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OGC Nice – Patrick Vieira Off to Shaky Start in First European Job

Patrick Vieira

Back in June, Arsenal and France legend Patrick Vieira took his first job in European football management, following two years of heading up the New York City project in the USA. Eyes turned from the Big Apple to the Côte d’Azur to follow the post-playing progress of the Senegalese midfield maestro, but just what did he take on?

Patrick Vieira’s First European Job Off to Shaky Start

What Has He Got Himself Into?

Swiss boss Lucien Favre left the club in May this year, almost exactly two years after joining when he took over from now Leicester City commander-in-chief Claude Puel, for a return to Germany. Taking the hot-seat at Borussia Dortmund, having previously been in charge of Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hertha Berlin, Favre had led the club to third at the end of the 2016/17 Ligue 1 season. This was Les Aiglons’ highest league position since being runners-up to Saint-Étienne in 1976, followed by an eighth (one point behind sixth) place finish last season. This was a pretty respectable outcome considering they began the season with just four wins in 14, including a 5-0 home defeat to Lyon, leaving them in the relegation zone at the end of November.

Vieira has, therefore, entered a club that was on an outstanding rise to prominence, qualifying for the Champions League (though losing comprehensively to Napoli 4-0 on aggregate in the qualifying round) and competing in the Europa League, before appearing to begin a slippery slope back into mediocrity, as well as being stripped of many of their best players this transfer window. His task, then? Halting the turning of the Mediterranean ship, steering it back on course and building on Favre’s progress.

The former French captain seemed like an intriguing yet potentially ideal candidate; he started his career at neighbouring Cannes, making his first appearance at 17 and captaining the south coast side at 19, a spell which writes the foreshadowing prologue to an illustrious career. Managerially, only being founded in 2015 meant NYCFC were hardly a club in need of rebuilding like Nice: more an outfit in need of building full stop. In his two years in New York, Vieira wrote his name into the MLS annals, helping them to fourth and then second consecutively.

Possibly the right man at the right club then, though there are more problems than may meet the eye.

What Needs Fixing?

Nice had the worst defence in the whole of France’s top ten last season, and infuriatingly, nine of their 14 defeats were by a margin of just one goal. A more potent attack or a less leaky defence in just one of their league games could have given them a sixth-place finish and another season of European football.

Vieira may have some work on his hands if he is to improve the defence; a 4-0 home defeat to Dijon left rival fans taunting the official Twitter feed, largely through the use of Super Mario GIFs and memes in reference to the fact polemic superstar Mario Balotelli was continuing to miss out on game time through suspension.

If he is to shore things up, Vieira needs to start by deciding on his back line. Blocking out Lyon last weekend with a five-man defence granted them their first win of the season at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais, and it was the first time they’d used it this season. Christophe Jallet made his first appearance of the campaign against his old club at right-back – a position where Vieira has deployed four different players in all four matches so far.

If things are to improve up top, meanwhile, Vieira is going to need new 19-year-old signing Myziane Maolida to prove his worth at €10 million, who has played in all three fixtures since his arrival but is yet to find the back of the net. His arrival perked up supporters following a 1-0 defeat to Stade Reims on the opening day, and the local faithful have since queued through the streets to meet the young forward in hope of great things. A fruitful partnership with the returning Balotelli, who, at long last, agreed to stay another year at the Allianz Riviera could be crucial to Nice and Vieira’s fortunes.

The teenager from Nice arrives with big boots to fill, which leads us onto another issue in need of rectifying; Patrick Vieira must give players a reason to stay. Myziane Maolida comes in to replace Alassane Pléa, the club’s second-highest goalscorer (21) after Mario Balotelli (26) in all competitions last season, including four in a 5-2 win at Guingamp. The nippy frontman departed for former boss Favre’s old outfit Borussia Mönchengladbach in the summer.

Having never played outside of France, perhaps Pléa saw this purely as a chance to shake his career up, but essentially Mönchengladbach represent the German equivalent of Nice: narrowly missing out on the Europa League, ambitious to tackle the top and in favour of young talent. A sideways move, some would suggest, while Jean Michaël Seri and Maxime Le Marchand (31 and 29 Ligue 1 appearances respectively last season) jumped ship for newly promoted Fulham.

Flaws at the club there may be, there are still reasons for Nice fans and Vieira alike to be positive about the season ahead.

Reasons to be Cheerful

Despite failing to win any of their first three fixtures, Nice have a young squad capable of improving and adapting to the rigours of Ligue 1. Of the 13 players who took to the field in their 1-0 victory over Lyon last weekend, either starting or as a substitute, seven of them were 25 or under, and four of those were 21 or younger. Though Maolida grabs the headlines for his age, promise and transfer fee, the squad is filled with mouldable and ambitious talent.

The dividends of the aforementioned away win at Lyon are yet to show, but it could turn out to be the jump leads that start Nice’s season. This Friday evening they play at home to Stade Rennais, a club against which they are unbeaten in six, winning four of those fixtures. Continue that form with another three points and things are looking less merde and on the way to magnifique.

The Europa League is an unremittingly competitive beast which paradoxically is on a hiding to nothing; if you qualify for it you get slated, if you miss out on it you get slated. Nice were just one point and a touch of goal-difference away from qualifying for this year’s competition but the reality is that they have a free crack at Ligue 1 instead, something which Vieira might be grateful for.

Finally, the man himself is cause for jollity. He improved NYCFC’s defence every year he was there; between his first and second he reduced goals conceded from 57 to 43, a reduction which if replicated on the Côte d’Azur could well have catapulted Nice to around fifth last term.

There is no doubt Vieira commands the respect of his players, but whether that will be enough is yet to become apparent. Watch this space.

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