Delia Smith: Why Roux's Auxerre is Norwich inspiration
Written by Simon Austin — April 8, 2018
NORWICH CITY majority shareholder Delia Smith says she wants her club to be built in the image of Guy Roux’s Auxerre.
Roux was manager of Auxerre for 44 years, during which time he transformed them from fifth-tier no-hopers into French champions. Despite the town having a population of less than 40,000, he was able to build a footballing powerhouse thanks to a philosophy based on homegrown players.
Eric Cantona, Basile Boli and Djibril Cisse are just three of the stars to have emerged from the club’s famous Academy under Roux.
“Not many people listen to me much, but when I first became a board director [in 1996] I went to visit a football club called Auxerre and their manager, Guy Roux,” Smith told The Guardian.
“The first thing he said to me, and he didn’t speak much English, was: ‘I never buy footballers.’ The Academy had their own little stadium, they had houses built on site. Roux knew all the youngsters by name. And the record is there, isn’t it?
"They played in Europe, they never went out of Ligue 1. And Auxerre is the size of Thetford. Wow.
"That’s the kind of club I want Norwich to be. I want it to feel like it is part of the community."
ACADEMY INVESTMENT v PLAYER WAGES
Guy Roux was just 22-years-old when he took over as player-coach of Auxerre in 1961. At the time, the club was playing in the Burgundy regional league and had achieved little of note during the lifetimes of its small band of supporters.
With an astonishing work ethic and astute management, he was able to lead the team up the leagues and into the final of the Coupe de France in 1979, where, as a Ligue 2 side, they lost 4-1 in extra time to Nantes.
That achievement left Roux and the club’s board with a big decision, as former Newcastle player Nikodimos Papavasiliou, who conducted a study visit to Auxerre as part of his Uefa Pro Licence in 2013, explains.
“They could either spend the money from the Cup run on new players, or they could spend it on infrastructure for the Academy,” he told TGG.
They were offered the chance to sign French international striker Olivier Rouyer, who they could have afforded, but turned it down. Instead, they opted to buy a 3.5 hectare plot of land next to the stadium for 1.5m Francs and build a state-of-the-art Academy.
Smith believes Norwich would face a similar dilemma were they to be promoted to the Premier League. That's why they've decided to issue the 'Canaries Bond' and spend the money exclusively on the Academy, she argues.
“My experience of the Premier League was that we never had any money. Even if we got promoted this year, we still wouldn’t have had any money, the way the wages are.”
Sporting Director Stuart Webber agrees that promotion can often mean “spending money on a striker, getting relegated and saying, ‘oh, next time.’”
He wants Norwich to become 'leaders in youth development' and plans are afoot to build a new Academy using the £5m bond, with new facilities at Colney set to include a pitch with a stand, floodlights, classrooms, gym and dressing rooms.
FACILITIES AND PHILOSOPHY
In 1990, Auxerre bought an additional 1.5 hectares of land and expanded their Academy even further.
When former Slovan Bratislava manager Papavasiliou visited in 2013, he discovered an impressive complex with three pitches (one of them indoor), a gym, accommodation and school.
The school had several teachers and small class sizes, with half of the scholars sleeping on site and the rest (mainly the older players) living in accommodation in the town.
Their routine was demanding, with an alarm call at 7.15am and a mixture of academic and football work until the early evening, with a nap factored in early in the afternoon.
“I think the environment was ideal for the kids to stay focussed,” Papavasiliou remembers. “You need to sacrifice things and work hard to succeed in football.”
Auxerre were able to attract top youngsters, because, as Papavasiliou says, “Paris is only a relatively short distance (169km) away, there is a quiet and relaxing atmosphere and the club has a reputation for developing young players and giving them a chance."
The club aimed for 50% of their first team to be composed of homegrown players and had calculated that more than 60% of their relatively small intake of Academy players had gone on to become professionals.
Papavasiliou was told that the Academy’s annual budget was €6m (£5m today). When you consider the value of the players they had sold on - Philippe Mexes for €7m, Bacary Sagna for €9m, Djibril Cisse for £14m etc - this was clearly great value.
But, more than that, homegrown players had also driven the first team to remarkable success.
Under Roux, the club was in Ligue 1 for 25 consecutive seasons. They won the title in 1996, with homegrown players like Cisse and Alain Goma to the fore, and the French Cup in 1994, 1996, 2003 and 2005.
Auxerre also reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 1997, where they were beaten by Borussia Dortmund. Admittedly, recent times have not been as good, with the team relegated in 2012, seven years after Roux ended his astonishing stint as manager.
But even now, in Ligue 2, they are punching above their weight when you consider the size of the town (39,000) and the attendances they attract (an average of less than 6,000 so far this season).
After his visit, Papavasiliou reflected: “Auxerre is a perfect example of how you can achieve success through strategy, planning, maximising resources, faith in human factors and simplicity.”
Perhaps there are some parallels with Norwich. Just as Roux was a football outsider when he arrived at Auxerre as a 22-year-old with no experience of managing or playing as a pro, so too was Webber when he became assistant head of youth at Wrexham at the age of 23.
The 34-year-old said: “There are thought-provoking people coming into the game, people who want to challenge, rather than it being an ex-player asking: ‘What shall I do now?’”
And Smith insists the course the club is taking is the “best experience I’ve had since I’ve been a board director.”
Steve Stone, as chief executive, is responsible for the commercial side of the business, while Webber is in charge of all footballing matters.
“I think the structure of the all-singing, all-dancing chief executive, you could see in the end that can’t really work,” she said. “You can’t have a one-man show.”
And she’s particularly passionate about the Academy, inspired by that visit to Auxerre and Guy Roux more than two decades ago.