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Manu Pires: "OGC Nice is the club to be"

Interview (Part 1)

June 7, 2021

Manu Pires: "OGC Nice is the club to be"

During the summer break, the preparations for the 2021-22 season get underway at the OGC Nice Academy too. Departures, arrivals, promotions to the first team squad, and a reorganisation of the coaching staff: Manu Pires sat down to discuss the latest comings and goings at the Academy. Here is the first part of the interview, which is focused on the movements within the squad.

Manu, two 18 year olds will sign an Elite contract with the club: Tom Louchet and Justin Smith. Can you present them to us?

Tom Louchet joined us two years ago. He is a forward, a real ball player. He is quick and his technical ability is above average for his age group. He plays on the wing for the moment, but in the future he could play behind the striker. It's down to us to provide him what he is missing to play at the very top level, particularly in terms of his defensive play. He will also grow and develop physically. It's a source of pride, because thanks to his attitude, his education, he has won unanimous support in the Academy. His dad was a professional footballer, so he is used to elite sport and knows what is expected of a player. His personal qualities and the time that we will give him to develop them will be a good mix.

Justin Smith was picked up from the Paris Saint-Germain youth set-up. He struggled in his first year in Nice, he has grown a lot and has experienced minor injuries. As a midfielder, he had quality but lacked liveliness, a 360 degree view. On one occasion, he was put at centre back in training and then in a match: and he was a revelation in that role. He may well play in midfield again one day, but he is a lot more comfortable with the game in front of him, thanks to his reading of the game, his cultured style, his calmness and his technical ability. He has progressed incredibly, going from the Academy team to a starter for the Reserves. The coaches have worked tremendously with him. He is enjoying himself in Nice and will sign with us for the long-term.

Justin Smith and Tom Louchet pose for a photo in front of the club logo

Already a member of the first-team squad, Teddy Boulhendi (20 years old) has signed a pro contract.

Teddy is a very serious and meticulous goalkeeper. He has progressed this year even though he didn't play that many games due to the suspension of the N3. He discovered the demanding nature of the highest level of football and is still learning even though it's a professional contract.

Teddy Boulhendi

How did you manage to convince them?

OGC Nice is now the club to be at if you want the opportunity to quickly get a taste of professional football. When you are already there, there is no reason to leave. They have understood that the club is in the process of growing and that a huge amount of confidence is put in them in the long-run. They are enjoying things here and will be tasked with representing the club's colours in the future.

Our project for the Academy is to develop players with the OGC Nice character, that identification with the club's values. Loving the club is a must in order to succeed with OGC Nice. Tom, Justin and Teddy show their affection for the club on a daily basis. Their familles, their advisors believe in our project and things happen naturally.

"We never lie to families"

Is that the message you sent them from the very get-go?

We are lucky to have a scouting network at the Academy, which is led by David Bréro who does an immense amount of work, not only in terms of observation, but also in accompanying the families. The follow-up and support is what makes this club stand out. Without revealing our method, when a family comes here, there are no lies. We tell them the truth: about schooling, about the life of an academy footballer. We guarantee no professional contracts or a professional career. However, we do guarantee them a diploma for when they leave the Academy, without forgetting the preparation that is done for "real life", to develop good citizens.

The departures of Salim Ben Seghir and Bilal Nadir were covered by the press. How have you viewed them from your side?

We cannot get used to seeing lads that we went out and picked up leave. Those lads that we have worked with at the club for years and years. When we believe in a player, we have an army of people who are involved: monitors, quartermasters, canteen staff, medical staff and coaching staff… This choice to leave the adventure, I will never get used to that. But you need to get on with things, we are in a time where nothing should ever surprise you, and that includes seeing youngsters leave who were happy at the club, because I am convinced that they were happy at the club.

Were their cases linked?

