Enduring prize Guy

Norman Fox looks to France to extol the virtues of a legend of longevity
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The Independent Online
HAVING it uncomfortably on his mind that Rangers failed in Europe last season and having already seen Grasshoppers leaping about with delight in Zurich, Walter Smith will be beginning to wonder what it takes to achieve that virtual impossibility, managerial longevity. Nobody could be better qualified to advise him than the coach of his next Champions' League opponents, Auxerre, who visit Ibrox on Wednesday.

In a sport in which a manager remaining at any club for more than five years is a rarity, Auxerre are unique. Their guy, Guy Roux, who is 57, has been with them for 36. Last season he led them to the French league title for the first time and they won the French Cup. The only reason Auxerre were prepared to wait so long to get so far and never dared question Roux was because they never expected that, football-wise, anyone could achieve so much for such a small city in Burgundy country.

Elsewhere France is not immune to football's frequent sackings and resignations. Last season Gernot Rohr took Bordeaux to the Uefa Cup final but almost immediately lost his job, and Paris Saint-Germain's Luis Fernandez, a tough midfield player in his day, ended up like Kenny Dalglish, a victim of pressure, wanting out. He said his wife was convinced he was heading for a heart attack. "I only had to look in the mirror to see that she was right." Part of the reason for his worry was that the modest team from Auxerre, a medieval city with a population of fewer than 45,000, flourished at the end of the season while his expensive PSG struggled.

Fernandez is not one of Roux's fans. "He will do anything. In our match against them last season, he deliberately turned up the heating in the dressing room so my players got sleepy." Auxerre won that top of the table match 3-0 mainly because he also turned up the hottest midfield in France.

Roux, considered by his French critics to be a tyrant because of his complete domination of the Auxerre club, says he too gets angry. "These days we are controlled by television, and prices for players are too high. They want too much money for themselves. Now I worry about us investing in our young players and losing them because they will be out of contract."

He should know. He has rarely spent much due to modest rescources. Year after year he built his teams on a framework of players discarded by bigger clubs or home-produced talent. He attracted several British youngsters including the England under-17 internationals Kevin Sharpe and Jamie Forrester who, to the FA's dismay, left the School of Excellence to complete their training in Auxerre. This year, however, a good run in the Champions' League will bring in money some people doubt he will know how to spend. Eric Cantona, who played for Roux and was sold by him to Marseille, said: "All his experience has been developing players. Now they will expect him to go out and buy."

Controversy over the return of the disgraced Marseille, beaten by Auxerre in last season's Cup semi-final following their enforced demotion, and PSG's link with Canal Plus has not endeared provincial France to the big city clubs but Auxerre have always represented the sporting heart of the country's belief in rural self-sufficiency.

Roux joined as a player when they were in the Burgundy league. The club grew because of his dedication; he coached, washed the kit, acted as groundsman. He bought players cheaply from eastern Europe years before the fall of the Wall. Without him it would probably have been Auxerre going to the wall.