OGC Nice: "A club must be obsessed with the progression of the player"

In 2011, the current president of OGC Nice, Jean-Pierre Rivère, bought the club Riviera for 12 million euros. This fall, the daily Team value it - generously, according to the management of the club - to 130 million euros, which made the Gym the 5e French club after the four behemoths that are AS Monaco, Paris-SG, Olympique Lyonnais and Olympique Marseille. Valuing a club is particularly difficult: not only are there many parameters (real estate or immaterial capital, ownership or not of the stadium, value of the brand in the domestic market and internationally ...) but they are also fluctuating; a descent in Ligue 2 (where the TV rights and the prospects of progression of the players are reduced to nothing or almost) being able to sink the company and a player appearing among the assets of the club which can see its value to triple in a few months, not to say in a few games.

We spent a long time in December with the general manager of OGC Nice - and co-director of the project Nice since 2011 and the arrival of Rivère - Julien Fournier, to turn around a unique and fascinating problem: the creation of value in football. His ins and outs, his key positions, his lures.

Hollow, there was some friction between the pair Rivère-Fournier and the owners Sino-American (the founder of the Plateno hotel group, Alex Zheng, Elliot Hayes, Chien Lee and Paul Conway), who bought 80% of the club shares in June 2016: these disagreements, mainly on the refusal of the Chinese-Americans to hire experienced players to supervise the youngest, pushed Friday Rivère and Fournier to announce their departure as soon as possible, the time for the majority shareholders to find them replacements.

While the pair will live his last derby this Wednesday night on the lawn of AS Monaco for a late match of the 17e Ligue 1 day, it is therefore a retrospective vision, even testamentary, which is expressed here. And who tells the backstage of the seven years in which a club perceived initially as excluding and whose maintenance in Ligue 1 was the only sporting horizon has progressed by leaps and bounds, inviting itself until the preliminary round of the Champions League and paying himself the scalp of the biggest clubs hexagonal (two 4-0 in front of Monaco, 4 points against the Paris-SG in the 2016-2017 season) thanks to one of the most beautiful footballs in France. If the constraints on the Ligue 1 clubs and their environment (media, competition exacerbated) are about the same from one club to another, the vision defended by Rivère and Fournier is very special: it is articulated around a pillar, the coach, at the same time guarantor of the sports results (a relegation in Ligue 2 and it is the industrial accident), of the progression of the players (thus of their monetization on the transfer market) and the image of the team both through his media exposure (a coach passes in front of the pickups four times a week) than through the game of the team he coaches.

How much is the OGC Nice today?

The price a buyer is willing to put.

It's a discard ...

Absolutely not. Football is a sector of economic activity, but it is not standardized. The price of a tonne of cobalt, I know it. Or the value of a car to the Argus. But in football, there is no Argus. The price of a club is extremely sensitive to the concept of supply and demand: if it is the only one for sale, it goes up quickly. But if the local economy is catastrophic ... Come on, for OGC Nice, I tell you between 80 and 110 million euros. It is true that a club is also a brand, it has a player asset marketable in the transfer market, it can also own real estate assets.

What is the "brand"?

The story that we will be able to tell. Be careful: it's not about telling stories, but telling A story is not the same at all. And for there to be a story, the investor must see a consistency between what he has been doing for a few years outside of football and what he comes for in football. Afterwards, this story can evolve. When we [le président Jean-Pierre Rivère et lui, ndlr] takes over the club in 2011, the only ambition is not to go down in Ligue 2 and it infuses all floors of the club and beyond, from the media or political environment to administrative employees through the sports entity. We then have a profile of experienced players, 31-32 years old, cut for survival, with a style of game centered on the fight. Very quickly, we exchange with Jean-Pierre Rivère and we say to ourselves: either we continue like this until we finally get off, because it always ends up arriving at these teams, or we change everything. It is this reflection that led us to take Claude Puel. The coach is the mason. Whoever carries the project, who builds the story of the club. For us, there are two categories. One of them brings together the coaches who arrive in a project almost completed and who know how to do the last meters that lead to victory. Didier Deschamps, for example. When he arrives in Marseille in 2009 after the Belgian coach Eric Gerets, the club is in working order, the team is strong, just missing the titles. The guy who is 400% in the win to the exclusion of everything else. Deschamps takes César Azpilicueta and Lucho Gonzalez: it was expensive [6 et 18 millions d’euros de transfert, une sacrée somme en 2009] but it takes what is needed, the title of champion of France in 2010 was at this price.

And the second category of coach?

