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Roux's legacy reflecting in Auxerre's League campaign

A positive result tonight for Auxerre, who play host to Milan, would keep them in contention for at least a Europa League place; a win could well put them on course to threaten Milan's progress.

In Group G of the Champions League, the G stands for more than just the grandees.

Between them, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Ajax may boast 20 European Cups, but the delicate balance of the group going into the final two match days means that one of those could still be excluded from participation in continental competition come the new year.

A positive result tonight for Auxerre, who play host to Milan, would keep the French club in contention for at least a Europa League place; a win could well put them on course to threaten Milan's progress from a group that Real seem all but certain to win.

Auxerre have been competitive in Europe too often over the last decade and a half to be called freshmen in club football's best competition.

But their presence among the elite, and the fact that, unlike some of the newcomers - Zilina and Bursaspor for example - they remain very much alive in the 2010/11 Champions League should bring a smile to the face of Michel Plantini, the Frenchman whose presidency of Uefa has been shaped by a desire to open up the tournament to clubs outside the traditional hierarchy.

Auxerre will always have an underdog tag as long they share the name of a town with less than 40,000 citizens. They also bring with them principles Platini admires: a tradition of nurturing young talent, and a commitment to think long term.

Jean Fernandez, their coach, is in his fifth season in charge, an extended stint by the standards of the modern game, but barely a honeymoon by the standards Auxerre fans have grown up with.

Even five years after Guy Roux stood down as head coach of Auxerre, his portly shadow hangs large over the club.

Roux first took charge of the Auxerre first XI in 1961, before the Beatles had a No1 hit, before the first brick of the Berlin Wall had been laid, let alone torn down.

He broke off for two seasons in 1962 but when he returned to the helm he was embarking on a job that would last another 39 years, with one more, short, interregnum when he moved up to the post of technical director.

Roux created a legacy, of hot-housing good native talent, re-launching the careers of French players whose potential had not been properly exploiting and advancing the careers of gifted African footballers.

They are an atypical Champions League side in that they have never recruited widely in South America. The list of Auxerre graduates and former employees is distinguished: from Eric Cantona, through Laurent Blanc to Djibril Cisse.

The current squad may lack names as resonant as that, but the work Fernandez has done with the likes of Benoit Pedretti, once among the brightest hopes of French football and now finding some of the authority and confidence that was lost in phases of his career, is reminiscent of Roux.

They are in fine form, too, ahead of Milan's visit, after a start to the season in which juggling the demands of league and European football seemed to daunt them.

Unbeaten in eight games now, Auxerre have a momentum that Pedretti hopes the home crowd will pick up on. "Milan are favourites, and expected to finish higher than us," the Auxerre captain told reporters, "but if we fight every duel and with our special atmosphere, you never know."

 

sports@thenational.ae

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