FEATURE | OGC Nice’s fragile foundations shaken once more

While Manchester United will fight for their chance to compete in Europe next season when they face Manchester City at Wembley on Saturday, OGC Nice – the other Ineos-owned club, have already secured their ticket. A fifth-place finish means that they will compete in the UEFA Europa League next season.

There was a deluge at Old Trafford when Arsenal beat Manchester United earlier this month, and there has been a storm brewing in Nice too. Despite European qualification, an unwanted revolution is afoot with sporting director Florent Ghisolfi and manager Francesco Farioli already out the door. The two major stars of the team, Khéphren Thuram and Jean-Clair Todibo, may yet follow. The foundations have rarely been stable at Le Gym – they are set to be shaken once more and unlike in previous re-builds, Ineos look unwilling to break the bank to ensure their sturdiness. 

Stability has eluded Nice ever since Ineos took control back in 2019, who upon their purchase of the club, looked to herald a new, ambitious era in the club’s history. In the past five years, Le Gym have gone through six managers, they are now on their search for a seventh. “I am calm about the future but I would like a bit of stability over a two or three year period, continuity in terms of staff and a sporting director committed to the long term in order to stabilise the club and go where we want to go,” admitted club President Jean-Pierre Rivère. 

‘The very ambitious project is no longer on the agenda’ – Nice president Rivère

Ghisolfi has – by and large – succeeded since arriving at Nice at the end of 2022, notably making the choice to recruit Farioli, who arrived in France without a reputation. The fact that Farioli leaves one year later to join Ajax, in itself, validates that choice. So why, with European football returning to the Allianz Rivera, could neither be convinced to stay? 

It is a question of the project and its ambition. Ghisolfi left RC Lens to become sporting director at Nice because of the flashy project he was presented. Ineos, upon their arrival, stated the ambition to challenge Paris Saint-Germain at the top of the table and to be a regular in the upper echelons of the European game. 

That remained the objective when Ghisolfi arrived but it quickly changed. “Today, the very ambitious project is no longer on the agenda […] the ambition is no longer to challenge PSG; the ambition is Europe,” said Rivère last summer, with Ghisolfi adding that the budget had seen a “slight reduction”. 

That was the case before Ineos’ purchase of a significant share in Manchester United, an investment that requires considerable resources, not purely financial. More than ever, Ineos’ attention seems elsewhere, with Nice-Matin reporting that the chemical company are “downsizing” at Nice and focusing their investments on the Premier League club. 

A domino effect

Within such a context, it cannot come as a surprise that a sporting director, who is looking to continue his upward trajectory, would look to jump ship. It is only natural that Farioli would then consider his future, especially with such a lucrative offer on the table from Ajax. The dominoes understandably fell and Les Aiglons (The Eagles, in English) have deplumed. 

Some players will follow, exactly how many is unclear. Todibo and Thuram have reached the end of the cycle and will garner considerable fees that should allow the new sporting director to regenerate the squad. It is expected that Florian Maurice will replace Ghisolfi, whilst his former colleague at Stade Rennais, Bruno Genesio, is the frontrunner to replace Genesio. Lens’ Franck Haise is also a candidate, as per Foot Mercato. 

There is a feeling that the ongoing revolution at the club is happening within Ineos’ purview, yet it is Fabrice Bocquet and president Rivère that seem at the centre of the process, even if, prior to his exit, Farioli insisted that Ineos remained committed. “A lack of support from Ineos? Certainly not,” began Farioli, responding to a question from Get French Football News.

Key figures at Nice in ‘frequent contact’ with Ineos

 “I have frequent contact with the management. For sure, Ineos have a lot things to manage but they have kept a direct relationship with Florent. We have exchanged news. They were very present in the summer window, there had been some changes in the strategy but the transfer window was coherent with the current strategy of the club. For having reached our objective (to finish in the top six in Ligue 1), we have to thank Ineos first and foremost,” added Farioli before last Sunday’s game against Lille OSC, his last as Nice manager. 

Just days earlier, Sir Jim Ratcliffe had been at the Allianz Riviera to watch Le Gym take on Paris Saint-Germain, although, as Farioli revealed, there were no talks between the owner and the now-former manager. It felt like a symbolic presence and amid reports that Ineos may look to sell OGC Nice, there is an air of uncertainty at the club with a summer of considerable change afoot. As Les Aiglons prepare for a new era, certainly not the first of the Ineos reign, the owners seem as distant as ever. How that will affect the project at the Allianz Riviera is a question on the lips of everyone both inside and outside of the club.

GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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