From Hell... to Paradise !
Having just avoided bankruptcy for a second time, Le Gym returned to the top flight.
Two-thirds of the way through the 2001-02 campaign, the Italian board sold the club. The club flew home to finish the season in third place and win promotion back to Ligue 1. But the DNCG relegated the club all the way back to the third division for financial reasons. The new owners appealed with a solid defence, but the appeal was rejected. Le Gym then turned to the Olympic Committee… and the appeal was upheld! The Federal Council heard the case again and on 19 July, OGC Nice was back where its performances on the pitch deserved: Ligue 1!
With less than two weeks to prepare for the start of the season and a rushed recruitment, new coach Gernot Rohr created the surprise package of the season. Les Rouge et Noir were 12 times league leaders and just one point off top spot at the midway point of the campaign. Exhausted from their efforts, Les Aiglons couldn’t maintain the rhythm into 2003 but still managed to qualify for the Intertoto Cup.
The 2003-04 season confirmed the upturn in fortunes. After qualifying past Swedish side Örgryte in the second round of the Intertoto, OGC Nice were narrowly eliminated 0-0 and 0-1, by future German champions Werder Bremen. Les Aiglons were never threatened by relegation, assuring their place in the top flight by February, finishing an honourable 11th and qualifying once again for the Intertoto. The next year was more difficult. Le Gym fought off relegation on the 37th and penultimate day of the season. Four matches from the end, Gernot Rohr was replaced as coach by Gérard Buscher. In the end, OGCN finished 12th – a result that scarcely reflected the trials endured during that second half of the season.
The board then chose Frédéric Antonetti to lead the team forward. The first season was very positive. Le Gym finished in the top half of the table and enjoyed a superb run to the final of the Coupe de la Ligue. No fewer than 20,000 Niçois were in the stands at the Stade de France, but OGC Nice couldn’t live up to the tag of favourites and went down 2-1 to Nancy. Expectations were high for the following campaign, but the team made a disastrous start and was sitting second from bottom at the midway point of the campaign. All the same, Les Aiglons steadied the ship, thanks in large part to the return of two experienced former players: Lilian Laslandes and Lionel Letizi. The next two seasons saw OGC Nice solidly installed in the top half of the table, but something was irreparably broken when the side was eliminated from the Coupe de la Ligue semi-finals at home to Vannes.
At the end of the season, Frédéric Antonetti decided to join Rennes, and Chairman Cohen chose Didier Ollé-Nicolle to succeed him. After an excellent start and a 2-0 win over Saint-Etienne, Les Rouge et Noir struggled to string the results together and were sucked towards the bottom of the standings. With ten matches left, sitting in 17th place, Eric Roy, assisted by René Marsiglia and Fred Gioria, arrived to try and save the team. Les Aiglons won three matches in a row to secure their top flight future. However, in each of the next three seasons, the club only escaped the drop on the final day of the campaign.