Press review

J-P. Rivère: The 10-year anniversary interview

Jean-Pierre Rivère and Le Gym were not necessarily made for each other. Their relationship has, however, worked miracles, taking the club from battling relegation in a crumbling Stade du Ray to — in the space of ten years — challenging for Europe in a brand new arena with solid infrastructure and a multi-billionaire owner. The OGC Nice president looked back on his decade at the head of the club with Nice-Matin at his real estate offices.

Président, what's your best memory of the last decade?

The second leg against Ajax. In terms of emotions, that's the best memory. I had the feeling we'd equalise in the last ten minutes, that doesn't happen often. Bringing that music to the Allianz, it was a great collective feeling of joy. We were all on the pitch at the end of the game, the coach, the players, the staff, to share in the moment. I would have liked to have had others like it. They'll come, I hope [smiles].

By drawing 2-2 with Ajax, OGC Nice earned a Champions League night at the Allianz Riviera

The worst memory?

The Lyon-Nice game of my first year (3-4, 2011/12). We were in danger of being relegated, and that suffering was in that result, but above all at the end of the game. I had a lot of affection for René, and if we talk from the heart, I would have kept him as coach. But for the project, we went and got Puel. At the end of the game, everyone was happy because we had stayed up, but I knew that I had to end things with René. The role of a president is to have to take very painful decisions from time to time.

What are you most proud of?

Honestly, there's one: the day when I know the deal with Ineos had been signed. For 30 seconds, I said to myself that we had really worked well for the club. It only lasted 30 seconds, but I said to myself, 'We did it.'

Nice-Marseille, is that the only time you've missed a trick? 

I'll come back to that when I leave football. I don't want to create a controversy. The circumstances led to the fact that I didn't have the lucidity and the desire to talk. I did it. If it happened today, what I would say would be completely different. It's so unexpected, you're KO. We're talking about other things than football: we're getting personal [N.B. the altercation with OM president Pablo Longoria in the stands, his wife was also involved]. I won't accept that. It's not pleasant in terms of image, but when you're president, you have to take one for the team. I'm thick-skinned, it doesn't bother me. I'm sad to see that happening over and over again.

In the day-to-day running of the club, you're more in the background now… 

When I left [January 2019], I went nine months without football. I missed the environment, but I had a comfortable life. I came back in because Ineos asked us to do so. But in the new structure, the role had changed, which was something I wanted. I like what I do in the committees [N.B. vice-president of Ligue 1, sits on the LFP Administrative Council], the voice of OGC Nice counts today. We have a huge work in progress to change our football.

October 2017, OGC Nice inaugurates its new Training Centre & Youth Academy

Do you know when you'll leave the club? 

No idea. I thought I'd be here five years…Since Ineos came in, we have the aim of establishing Nice among the top French clubs and being in European competition as often as possible. The club is in a good situation, I'm a free man, but you have to respect the people who invest their money. When the time comes that I feel I no longer want to be here, I'll say thank you and goodbye.

Is a trophy your next challenge?

Being in the top four or five on a regular basis is just as hard as battling successfully against relegation. A trophy, that would be great. But it's not what I'm obsessed with. The day I leave, I have just one wish: it's that the club is in very good working order. That's what motivates me. My greatest wish is that the employees, the fans, the city are happy thanks to the club. You don't often get the chance to make people happy. We have a sporting duty, but also a societal one. If we manage to create emotions, it's fantastic.


Mario Balotelli's transfer

That's when I had most fun. There were obstacles in each meeting, but I never gave up on the idea of signing him right to the end. It's one of those instinctive things, that's what I like. Everything was against it. When I took the club on, many people thought it was crazy. But the more people tell me not do something, the more of a challenge it becomes. Mino [Raiola] explained to me for an hour why I shouldn't take Mario. I then spent four hours with the player, a nice kid. I had the feeling it had to be done. It's intuition that has often shaped my life. Wanting to sign Mario was one such thing. But having the people around you who are able to do it is the most important. We brought in another way of working, of being an entrepreneur. But you can't do anything alone.

Was it the same thing for Hatem Ben Arfa?

On a personal level, Hatem and Mario are two players with whom I developed a special relationship. I like those players who have taken an unusual route through life. I like meeting people and forming my own opinion of them by speaking to them. Mario and Hatem, if you listen to what is said about them, you don't sign them. As I said, I wasn't alone, but I had a deep conviction that we had to sign them. A president must never interfere between a coach and a player, but they sometimes came to my home when they had a problem. We had a relationship built on trust, which meant we could talk to each other. Julien knew Hatem well from OM, Mario was a big gamble. We had to convince a lot of people. When you're intuitive, you make mistakes of course. But when it works, you're happy.