Every family makes its own choice, but they have the same agent: they chose individually to leave the club, maybe because they couldn't see themselves in what we were offering them. We were offering them a unique sporting project, that they won't get elsewhere. We are talking about OGC Nice, but also Lausanne, with possibilities to get a taste very, very quickly of the world of professional football, which is a huge opportunity. At 17, 18, 19 years old, that's fantastic. There aren't many who have had that opportunity. Evann (Guessand) and Hicham (Mahou) have each picked up around 30 matches this season in the Swiss D1. It's a real opportunity for them.

"We can all look each other straight in the eye"

Do you see these departures as a failure?

No. But it's a lesson. An additional experience. From the moment that the project offered is in line with what we have put in place since the arrival of Ineos, we can all look each other straight in the eye. We have nothing to feel ashamed of at OGC Nice: the choices that have been made have been the right choices. If a player feels that our project doesn't match what he is looking for, the door will always be open: we don't pressure players to sign for the club. We will never lose sight of our own principles.

Is that a way of sending a message for the future?

Exactly. There has been an incredible escalation, which has really picked up in recent months, with bidding wars on young players who are signed with Academies. Lots of players in the professional structures want to change club, and that represents 9 out of 10 of the phone calls that I receive. We look to win the loyalty of players with our sporting and personal project. It's the same for those who want to join us: their arrival will only be based on sporting reasons. And it will never be for financial reasons.

"The door is wide open for the youngsters"

Le Gym has one of the youngest squads in Europe, but doesn't feature at the top of the table when looking at players who have come through a club's Academy. How would you explain that?
We make no commitment to play players from outside of the Academy, and at the same time, there is no commitment to favour those who have come through the Academy. If a Niçois plays, that's a real source of pride, but it's down to them to put in the work. The door is open, it is wide open, I would even say there is no longer a door in place! But when Les Niçois go out onto the pitch with the first team, they need to stay there. They need to show things, to prove things. The young players coming from other clubs in the first team, like Boudaoui, Daniliuc, or even Thuram, they have proved it. Playing in L1 is something that is earned.

The club wants to step up a level: so the Academy needs to raise the level it demands in its recruitment of young players. Maybe some players who have come through the Academy don't meet what is required of the highest level that we want to install within the first team. We need players who will perform, not players who think they have the required level.

After appearing on four occasions this season (1 goal) for the first team, Malik Sellouki leaves the club. Why?

Today the club is looking for players in certain positions with certain criteria. Malik had come on so much: a year ago he was in the AS Cannes Reserves (in PH). He was able to take his opportunity and he proved it by scoring goals in training and in matches. We think that he needs some additional stepping stones in order to get the level needed for Ligue 1, but this season, OGC Nice has allowed him to kickstart his career elsewhere. His story is fantastic, it will give lots of other the chance to believe. Malik is both humble and ambitious, we wish him all the very best.

F.H. (Photos J-M.P.)

The reaction of Smith and Louchet: 

Justin Smith: "It's a huge source of pride after all of the work that has been put in. I am grateful to the club that is putting its confidence in me and giving me this opportunity, but I am aware that this is just one step and I hope that it is the first of many with OGC Nice because I feel good here and the club's identity suits me well. Le Gym is one of the best French clubs, the ambitions of the club are big. The project in place at OGC Nice really appealed to me and matches my future objectives. I have affection for the club, it's the club where I came through the ranks, so the choice was easy for me. I would like to climb further up the ranks at the club, to make my mark here one day and to be able to contribute in the best way possible to the ambitions of the project at the club."

Tom Louchet: "I am very happy to sign my first contract for OGC Nice, my club. I want to thank all of the club, the directors, the coaches, the staff, as well as everyone I have met since I started playing football and who have helped me to grow as a man and as a player, so that I can have this opportunity today. I am aware that the hard work is only just starting, that I will need to work hard in order to meet the objectives of the team and for me as an individual. With hard work and humility, I will give my all to proudly defend the OGC Nice colours. Issa Nissa."