Those who also want to win but who set something else, like the progression of the player. It's risk taking: Jordan Amavi [alors âgé de 19 ans] costs two goals against Montpellier for the last of Nice at the stadium of Ray (2-2, 1st September 2013) but it is assumed. Amavi was an attacker before Claude Puel repositioned him to the position of left-back defender: he was in the learning phase, and of course ... By taking Puel, we knew he would have the courage to line up young people and assume the deficit of points that goes with it. In return, we extended his contract just when the team had just lost his 8e match in a row. To secure it. People did not understand. They expected him to be turned. But we were in a different temporality. This temporality, which is that of the construction of the player, creates a kind of deferred value: that of resale on the transfer market.

Do you assume it?

Because you know French clubs that neglect the sale of players? It's nice today to talk about ticketing, recipes "match day" ... The reality is that the budget of a club depends on the following two positions: TV rights [Nice a touché 29,7 millions d’euros de droits à l’issue de la saison 2017-2018] and transfers. After, the timing is very important. In Nice, a young sign five years, without salary adjustment nor departure the first two seasons. The idea is to bring it to a kind of sports maturity [donc financière], at least in Nice, where we work on young people. At each level, the company must be obsessed with the player's progress. This is not without drawbacks on the perception of the project on the outside: it means that you let go [en mai 2015] Didier Digard, the iconic captain for several seasons, to take Jean Michaël Seri, whom nobody knows and you are looking for in a Portuguese club [Paços de Ferreira] that nobody knows either.

Brazilian defender Henrique Dalbert left after a season ...

It had been bought 2 million in Vitória Guimarães, Portugal: it was sold 30 million to Inter Milan. After rejecting proposals to 3, then 5, then 12 million euros, while some shareholders pushed us to yield. It had to be solid (smile). The idea is to stretch the elastic band to the maximum, without breaking it.

FOOT - L1 - 2018<br/>atal (youcef)<br/>ikone (jonathan)<br/>Youcef Atal from Nice (whose valuation clause is set at € 70 million) and Jonathan Ikoné from Lille on November 25 at the Allianz Riviera. Photo Frédéric Porcu. Sports Press

You are the only French club to have matched players' contracts with a valuation clause: a reserve price below which you reserve the right not to sell it. What is the point ?

First: keep your hand under the reserve price. Take the example of a player with a 50 million clause. If a club puts 50 million, he leaves. And if a club wants to negotiate under this bar of 50, maybe he leaves ... and maybe not, it's Nice who decides. Second: send a signal on the value of the player. Take a player X: he will not have the same value if he plays in Nice or Monaco. It is unfair, perhaps even absurd, but it is so. The clause helps restore balance: when you value Youcef Atal [défenseur droit] at 70 million euros, we send a message. Like "if you want it, it's so much". Otherwise, we discuss. And the Gym keeps control.

If this clause is usual in some countries (Spain, Brazil ...) the Professional League declared it illegal in France in the contracts binding the club and the player.

Yes. But Fifa admits these clauses. And they are not contrary to French laws governing employment contracts: there are even studies on the professional environment where they are considered to be in conformity. The day when there will be a disagreement [c’est-à-dire quand un joueur sous contrat avec Nice partira pour un prix inférieur à la clause sans l’accord du club], we go to the common law court. And we will see if a regulation issued by an association takes precedence over French law.

What is the interest of the player to subscribe to this clause which, if we understand correctly, transfers a part of his free will to the club with which he is under contract?

Because we are interested in the final transaction. And we listen to it. Find the Best Deals for Alassane Pléa [attaquant, transféré cet été au Borussia Mönchengladbach et tout récent international tricolore] came from England but we went in the direction of the player, who preferred Germany. And Alassane Plea signed where he wanted to play.

Player trading does not always have good press. Monetize men ...

Reselling a player who is more expensive than buying it is a consequence of the good work of the club. To create value, you need a daily job, skills, an eye too. When we sell Jordan Amavi 13 million euros to Aston Villa after having trained, we reinvest this sum [plus 2 ou 3 millions] to redo the administrative services building and the rooms of the training center.

It's so important that the land?

