June 17, 2020
Brick by brick, how OGC Nice are building their project
“Growing OGC Nice“. A vast project. Since their arrival at the club in 2011, Jean-Pierre Rivère and Julien Fournier have hammered home this objective. And above all, have been working towards it. The sporting project got going again upon their return nine months ago, with the objective of maintaining the same high standards across the board, from the first team to the pre-youth academy. With which resources and to meet what ambitions? For the first time, the Les Rouge et Noir’s Director of Football lifts the veil on this essential work going on behind the scenes.
FROM ALL ANGLES
An indispensable tool in the preparation of matches, video technology is now the responsibility of a dedicated team within the club, reporting to Adrian Ursea. This includes a technical hub to ensure that the club can benefit from the most innovative solutions, and an analysis team.
Cutting edge, global and individual analyses, the filming of training using a drone. Video now forms part of Les Aiglons’ daily lives. Both for the first team and the academy. "These are players from a generation that need to visualise things" detailed Julien Fournier, and "that has to allow us to offer supplementary support to Patrick."
In addition to the links established with Lausanne through INEOS, OGC Nice have also started to cast their net over other continents. Two main geographic focus areas have been identified: Africa and Brazil. A network that has allowed the recruitment of Robson Bambu, from CA Paranaense. “In Brazil, we have a scout, Carlos Henrique. It’s the first step. Having the right information at the right time gives us the chance to sign these player early on. That’s what we are interested in” explained the Director of Football.
“In Africa, a complex continent to work in, we had the chance in 2018 to establish a partnership with RC Abidjan. It’s a unique case. In the club, we found everything that we love: the philosophy, the type of players, shared values. A natural choice. It’s a pool of 100 young players. Despite a very young average age, the first team was top of their league when the season was put on hold."
Helping youngsters with huge potential to take those steps in order to fulfil their promise to the very end. From the academy teams all the way to the Allianz Riviera. A role of accompanying young talent had become more of a necessity in the eyes of the Director of Football in recent years, but really took shape this season: "The idea was already there. But it didn’t have a name or a structure. It all clicked into place when I discovered that this role was already in place at Lausanne, with their Talent Manager".
Frédéric Gioria, who remains one of Patrick Vieira’s assistants, took on this ‘new hat’ this year. He is seconded to the young Aiglons who have been identified as those with the most talent, both in the first team (Boudaoui, Thuram, Trouillet, Pelmard,…) including those on loan (like Ndoye) and in the academy, but also for those playing for RC Abidjan. An individual development plan is in place. Technical, physical and mental. "In time, we will need a second Talent Manager in order to do the same thing for the pre-youth Academy to the Academy", added the Director of Football.
The choice to offer this monitoring to one academy player over another? "The club needs to give more to a player that has more potential than the others. More physical work, more video analysis… Being included on this programme needs to be a source of motivation. To be part of it and then to stay there. If there is a youngster who is not invested in the programme and only wants to use the club to go elsewhere, we will cut the cord immediately. And on the other side, the door is not closed to a youngster who is not originally included in the programme but who works hard. Nobody is left out. An elite is motivating."
The objective is clear: In time, to feed the first team. "Before now, the academy coaches said to me: ‘we’ve got an excellent generation here, we are 3rd, etc.’, some focussed on the Gambardella. It’s a source of good memories, but it’s not the priority either. My message is ‘find me players who can play in the first team.’ Often, we used to give everyone the same opportunity. I don’t agree with this. If one lad is better, he is the one that needs to make it. And we need to do all we can in order to make that happen."
FROM TREATMENT TO PREVENTION
" Of course, we continue to treat our injured players. Those are the basics. But I also wanted us to focus on injury prevention, and that no player is left to his own devices." The health of Les Aiglons is now constantly examined. The headquarters of the club, which was built in October 2017, is a precious tool in this regard. "If a player is injured, he comes to the training ground in the morning, has his treatment and then he eats here, given that we have meals in place, even when the team isn’t training. He has a room to relax in, then he continues his work in the afternoon." In order to accompany these developments, the medical team has also been boosted with new arrivals. A second doctor, a new osteopath, but also… a dietitian. "She works with the academy and the first team. She gives them gentle nudges, with a smile, but she is there. We have our players at breakfast and at lunch. So two out of their three meals are controlled. When you raise the levels across the club, the players take it upon themselves to get up to speed. Those that don’t do so, will distance themselves and will leave."
The facilities are also complemented by a cryotherapy room. Other facilities are planned, with conversations continuing across the various INEOS sporting teams.
