Nice’s two most recent fixtures in the Coupe de France sum up the club’s ever-changing fortunes under Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s INEOS.
In contrast to the glamour of reaching the showpiece of France’s oldest football competition in May 2022 – the club’s first major cup final in a quarter of a century – Nice promptly lost to third-tier Le Puy Foot 43 Auvergne in their very next cup tie last January.
After purchasing the club local to his second home in the tax haven of Monaco four years ago, Ratcliffe is on the cusp of acquiring a 25% stake in the team nearest his boyhood haunt; Manchester United.
Ratcliffe may only boast a minority share of the Premier League behemoths, but it comes with an influence over football operations, as reported by 90min.
Here’s the impact that Britain’s second-richest person had on the Ligue 1 side and what that could mean for Manchester United.
“INEOS does a lot of acquisitions,” Bob Ratcliffe, Sir Jim’s younger brother, told The Guardian while he was still CEO of Nice in 2020. “The talent is in many ways the preparedness to walk away from a deal if you want to secure value.”
Since INEOS took over Nice in the summer of 2019, they haven’t walked away from many deals, sanctioning a net spend of roughly £113m. Only two clubs in the French top flight (petro-fuelled Paris Saint-Germain and traditional members of the elite Marseille) have recorded a larger negative outlay. Across the previous five years, Nice had made a profit of £45m in the transfer market.
The new ownership also oversaw an investment worth £13.5m into a futuristic new training complex in the summer of 2020. The refurbishment – or entire rebuild – of a dilapidated Old Trafford is a key point of concern for Manchester United fans after the club’s distant owners, the controversial Glazer family, let it crumble on their watch.
However, Ratcliffe has been cagey about the level of investment he can bring to United and the shrinking chemical economy is hardly going to help the mounting debts piled up by his pharmaceutical giant INEOS.
“We are fast learners,” Ratcliffe declared upon his purchase of Nice, referring to the “silly mistakes” he made with his first acquisition in the world of football, Swiss side Lausanne. There have certainly been plenty of opportunities for personal growth during INEOS’s tenure on the Cote d’Azur.
Taking over a club famed for its ability to unearth hidden gems, Nice pivoted towards established names under Ratcliffe. Nice captain Dante, formerly of Bayern Munich, is one of the few club leaders to have survived the churn.
“We lost ten players, ten arrived,” Dante fretted at the end of last season. “The teams in the semi-finals of big competitions play together for three, four years. We changed everything last summer. There is a lack of coherence somewhere. I am sorry to say that.”
However, during the summer Nice rejigged their transfer strategy away from recognisable Premier League names, such as Kasper Schmeichel, Aaron Ramsey and Ross Barkley, according to the Daily Mail.
The appointment of the prodigious Francesco Farioli – who at 34 is two years younger than Schmeichel – as manager, is a signal of the club’s youthful vision. Playing a possession-based brand of football, Roberto De Zerbi’s former assistant had Nice in second place after eight games.
On his visit to Old Trafford last March, Ratcliffe supposedly singled out the £60m acquisition of a 30-year-old Casemiro as evidence for United’s poor recruitment (per The Guardian). If Ratcliffe is put in charge of the transfer kitty, don’t expect him to sign many players past their prime years.
- Gradual personnel upheaval
Ratcliffe and his fleet of advisors, with the revered Sir Dave Brailsford and unheralded Jean-Claude Blanc in charge of sport at INEOS, didn’t initially ring the changes at NIce.
In fact, Jean-Pierre Rivere and Julien Fournier were reinstalled as chairman and sporting director respectively after quitting under the previous regime. Following Christophe Galtier’s departure in 2022, Ratcliffe and co didn’t go outside the club’s existing contact book to rehire Lucien Favre as manager.
Much to the chagrin of many Manchester United supporters, this policy of gradual change is set to continue in England. Ratcliffe’s proposed leadership committee at Old Trafford includes Joel Glazer.
However, Ratcliffe’s long-term ambition is a full takeover of United and he very much demonstrated a ruthless edge after easing into life at Nice. Fournier was jettisoned after a 2022 audit of the club while Rivere was ushered into the shadows.
- Engaged but not controlling
Erik ten Hag is probably taking the best approach by staying firmly out of takeover negotiations. In turn, he would likely hope that Ratcliffe returns the favour. Based on his time at Nice, that may well be the case.
“He’d never interfere with my work,” Patrick Vieira, Nice’s coach when Ratcliffe bought the club in 2019, explained to FourFourTwo: “We’d talk about football when we met, about the team and our lives, but he’s not an owner who will get involved too much and prevent the manager from doing his job.”
Vieira was sacked 18 months after Ratcliffe’s arrival but bears little ill-will to the Manchester-born tycoon. “His ambitions and expectations are high,” Vieira revealed, “so you know where you stand, but you can do your job freely.”.