There is the price that is worth it and that is imputed in the assets of the club. But not only. When you are trying to convince Claude Puel to come and all you can show him is a dilapidated stadium [celui du Ray, abandonné en 2013] and a training center worthy of the former USSR ... A Favre [entraîneur suisse, aujourd’hui leader du championnat d’Allemagne avec Dortmund], a Hatem Ben Arfa [15 sélections avec les Bleus] or a Wesley Sneijder [134selectionswiththeNetherlands4[134 sélectionsaveclesPays-Bas4e of the ranking of the golden ball in 2010], It's not nothing. For a long time, they were shown the progress of the works, the backhoe loaders. Then the Allianz Riviera, our new stadium since 2013. When Ben Arfa arrives in 2015, there is no hot water at the training center three days out of four. Maybe he does not care, maybe not. But to perform over time, you need hot water. And the kids? A family will entrust you with your child of 13-14 years: how do you want it to be insensitive to the conditions of reception? Selling a certain comfort is not enough, of course. But it is necessary. Today, when the coach schedules two daily sessions, players do not have to go home between the two.

Mario Balotelli, Ben Arfa, Wesley Sneijder ... Did the arrival of superstars enhance the OGC Nice brand?

It puts a light on the club. Puel too, it was not nothing: he came anyway to play a semi-final of the Champions League [avec l’Olympique lyonnais] and take out Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo. Favre is an echo in Germany and Switzerland. But I do not think it's decisive. Already, everyone understands that if these players are at home, it is because they come out of a failure. Then there is the risk of being labeled "fitness home". What matters to me is that Balotelli and Ben Arfa have arrived back on their own. And that here they have opened.

Is there an indisputable rating to set the price of a player?

There are firms of expertise in intangible capital that work on football, yes (It shows a file edited by a French agency where players are presented on a full page and cut into various characteristics, including a valuation figure). It is sometimes necessary to amend according to the state of form, the return of wound ... Attention, the human capital of a club does not stop with the players. Leaders also count: stay on course, do not send conflicting signals ...

It should not have been easy to break with Puel at the end of the 2015-2016 season, with a team finishing the championship at the 4e Ligue 1 place behind Paris, Lyon and Monaco ...

If, it's easy: just tell him that we stop. Replacing a coach like Puel, on the other hand, it's difficult. He had made the OGC Nice a club that had all its place in Ligue 1, able to prevent the biggest to turn round. He put his nose everywhere, sometimes excessively but everything was to be done: it was the right man since we started from scratch. His successor, Lucien Favre, had a European aura. Less builder than Puel, but with an obsession with competition and play, many clubs at his feet ... It was not easy to convince. During the first part of the 2015-2016 season, Puel tells us that he refuses to extend for the moment. Out of the question to suffer the situation: we dump bogus names in the press and passed messages to Favre, then without a club, who was in observation camp in Naples. No answer. We insist. And Favre lets us know that Nice does not interest him.

So, how did you do it?

We met in February in a lost village in Switzerland. A restaurant at the edge of a road in the middle of nowhere and we talked for two hours, the Nice club and football. Then we saw each other again. He was sort of put in situation, that is to say, he watched the games of Nice from a distance and made the debriefings: "He can sell it, he can play higher. For him to refine his eyes, we spoke to him about the wounded, the contractual situations ... A sort of simulation game. He was very hesitant to practice at the start, out of respect for Claude Puel and his work. We spent whole afternoons there. We also pointed out to him that he, French-speaking Switzerland, had never trained in France. Finally, he was given the idea that there would be constraints [économiques] but no interference with sports choices. Today, Favre is associated with the idea of ​​the beautiful in the football, the goals, the risk-taking, the pleasure.

To return to this idea of ​​brand, the beautiful is he marketable in football?

It's worth the money. But this is only the consequence of what is created: it is for a player as for a club. The beautiful has never been conceptualized to increase the value of a brand, it's a stupid bullshit. After, yes, it has always been clear to us that it is with technical players and an offensive team that we get into football.

To anticipate the scheduled departure of Favre Borussia Dortmund, you turn to Patrick Vieira: world champion and Europe with the Blues certainly, but with experience of limited head coach at the North American championship. To take up this idea of ​​narrative, why him?

This choice carries a risk. It is a turn, built on the conclusion that we made at the end of last season: the Nice player is intelligent and technical, Puel has developed in this direction, Favre too. But the counterpart of these characteristics are the lack of aggression. Of course we need to be in a kind of continuity, fitting with the DNA [la technique, l’offensive] of the team. But in football, there are duels, contacts, combat. Without knowing personally Patrick Vieira, he appeared to us a calm personality, a sage, without pressure. But on a field, he was a warrior. And that's what we wanted to see projected players in the workforce. I come back to the notion of narrative: you need the right coach at the right time. Favre before Puel, it was not possible. And Vieira before Favre either.

Grégory Schneider special envoy to Nice (Alpes-Maritimes)