« He's our captain, an exemplary symbol for the club. He's here to make OGC Nice grow, to help the youngsters. It's a great pleasure to have such a player with us. For the present and I hope for the future. »


« It's the season that has left the biggest impression. It's unique because of the terrorist attack, something I hope we'll never see again. Each time Nice won, we got some pride back, and there was a thank you, a little bit of happiness in the city. We were autumn champions, we gave people their smile back. If there's a regret, it's the January transfer market. We were top of the table and we knew the squad wasn't quite big enough to go all the way [N.B. OGC Nice finish third, behind Monaco and PSG]. Julien and I wanted to strengthen, we had money and asked for nothing from the owners. We had a good opportunity [Memphis Depay] in what were extremely favourable conditions. The shareholders didn't want to go through with it. I understand that: that six months after their arrival, they can't follow us into the future. I don't say we would have won it, but we wanted to give ourselves the means to stay in the hunt as long as possible. »


« The ten years have gone very quickly. It's a really great experience. I'm not in it every day, I can take a step back and look at things. You learn a lot of things, it's a job with lots of facets. My role is to prepare the club for the future. The life of a club is a succession of presidents.

I set myself a rule at the start: never use football to do real estate. I had proposed a restructuring of the Stade du Ray. When the tender was put out, I wasn't one of the candidates. Like that, people couldn't think I was investing in OGC Nice to do business. I wanted to stay neutral. »


« There have been a lot. I would say the 3-1 home win over Paris (2016/17). The team put in a great performance to stay near the top of the table. There's also the first game at the Allianz against Valenciennes [4-0, 2013/14). I don't remember the quality of the match, but I do remember the pleasure of having a full stadium, a party atmosphere. Seeing children and people discover this magnificent stadium was quite magical. I had had the chance to go to the stadium beforehand and see what it looked like from every stand. It was great to share that with the Nice public. »

From the Stade du Ray (2011) to the Allianz Riviera (2013)


« Nice-Rennes, a month after the attack [1-0, 2016/17]. It was a really symbolic match. It wasn't just football, it was about saying that we were still standing. Malang's goal was symbolic. It was a very special day. I had played padel in the morning, and I was so angry when I went on the Promenade des Anglais. You can't feel good, how do you play football after that…That was with us all season. It was the start of a strange year. »


« There are three: Nice-St-Etienne (0-1, 2013/14), Nice-Bastia (0-1, 2014/15) and the most recent Nice-OM [N.B. all marked by fan disturbances]. That's everything we don't want to see in a stadium. After years of work, everything starts again from scratch. People come to the stadium to enjoy themselves and suddenly it all comes crashing down. After that, you roll your sleeves up and start rebuilding. »


« t's paradoxal given the club's growth, but it's still a major concern: how to fill the stadium? Julien and I ask ourselves that question very often, how can we do it? You're facing Metz at the bottom of the table, and though we're near the top there are still very few fans in the stadium. We are going to keep working on that. We have already worked on the 'Purchase power programme'. If each fan gets involved, it means their season ticket costs virtually nothing. 12,500 season ticket holders can take advantage of that this season already. »


« It's the story of a little boy called Hugo who has a very rare form of cancer. I think there had only been six cases in France. There was very little hope for recovery. OGC Nice decided to play a role in a long chain of support and solidarity with some small intiatives for the 'Enfant sans douleur' [Children without pain] programme. Hugo's parents were always there, even if they were very difficult times for them. We asked ourselves each time, 'Will we see them again?' Then when I took my son for his first day at school, I saw Hugo and his parents. He was in the same class as my son, who is a bit of a roughhouse. I told him, 'You don't touch him, he's my friend.' Today, he's the best friend of my son. And Hugo is cured. They also play in the same football team, and I'm happy every time I see him. Our little thing helped. It's an event which has marked my presidency. I was so happy when his parents called to say he was cured. And today, they're friends. »


« There have been a lot. With Julien, things last when one respects the space of the other. We're both very different and very complementary. He looks more at the present while I try to look further. We sometimes have a difference of opinion, but we've never argued. »

THe coach

« We have always had coaches that, when we bring them in, are above the club. Claude, he's the ideal coach for the project. Lucien, his history speaks for itself. When we brought in Christophe, he's the reigning French champion. And it's great to talk with him on a daily basis. Over and above his skills, it's great on a human level. The coach is the cornerstone. With Vieira, the stars were not in alignment. It didn't work, that's part and parcel of a football club's history. I hope he'll become a great coach, even if it didn't work out as we had hoped.»

Interview by Vincent Menichini and William Humberset (Nice-Matin,  29/12/2021)