The season’s first sacking

This past fortnight has been dominated by the tedious international break that only brought bad news to the French camp. Firstly, France were lacklustre in both their friendlies against the United States and Belgium which doesn’t bode well 7 months before a major tournament. Second, Portugal’s and Croatia’s undisputed success in the European Championships play-offs against Bosnia and Turkey respectively confirmed that France will be in pot number 4 come the draw on December 2nd in Kiev.

Domestically, a story emerged to get us out of lethargy: Ligue 1 has its first managerial casualty. The unhappy victim is Eric Roy who got the boot after Nice’s dismal results. Or so we thought. The sensationalist press had us believe that this was a sacking while it’s only a board restructuration. Roy’s assistant, René Marsiglia, has taken centre stage and Roy has gone back to his old post as general manager (he was promoted head coach after Didier Ollé-Nicolle’s poor string of results brought relegation fears to the club). Roy shouldn’t be too bothered about the “axe” as he can now resume to what were his original duties and focus on aspects of the club that suits him more such as recruiting more players (Nice now have money), taking care of the academy (Nice have been notorious for unveiling strong goalkeepers such as Lionel Létizi or more recently France’s no.1 Hugo Lloris and other French internationals such as Loïc Rémy or Patrice Evra) and preparing for the club’s new stadium (it should be ready for the start of the 2013/14 season).

The idea of Nice recruiting is a luxury that the club couldn’t afford the past few seasons. Since getting back to top flight football in 2002 Nice have had ups and downs but most ups were due to giving youth its chance. Nice have finished in the top half of Ligue 1 in 3 non-consecutive seasons and even reached the French Cup final under the guidance of now Rennes manager Frédéric Antonetti. The Corsican is no miracle worker as he was able to work with a solid group of players in the 2007/08 – where Nice finished 8th – but even after selling 3 major players (Hugo Lloris, Ederson to Lyon and Bakary Koné to Marseille) he managed to keep Nice in the top half (they finished 9th).

It is no wonder that after Antonetti left for Brittany, Nice have been staring with relegation in the face (they finished 15th and 17th the last two seasons and are currently level on points with second bottom Dijon this time around). Off the pitch things were never rosy. Back in 2007 a conflict between shareholders regarding funds over the transfers of Ederson and Matt Moussilou created unrest within the club. The majority shareholder, Gilbert Stellardo was unwilling to spend any money on players despite the income generated from the sales of Loïc Rémy, Onyekachi Apam and Anthony Modeste for a combined fee of 23.5M€. These players were not replaced and Nice only narrowly avoided relegation last summer finishing just 2 points ahead of Monaco (in fairness they achieved 46 points which, any other season, would have seen you comfortably safe with a few games to spare).

After the season’s end, Stellardo admitted that money was needed to take the club forward. A local businessman, Jean-Pierre Rivère became the new chairman and promised to inject up to 12M€ in the club to pay the deficit (6M€) and recruit players. The summer doesn’t live up to the hype though. Nice do not make money from their departures (contracts are not renewed) and Rivère spends little: 0.8M€ on Didier Digard from Middlesbrough, 2.1M€ on Boca Juniors’ Fabian Monzon and 1.5M€ on Tours’s Guie Guie. The rest are quite astute acquisitions taken on for free: Fabrice Abriel, Camel Meriem and Xavier Pentecôte are Ligue 1 proven players.

Rivère’s post-sacking interview doesn’t lead to euphoria either. No players will be bought in January unless some of the current squad were to depart and relegation would be catastrophic for the club. He also mentions that a decision will be reached after 25 games regarding Marsiglia’s future at the club (in other words, he has 10-odd games to steady the ship). Quite a lot of pressure for a man who has no managerial experience. Question needs to be asked about the change in positions at the club as well. Nice hadn’t lost a single home game since the opening day defeat to Lyon (1-3) which is impressive for a side struggling but are the second worst side on their travels with just a point from 6 games away from home. The home form is hence key to Nice’s chances of survival unless they can discover how to get results on their travels.

Marsiglia lost his opening game 0-2 at home to Saint-Etienne. Rivère might want to reconsider his decision…

Philip Bargiel

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