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Nice owners Ineos hoping ex-Premier League stars will lead club to promised land

A club with mega-rich British owners and ambitions of reaching the Champions League, it has been a bad start to the season for Nice despite the addition of several household names from English football in the transfer window.

Veteran Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel joined after 11 years at Leicester City, while ex-Arsenal star Aaron Ramsey signed on a free after leaving Juventus.

French-born Ivory Coast forward Nicolas Pepe then arrived on loan from Arsenal, before the signing of England international midfielder Ross Barkley, who was a free agent after leaving Chelsea.

Barkley, 28, was paraded before supporters prior to last weekend’s 1-0 home loss to Monaco and Nice will hope he can quickly make an impact in a struggling side.

After all, Nice go to Ajaccio this weekend sitting 16th in Ligue 1, with just one win and five points from their first six games.

They have scored just four goals — three of them penalties — and are already nine points adrift of the top three and a Champions League qualifying spot, having squandered a strong position in the table last season.

They were second in March before falling away and needing to win on the final night just to snatch fifth and a place in this season’s Europa Conference League.

They also lost the French Cup final to Nantes.

That was a blow for a club that has been transformed in recent years, especially since being taken over in 2019 by Ineos, the group chaired by Monaco-based British petrochemicals billionaire Jim Ratcliffe.

Nice’s poor finish last season meant coach Christophe Galtier was not greatly missed as he departed for Paris Saint-Germain.

His replacement, Swiss veteran Lucien Favre, then hardly played down expectations as he returned for a second spell at the club he led to third place in 2017.

“Over the next two years, Nice must try to progress, do good things in the transfer market and regularly finish in the top three,” he said.

“What Ineos are doing is very interesting, they are trying to build something big.”

They have the means to match their ambitions, although eyebrows have been raised in recent months with Ratcliffe trying to buy Chelsea and then being linked with a bid for Manchester United.

Eyebrows have also been raised by the involvement at Nice of Dave Brailsford, the former head of British Cycling and Team Sky who was last year named Director of Sport at Ineos.

“I’m not here to run a football team or say I know anything about football. I’m more the conductor of an orchestra. Lucien is in charge of the football,” Brailsford told sports daily L’Equipe.

His lack of a background in the game coupled with poor results will still have some Nice fans asking questions, unless results improve quickly.

“At Nice we want to see a team playing with a smile,” he added, although few supporters are smiling just now.

Player to watch: Carlos Soler

The Spanish international made his Paris Saint-Germain debut as a substitute in Tuesday’s 2-1 Champions League win over Juventus and will be hoping to feature more prominently against Brest on Saturday.

Soler joined PSG on transfer deadline day on a five-year deal for an initial reported fee of 18 million euros ($17.9m) from Valencia, where the 25-year-old came through the ranks of his boyhood club to end up wearing the captain’s armband.

The goalscoring midfielder will nevertheless have his work cut out to become a regular starter among PSG’s array of superstars.

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