Lucien Favre’s team has talent but they have only won one of their first six games in Ligue 1 this season
By Adam White for Get French Football News
Nice were pioneers, the first Ligue 1 club to enjoy major sporting and financial success by pivoting towards developing young talent before selling it on for a profit. Now, most French clubs are geared towards emulating that philosophy. Coach Lucien Favre was key to that success but, having been reappointed this summer, he has returned to a better funded, more ambitious project. So far, however, repeating his previous success is proving difficult.
A meandering summer for the club started with public infighting between former coach Christophe Galtier – who is now in charge at PSG – and long-time sporting director Julien Fournier. Galtier publicly bemoaned the club’s recruitment before a shock defeat to Nantes in the Coupe de France final, saying his team had been “over-performing and still had lots of missing parts”. “We’re trying to qualify for the Champions League, but we strengthened with an Angers substitute,” he added in reference to the club’s winter signing of inexperienced winger Billal Brahimi.
Fournier responded via an explosive interview in L’Équipe, heavily criticising Galtier’s performances and commitment, describing his comments as “an excuse”. The sporting director did not hold back, saying: “This team, as it is, could have had better results – with more attacking momentum and sometimes more courage. If Christophe had given his full measure, with his qualities, we would be delighted right now. You never know a person until you’ve worked with them.”
Galtier was fortunate that Luis Campos, who helped build his title-winning Lille team, arrived at PSG and was keen to appoint his old friend as coach, as Nice would have likely sacked him anyway. Fournier, meanwhile, was removed around the same time.
The debacle over the club’s fractious leadership team and the futures of both men severely delayed Nice’s summer plans and led to a sluggish start to the new campaign. Nice owner Jim Ratcliffe, who also owns the cycling team Ineos, appointed Dave Brailsford as the club’s de-facto general manager, but his lengthy review of Nice’s structure further delayed things. Nevertheless, the return of Favre – who had led the club to a title challenge in 2017 – was popular and even something of a coup.
Favre, however, has faced the same challenges as Galtier. The squad, although talented, remained painfully one-dimensional. Having begun last season with similar aggression and dynamism as his title-winning Lille side, Galtier lost faith in his team’s ability to create and take chances and – like he did at Saint-Etienne before – he seemed to slowly lose ambition, resulting in some rudderless performances.
Nice had the meanest defence in Ligue 1 last season, conceding just 36 goals in 38 games, but they were regularly stumped by weaker sides with well organised defences. Having been favourites for second, they finished fifth and only scraped into Europe on the final day of the season. Only Amine Gouiri, whose decline after Christmas greatly affected his team’s potency, could muster any sort of creativity. He signed for Rennes this summer and Nice are again struggling to find the net, scoring just six goals in eight games.
Oddly, Brailsford drafted in former Crystal Palace and Cardiff City director Iain Moody to lead recruitment this summer. Most Ligue 1 clubs are keen to have connections to the Premier League given the number of players who leave France for England, but Moody’s arrival only helped players move in the opposite direction. The club brought in Kasper Schmeichel from Leicester City, Nicolas Pépé from Arsenal, Joe Bryan from Fulham, Bech Sörensen from Brentford, as well as adding Ross Barkley after Chelsea cancelled his contract, and former Arsenal player Aaron Ramsey, who was released by Juventus.
Moody would argue that acquiring such a group of players for less than £1m – thanks to loan deals (Pépé, Bryan and Sörensen) and free transfers (Ramsey and Barkley) – is good business. However, according to reports in France, Favre disagrees. Much like Galtier and Fournier, it seems Favre and Moody have very different ideas about recruitment, to the point where Favre supposedly rejected the idea of Ramsey’s arrival but Moody signed him anyway.
A famously fastidious coach, Favre criticised Pépé’s workrate on his debut, saying: “We have to be ready, be professional. Ball recovery is essential in all professional sports.” Meanwhile, reportedly frosty relations between Favre and Gouiri led to his departure to Rennes on deadline day, despite the Swiss coach promising that the skilful 22-year-old midfielder would stay.
Despite a long, difficult summer and some desperate late business, Nice have still emerged with a team that looks strong. Their best work was done in France, adding £14m striker Gaëtan Laborde, who scored 20 goals for Rennes last season, and £20m waspish attacking midfielder Sofiane Diop, who was a standout player at Monaco under Niko Kovac. Both additions are major wins for Nice.
The new signings join a talented, if patchy, squad. Having struggled at Barcelona, Jean-Clair Todibo has recovered to become Ligue 1’s leading young defender; striker Andy Delort will relish reuniting with Laborde after they formed a lethal duo at Montpellier; and dynamic midfielder Khéphren Thuram has the potential to become a breakout star in France after a promising end to last season.
However, while Nice boast talented individuals and the vast resources of Ineos, they lack harmony from the leadership downwards or any sort of obvious plan – other than using Moody’s connections to sign Premier League cast-offs, all of whom are dart throws. Exactly how many of the 12 summer signings Favre actually wants at the club is uncertain.
Nice are dangerously close to emulating Marseille’s much mocked “Champions Project”, which culminated in the club signing washed-up, possibly demotivated, big-name players on high wages without a sporting plan. Favre has more talent to hand now but, he is contending with a fractious atmosphere, an unbalanced squad and a team that has won just one of their first six league games. Repeating the success of his first spell in charge will be tricky this time around.
Montpellier 1-3 Lille
Ajaccio 0-1 Lorient
Brest 1-1 Strasbourg
Clermont 2-0 Toulouse
Reims 1-1 Lens
Troyes 1-1 Rennes
Nice 0-1 Monaco
Auxerre 0-2 Marseille
Lyon 5-0 Angers
Nantes 0-3 PSG
Rennes continued their slow start to the season this weekend, only drawing 1-1 at relegation-threatened Troyes even though their hosts were reduced to 10 men in the 27th-minute when defender Yoann Sa was sent off. Bruno Genesio’s team were France’s great entertainers last season but they are missing that joyous fluidity now, even though they have kept a very similar attacking unit. This season has felt like Genesio reverting to type after earning a reputation for struggling against combative, defensive sides as Lyon coach. Having lost to strugglers Lorient and barely edged past a weak Ajaccio side at home, he needs to find a solution if Rennes are to stay competitive at the top of Ligue 1.
Relegation to Ligue 2 is already looming for Angers after eight seasons in the top flight. Amid financial struggles, Gérald Baticle’s side embarked on a major squad overhaul this summer, allowing a core of experienced but ageing players to move on. Replacing that quality with minimal resources has proven close to impossible. The club held on to talisman Sofiane Boufal but he is surrounded by untested newcomers, workmanlike Ligue 1 additions, youth products and players from the lower divisions who the club has gambled on. Angers have lost four of their first six games this season – they were hammered 5-0 at Lyon on Saturday – and they have conceded 17 goals in the process. Their Ligue 1 party may already be over.
This is an article from Get French Football News
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