre under Roux went on to attain many more feats that included qualifying for the UEFA Cup in 1983/84 and reaching the quarter-finals in 1989/90.

In 2000, Roux was promoted to the role of sporting director but only to the reinstated as the coach 12 months later. The final against Sedan in 2005 was Roux’s last game as the AJA manager that marked the end of an implausible 44 years career.

Guy Roux is not a figure in football who is universally loved. Many term him as a tyrannical dictator who ruled AJA with an iron fist. His critics believe that his choice to announce his resignation a day after the 2005 Coupe de France victory was a calculated move to steal the attention of his players during the Auxerre’s victory parade. 

As history has shown every powerful figure has had personality flaws. With a career spanning 44 years, Roux managed 2,000 games with a record 890 in the top flight. He made AJA a team that was once even not on the French football radar to become a national favorite, that fans would cheer for and sports betting odds would favor.

Whatever anyone’s opinion on Guy Roux is, but the ultimate truth remains-he turned Auxerre from a provincial outfit into a Ligue 1 member with a bottom-up approach driven by careful nurturing, fierce work ethics and coaching rather than paying exorbitant transfer fees.