What went wrong with Patrick Vieira at Nice?

Robin Bairner
What went wrong with Patrick Vieira at Nice?

Much was expected of Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira when he took over at Nice in 2018.

He arrived in the Cote d’Azur as a high-profile replacement for Lucien Favre, who had departed for Borussia Dortmund, and was expected to carry on the Swiss’ excellent work.

Backed by the arrival of owners Ineos a year later, the expectation was that Nice would grow to become a serious contender to finish in the top three of Ligue 1 each season – if not a significant challenge for Paris Saint-Germain.

Vieira’s results were very different, though, and on Friday he was sacked. Instead of jostling with the top three, though, he leaves Nice with the club in 11th in Ligue 1.

“Patrick Vieira put all his heart and his professionalism at the service of OGC Nice during the 30 months that this common adventure lasted,” a club statement said.

That is certainly true, but there is also no doubt that he came up short. His final match was a microcosm of his tenure.

A 3-2 home defeat against Bayer Leverkusen may not seem a disaster on paper, yet the reality was far less flattering for Vieira’s side. They were completely outplayed throughout and rode their luck to get as close to the Bundesliga side as the scoreline might have suggested. Indeed, a repeat of the 6-2 loss they suffered in Germany earlier in the competition might have been more fitting.

Vieira offered protests, claiming that his team was too small to match their opponents in the air, but in reality Nice have been treading water for weeks, if not months.

Vieira’s Nice record

PATRICK VIEIRA
CLUBNice
APPOINTED1st July 2018
GAMES89
WINS35
DRAWS21
LOSSES33
GOALS SCORED107
GOALS AGAINST118

Vieira’s trials and tribulations at Nice

Their mere presence in Europe was based somewhat on chance. They finished fifth in Ligue 1 based on points-per-game as the Covid-19 crisis struck midway through the season. Seven sides were within touching distance of them.

Lyon argued that the system was unfair as they had played runaway champions PSG twice but Nice had faced them only once. They had a point.

Luck in situations such as this has favoured Vieira as a coach throughout his stint in Nice, often providing a gloss to what has been a rather disappointing spell.

He inherited a team that was known for its exciting attacking football. They soon became boring and monotonous, enjoying extended periods of penetration but without any kind of framework for the team to excel.

Initially, Vieira’s problems were understandable. Key players such as Jean-Michel Seri and Alassane Plea had been allowed to depart, while there was also the Mario Balotelli problem. The striker wanted out and played to that effect. Vieira was never able to tame him and in January he would be gone.

Meanwhile, replacing these figures proven difficult. At the time, the club’s owners did not want to invest, causing backroom strife that did not help matters on the field.

When the team was taken over around a year later, Vieira lost close allies in the form of president Gauthier Ganaye and sporting director Gilles Grimandi, a former Arsenal cohort. Now Nice had money to invest but little time to spend it, with their summer business done at the end of 2019 in a rush.

Vieira, then, was excused of the poor performances of last season. Just as in his debut year, he had got by with a succession of tight victories that were more reliant on individual talent than the collective excellence.

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  • Missed opportunity

    The 2020/21 campaign was set up perfectly for Nice to finally flourish. Summer recruits included former Manchester United midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, ex-Monaco winger Rony Lopes as well as highly rated Lyon duo Amine Gouiri and Jeff Reine-Adelaide. Additionally, Hassane Kamara, one of the best full-backs in the league the previous season, was added from Rennes.

    And while results were initially positive, performances were distinctly more questionable. They climbed to fourth in the standings at the beginning of November, yet that was a false position, even before an injury to defensive keystone Dante proved Vieira’s undoing.

    Without the experienced Bayern Munich man to hold the team together, Nice have been little more than a rabble. They have twice been thumped by Sparta Prague in the midst of a five-match losing sequence that also saw a horrible home defeat to winless Dijon.

    Vieira was a coach who long lived on the edge; Dante’s injury was the nudge that tipped him over it.

    He will come again, no doubt, but his time in Nice was an opportunity missed.