A remarkable turnaround under rookie coach Didier Digard has ambitious Nice eyeing European qualification again after a miserable start to the season for the club owned by British group Ineos.
Nice were in the bottom half of Ligue 1 and had just been knocked out of the French Cup by third-division opponents when they decided to sack veteran Swiss coach Lucien Favre in early January.
Favre had enjoyed a successful first spell in charge of the team from the Cote d’Azur, not long before they were taken over in 2019 by Ineos, the group chaired by Monaco-based British petrochemicals billionaire Jim Ratcliffe.
The team’s deeply underwhelming displays under Favre this time around were then followed by the announcement that Ineos was interested in buying Manchester United.
That has raised questions about Ratcliffe’s commitment to Nice, but Digard has lifted the mood around the club in recent weeks.
The 36-year-old oversaw a 6-1 hammering of Montpellier on his debut and his record now reads five wins, one draw and two goals conceded in six matches.
Nice have beaten European contenders Lille, Lens and Marseille under Digard, only dropping points against a Reims side who are unbeaten in the league since September and who are their opponents again this weekend.
Suddenly Nice are up to seventh and are just four points adrift of the European places, while they also strengthened in January with the big-money signing of Nigerian striker Terem Moffi from Lorient.
The bearded Digard, who was the club’s reserve team coach before being promoted to the first-team backroom staff late last year, has notably overseen a transformation in the form of ex-Premier League players like Kasper Schmeichel and Aaron Ramsey.
But Digard, the former Paris Saint-Germain and Middlesbrough midfielder who was only appointed on an interim basis, is refusing to accept too much praise.
“Honestly, everyone deserves credit. If there were only me this wouldn’t work,” he said.
“It is thanks to the staff and everyone at the club who have come together at a time when there were not a lot of happy people around.
“We have put up a united front and now the players are getting their confidence back.”
Player to watch: Neymar
The Brazilian could do with putting in a big performance for PSG as the league leaders host Lille on Sunday off the back of their 1-0 home Champions League loss to Bayern Munich.
Neymar started the season in brilliant form and scored 15 goals in 20 games before the World Cup. Since returning from what was a disappointing tournament in Qatar, he has managed just two goals in eight games and been hindered by suspension and fitness problems.
He looks a shadow of the player he has been and failed to make a serious impact against Bayern. There has even been debate in France as to whether Kylian Mbappe’s comments after that game might have been aimed at Neymar, who recently celebrated his 31st birthday.
“We need to above all make sure that all our players are in good health. That they eat well and sleep well,” Mbappe said when asked about their chances of turning the tie around in the return in Munich.
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