France.

A.J. Auxerre.

Formed in December, 1905, by a priest named Father Ernest Abbé Deschamps, whom their stadium by the banks of the River Yonne is titled after, the club is heavily steeped in Catholicism; their emblem being a Maltese Cross, derived from the Catholic Association of Youth and their blue and white colours are said to be in reference to the Virgin Mary.

Although Auxerre’s population is around 39,000, it has, until now, been one of the most flourishing places in France and the club has certainly been blessed in the past, with the monumental longevity of legendary/revolutionary former player/manager Guy Roux, who emotionally waved adieu to the Auxerrois in 2005, after a combined total of 53 years service and luxury players in the form of Bruno Martini, Laurent Blanc, Basile Boli, Vincenzo Scifo, Sabri Lamouchi, Andrzej Szarmach, Eric Cantona and Lionel Charbonnier.

Notably, Bacary Sagna, who began his career at AJA, Philippe Mexès, now of Roma fame and Djibril Cissé, currently with SC Bastia, have also featured.

A Ligue 1 title in 1996, four French cups and three appearances in the UEFA Champions League, most memorably in the 1996/1997 season, where they reached the quarter finals, losing to eventual winners Borussia Dortmund, who were then, underdogs themselves, illuminates that they have had exalted moments in their history.

However, Jacques Santini, unsurprisingly, only lasted a year, after taking the reigns from Roux and although Jean Fernandez faired far better, Laurent Fournier left the side in the mire, whilst Jean-Guy Wallemme and now Bernard Casoni, who was part of France’s ill fated Euro 92 campaign, have drastically failed to improve the team’s despairingly dire fortunes.

Having been shamefully relegated to Ligue 2, coinciding with notorious, insanely tempestuous scenes on the terraces, finishing rock bottom in 2012, for the first time since joining the league in 1980 (32 years in the top flight), they are still found languishing there, presently lying 15th, 3 points from the relegation zone and need a miracle of changing Burgundy wine into water proportions.

High profile exits, with the likes of Anthony Le Tallec, Roy Contout, Cédric Hengbart, Alain Traore, Delvin N’Dinga, Kamel Chafni, Olivier Kapo, Paul-Georges Ntep and Yaya Sanogo departing their separate ways, has severely hindered Les Bleu et Blanc, as they continue to struggle on a very large scale.

Despite acquiring potential talents on loan, from the illustrious Rennes academy, in the mould of Zana Allée and Axel Ngando, having the gifted, yet precocious Willy Boly and retaining possible future sparks, in Jean-Charles Castelletto and Nicholas Gavory, this season they have conceded more than they have scored (scoring was not an issue last season), with a paltry goal difference of -5 to boot and have yet to register an away win on the board.

Signings such as Karim Djellabi, Frédéric Sammaritano (his second spell at the club, after a difficult first stint) and Julien Viale, have done little to abate loyal, yet seething and fearful supporters, who are being increasingly unsettled with destabilising rumours of Jean-Luc Vannuchi, who is currently at French amateur side Martigues, becoming their new manager and Club President Guy Cotret, along with controlling shareholder Emmanuel Limido, who is potently linked to Qatar, being disturbingly embroiled in a systematic overcharging scandal, during President Nicolas Sarkozy’s election, involving French opposition leader Jean-François Copé (UMP), communications agency Bygmalion and its subsidiary Event and Company.

The serious lack of transparency, like at too many clubs across the continent, is completely and desperately shocking and appallingly disgraceful, on so many different levels, especially because AJA were held, at one point, with such utter prestige, morally and aesthetically.

How can a once great club fall so diabolically from grace, on and off the pitch? These days, it is a question that is far too frequent in football parlance; something the authorities need to expeditiously get a robust grip of.

Can Auxerre be forgiven? Can everyone associated atone for their sins? Can their prayers be answered?

The future is mightily bleak if they neglect to beat CA Bastia tonight, that’s for sure.

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