What a year it’s been for Lucien Favre.
After resigning from Borussia Mönchengladbach in September 2015, the Swiss tactician snubbed the advances of Everton and the Premier League to become the coach of OGC Nice on the 24th May 2016.
It was, to say the very least, something of a coup.
Despite a difficult start to the 2015/16 season, Favre had done much to get Die Fohlen kicking, bringing them from the relegation places to successive Champions League spots in a marvelous four-year spell in Westphalia.
Now he’s done it again, Jean Seri scoring twice in a 3-1 win over Nancy at the Allianz Riviera on Saturday to guarantee third place for Les Aiglons, and with it their first appearance in European competition for almost 60 years.
Nobody can say they don’t deserve it. An average possession of 58% (not to mention a pass success rate of 88%) speaks volumes of a team who have been enterprising all year. They were unbeaten in their last 10 going into the match against Nancy, recovering well from a comprehensive defeat against Monaco in February to win their last three on the bounce.
As the game kicked off on Saturday however, it seemed like the Niçois would have to wait another day for history. The home side started slowly, Junior Dale making the most of a rare Valentin Eysseric error to open the scoring on 26 minutes. After Mickaël Le Bihan levelled matters nine minutes later, Seri was on hand with his fifth and sixth goals of the season to keep the pressure on PSG in second place.
This should have been a difficult year for Nice, with the architects of last years’ triumphant campaign Claude Puel and Hatem Ben Arfa decamping for Southampton and PSG respectively. Instead they have guaranteed an improvement on their 4th place finish, aided by the goals of a refocused Mario Balotelli and the defensive nous of veteran signing Dante.
They are young too, Yoan Cardinale, Malang Sarr and Vincent Koziello averaging just under 21 years of age despite being three of the most sought-after players in France. Sarr in particular looks a revelation, and at 18 seems destined for a career at the highest level. Nice’s Champions League qualification is a real boon to his and their hopes for a prolonged working relationship on the South coast.
“We are all very happy to be here. We all drank a small beer to celebrate the victory.” Favre admitted to L’Équipe after the game, before furrowing his brow with that familiar perfectionists’ concern. “Nancy had opportunities that bothered me”.
With PSG having a game in hand and a tough visit to Lyon still to come, second place seems a touch too far for Favre’s charges. But as recent history shows, you can never write off the team from the Boulevard des Jardiniers. Their Champions’ League opponents next year would do well to remember it.
For now, though, they can bask in the moment, before travelling to The Pink City for a tough away trip next Sunday.