They always say you should ‘never go back’ in football. It’s not the same second time around and Nice coach Lucien Favre is currently discovering that in painful fashion.
His first spell with the club from the French Riviera was a roaring success as he guided them into the Champions League for the first time in the modern era.
He helped establish Nice among the elite of French football again and made them a real thorn in the side of Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco, Lyon and Marseille. They were clearly on an upward trajectory.
Nice had big expectations this season – but early results have been thoroughly disappointing
Time may be nearly up for manager Lucien Favre, who only returned to the club in the summer
Mauricio Pochettino, latterly at Paris Saint-Germain, has been named as a possible successor
When he returned there in June, the anticipation was for more of the same, especially when backed with the billions of Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos.
Instead they’ve become a basketcase. An assembly of Premier League cast-offs, some of whom Favre either didn’t want or doesn’t know anything about, they’ve won just two of eight Ligue 1 games so far and Favre is facing the sack with the name of Mauricio Pochettino looming large.
Things hit a fresh low on Sunday when defender Jean-Clair Todibo was sent off after just nine seconds – unsurprisingly the fastest sending off in Ligue 1 history – and they slumped to a 1-0 loss at home to Angers.
Favre’s ailing team have also been beaten by Clermont, Marseille and Monaco, and held to draws by Toulouse and Strasbourg.
Their Europa Conference League campaign hasn’t exactly started in electric fashion either. They were held 1-1 by Cologne on a night of shocking violence in the stands and then drew by the same scoreline away to Partizan Belgrade.
Jean-Clair Todibo was sent off after just nine seconds as Nice were beaten by Angers
Nice’s home Europa Conference League match with Cologne was marred by violence
Fans clashed in the stands before kick-off at the Allianz Riviera, causing a delay to kick-off
It’s all a bit of a mess and all the while Ratcliffe, the richest man in Britain with a worth of £6.33billion, is being linked with a buy-out of Manchester United from the hated Glazer family.
The official line is that the Americans won’t sell the club but Ratcliffe is one of the few people in the world who has not only the capital to buy them but an emotional connection.
Nice’s owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who is Britain’s richest man, has made no secret of his interest in buying Manchester United
For many United fans, the INEOS boss is the only hope of freeing the club from the clutches of the Glazers.
Pochettino, himself mentioned in the same breath as United a fair bit in the past few years, might be advised to steer well clear even if Nice is an attractive place to live and work.
The Argentine likes a slow-build project but there’s been a churn of managers at the Allianz Riviera since Favre was spirited away to Borussia Dortmund in 2018.
Patrick Vieira, Adrian Ursea and Christophe Galtier have all been and gone in the intervening four years before Nice’s hierarchy decided to come back to the Swiss.
Favre, 64, might have expected to return to a stable and ambitious club with plenty of money to spend on quality players. Instead, things have been chaotic.
The departure of his predecessor Galtier to PSG was accompanied by a blazing row with sporting director Julien Fournier.
Even though Galtier took them to the French Cup final last season – they lost 1-0 to Nantes – he openly moaned about not having enough in his squad to properly compete.
Fournier begged to differ and, in an explosive interview with L’Equipe, said: ‘This team, as it is, could have had better results… If Christophe had given his full measure, with his qualities, we would be delighted right now.
‘You never know a person until you’ve worked with them.’
Christophe Galtier took Nice to the French Cup final last season but they lost 1-0 to Nantes
The summer saw a succession of new arrivals at Nice, including (left to right): Alexis Beka Beka, Mattia Viti, Kasper Schmeichel, Aaron Ramsey and Rares Ilie
Both men headed for the exit door shortly afterwards but the feud hardly set the right tone for a constructive summer.
Ratcliffe decided to enlist Dave Brailsford – Mr ‘Marginal gains’ and the general manager of the INEOS cycling team – to review how Nice could be doing things better behind the scenes.
Favre’s return, however, after 18 months out of work, was met positively as were the signings of winger Sofiane Diop [£20m from Monaco] and forward Gaetan Laborde [£14m from Rennes], who scored 17 times last season.
Many of the other summer arrivals are well known to Premier League fans. Kasper Schmeichel, the 35-year-old Leicester goalkeeper, was signed for £900,000.
Former Everton and Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley was a free agent and Aaron Ramsey, who failed to spark at Juventus, also came on a free.
Aaron Ramsey, signed on a free from Juventus, scored against Toulouse but has failed to make much of an impact since
Ross Barkley, a free agent after leaving Chelsea, was another summer signing made
Nicolas Pepe, Mads Bech Sorensen and Joe Bryan were taken on loan from Arsenal, Brentford and Fulham respectively.
Iain Moody, who was embroiled in a racist, sexist and homophobic text message scandal back in 2014, has been behind many of these signings having been appointed as an advisor.
It has been reported that Favre didn’t want Ramsey but Moody went ahead and signed him anyway.
And Favre’s baffled reaction when asked in a press conference about Barkley’s best position summed up his enthusiasm at being given another Premier League reject.
Nice boss Lucien Favre looked confused when asked for the best position of Ross Barkley
Pepe was also criticised by Favre for a lack of commitment pretty much straight away in another sign of the disharmony in the camp.
It begs the question whether the kind of team Favre has and the kind of team Favre wanted are two very different things.
Already it looks like his second spell at Nice will be short-lived and an unmitigated disaster that is far from entirely his own fault.
The international fortnight is a good time for a managerial change and Favre’s valediction second time around could well prove to be Todibo marching back down a tunnel he’d emerged from barely five minutes earlier, Barkley being thrown on in desperation in the second-half and the unwanted Ramsey watching on injured.
Not quite how Ratcliffe and everyone else connected with Nice imagined it.
Former Tottenham man Nabil Bentaleb scored the winner for Angers against Nice on Sunday