Auxerre, after an illustrious and historic spell in the French top flight, are down.
Back in Ligue 2. It is their first relegation since their first promotion to the top flight. They succumbed after a 3-0 defeat to Marseille, arguably the worst team in France since January. It was a sad way for a great team to slide out of Ligue 1.
It could have been avoided too. Had Jean Claude Wallemme have been brought in earlier, he could have saved Auxerre, who fought valiantly against the drop in recent weeks. It has been a brave but inevitable fight against the drop. As it is, they are the only team who are definitely relegated going into the final day of the season.
They can exit, if they don’t beat Montpellier, by playing another part in history – and guaranteeing their opponents a first Ligue 1 title in history. Auxerre had a similarly miraculous title win in the 1990s. They have rubbed shoulders with the best in Europe, Real Madrid and AC Milan among them, with famous wins to their name, including at Arsenal.
It was a team built by the famous Guy Roux, who left the club a decade ago. Roux was initially chosen as the club’s manager in 1961 after he submitted a speculative application for the vacancy. He was given the job in part because he asked for less money, but he would turn this nondescript team into one of France’s best. A Ligue 1 title, four Coupe de France successes, and a run to the semis of the UEFA Cup punctuated his reign. They became one of the most prolific producers of young talent in Europe, with the likes of current France coach Laurent Blanc and Eric Cantona coming through.
Prior to Roux, Auxerre had had 10 coaches in 17 seasons. He left them after 44 years. It was a remarkable tenure in charge.
Since his departure the team have never quite scaled the same heights and came close to the drop last year. They lost their best players last summer, such as the forward Jelen and Benoit Pedretti, as well as manager Jean Fernandez to Nancy. Ultimately, a weakened team, though boosted by the goals of Denis Oliech and Alain Traore, was not quite good enough to survive a second time.
They are though replaced by a team of equal historical significance. Reims are back in the big time for the first time since their relegation thirty years or so ago. The club were the best in France in the 1950s, dominating under Albert Batteux, who then left for St Etienne .Under him they were one of the best teams in Europe, and went close to lifting the European Cup, losing to the great Real Madrid team twice.