THE PITCH PROJECT
Put into the spotlight last week on the club’s website, the meticulous work of Scott Brooks on the pitches at the training ground since arriving in January has looked to improve their ‘playability’ but also to prevent muscular injuries. "We have always needed to use suppliers. With Scott, they now have a specialist talking to them. Huge improvements will continue to be made. We need to build at least another five pitches" added Julien Fournier.
"The risks of a football match cannot be controlled. But all of the other details and conditions that can be managed, need to be managed."
THE GOALKEEPERS IN GOOD HANDS
This winter, Nicolas Dehon took charge of the first team goalkeepers while Lionel Letizi took on a new role. "When we put Lionel at the youth academy, it wasn't just to use his name," said the Director of Football. "The aim is to give the whole youth academy the benefit of his experience and to put the academy at the same level as the first team in terms of work and rigour."
In order to build a strong future, Le Gym is working on the basis of having a common thread through the club, as well as working with individual goalkeeping schools, and a first partnership has been formed with such a school in Marseille.
YOUTH ACADEMY: OGC NICE DNA AND AMBITIONS
This area has been labelled 'priority'. The youth academy is one of the areas where the most work and effort has been put in since last September. Over and above the medical, analysis and educational aspects of each stage, changes can be seen right up to pitch side with some new and some familiar faces. Manu Pires has returned to take charge of the academy while bringing in his former full-back Cédric Varrault to lead the reserves and Didier Digard, who is working as assistant to U17 coach Bruno Rohart.
Those follow in the same vein as other former players who have made a successful post-career conversion, such as Jérémy Quiez (youth academy goalkeeping coach), Arthur Leblanc (youth academy fitness coach) or Hachim Ali Mbae (video analyst). "Whether they are well known or not, all of these former players are part of the living strength of the club," explained Fournier. "All things being equal, someone who is part of the red-and-black family has an advantage for me. That also brings with it duties, because it's then up to them to commit fully in order to show they deserve that faith." A U19 assistant coach to look after the side's young strikers will soon come in to complete the line-up. It's possible that he too is a former Aiglon…
The ambitions are high too. "When you're a youth coach, and you have more means at your disposal, more competent people around you…that's good, it gives you a certain comfort. You get the impression you're moving forward. But if the club is making all these personnel, financial and strategic investments in the youngsters, it's with the aim of making them top-level players. There is an obligation to get results," Fournier added. "For me, a top-level player is a first team regular in an OGC Nice side that is playing in Europe. It's a guy who'll never leave the club for a mid-table side abroad but only to go to a big European club. He's a local youngster who becomes a starter for France…Hugo Lloris is a happy accident. What I want is to start it and make it last."
AND NOW, THE PRE-YOUTH ACADEMY
This winter, the pre-youth academy work was taken on by SASP (the professional side of the club). It's a significant change. "We started to work on the shell of the first team eight years ago. We're continuing. It's like a champagne pyramid. You start at the top and finish at the bottom. The standards of the pre-youth academy were catastrophic," the Director of Football explained. "We're trying to improve that now by adding competence."
Under Fabrice Garrigues ("someone of great value in both sporting and human terms, like Manu Pires"), the pre-youth academy will require full-time coaches to allow for greater control over youngsters' development.
A CALMER RELATIONSHIP WITH THE ASSOCIATION
Relations with the Association (Le Gym's amateur section) are now "calm". The transfer of the pre-youth academy was made smoothly and things are going well. "Jean-Luc Donati (Chairman) is really in the spirit," said Fournier. The Asso' remains in overall charge of the women's team as well as the 'football school'. "That's something very important. Ideally, our pre-youth academy will be entirely made up of players coming from there."
The change to the pre-youth academy will allow the club to up the demands in terms of education. "I make it a point of honour. When you take a kid, you have responsibilities towards their parents," explained Fournier. "They know a lot of things have to come together to have a football career, but it's out of the question to run the slightest risk in medical or educational terms."
OGC Nice are going to establish a school integrated within the club with the aim of tailoring studies to suit the budding footballers. "For a youngster who was good at football and at school, we could only offer them a technical line of studies up till now. The idea is always the same: offer individualised services. We have to be better at that. If we take a kid who has great sporting potential and could do high-level studies, we have to be able to offer him that even if he's the only one in the class. If he's a centre forward and has a specific training session during his normal school hours, he has to be able to take part in that session and we're going to pay for a private tutor. And we're going to do that with our teachers, who we're going to recruit and employ. We're setting ourselves that goal. Perhaps we won't get there? I think we will."