Shortly after acquiring OGC Nice in the summer of 2019, INEOS CEO Sir Jim Ratcliffe lambasted the failings of Manchester United.
“United have spent an immense amount since [Sir Alex] Ferguson left and been poor, to put it mildly. Shockingly poor, to be honest,” Ratcliffe sniffed. “We have a different approach here [at Nice] to be moderately intelligent about it.”
Four years on, Ratcliffe has acquired a minority but influential stake in a club that he claimed to “have lost the plot”.
With dramatic changes on the horizon for United, here’s how Ratcliffe’s “moderately intelligent” approach fared during his first few years at Nice.
- How Nice have fared in Ligue 1 under INEOS and Ratcliffe
It took Ratcliffe two months to attend his first match as Nice owner, rocking up for the glamorous visit of perennial champions Paris Saint-Germain in October 2019. The game began with boisterous chants in support of the new owner but ended in two red cards and a 4-1 defeat for the hosts.
Nice, who had finished as high as third in 2017, lost seven of the first ten games after the INEOS takeover was announced at the end of August. By the start of December, the club had slumped to 14th place. Only two teams had conceded more goals.
Yet, Nice hauled themselves up to fifth by the time COVID-19 struck. Ligue 1 was the only one of Europe’s top five leagues not to resume the 2019/20 campaign, and so Nice qualified for the Europa League in Ratcliffe’s first season at the helm.
Results have dramatically fluctuated during INEOS’s tenure on the Riviera. For each demoralising winless stretch, there has been an uplifting unbeaten patch. Reaching the 2022 Coupe de France final – the club’s first major showpiece in a quarter of a century – was countered by a humiliating exit at the hands of third-tier Le Puy Foot 43 the following year.
Bob Ratcliffe, Sir Jim’s brother who was made Nice’s CEO upon the acquisition, promised the club would be playing Champions League football in “three to five years”. Francesco Farioli lost just two games as manager before the winter break this season but there have been plenty of false dawns before to temper expectations.
- Nice’s transfers under INEOS and Ratcliffe
Before INEOS got hold of the purse strings, Nice were geared towards snapping up promising young talents and selling them on for a tidy sum. Across the five years prior to Ratcliffe’s takeover, Nice made a £45m profit in the transfer market. Over the four years under INEOS ownership, Nice have spent £113m more than they’ve earned from sales.
Ratcliffe was only confirmed as the club’s new owner at the end of the 2019 summer transfer window. Within a week, Nice had splashed more than £45m to acquire five players. Over the entire window, only five French clubs spent more.
However, the most important signing that summer arrived for free and before INEOS took over. Khephren Thuram has become the darling of the gossip columns and represents the scouting strategy Nice have moved away from under INEOS. Although, that implies some form of deliberate approach.
The endless churn of sporting directors and executives, especially during the first three years of Ratcliffe’s tenure, has not led to a measured – or successful – method.
“We lost ten players, ten arrived,” Nice’s unmovable skipper Dante remarked earlier this year. “There is a lack of coherence somewhere. I am sorry to say that.”
- Managerial changes at Nice under INEOS and Ratcliffe
Points per game
1 Jul 2018 – 4 Dec 2020
4 Dec 2020 – 24 May 2021
1 Jul 2021 – 30 Jun 2022
1 Jul 2022 – 9 Jan 2023
10 Jan 2023 – 30 Jun 2023
1 Jul 2023 – present
Stats correct as of 24 December 2023
Former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira was at the helm during the debut campaign of the new owners. As a Manchester United fan, Ratcliffe half-joked that he “hated” Vieira as a player, describing him as a “bastard” on the pitch. Yet, the pair forged a strong working relationship, with Vieira speaking warmly of his former boss even after he was sacked in December 2020.
Christophe Galtier was always a little frostier. Fresh from winning Ligue 1 miraculously with Lille, Nice poached the coach of the year but only hung on to him for one season. PSG proved too alluring but Galtier had reportedly lost faith in the ownership of the side that he left.
An unimaginative and unsuccessful return for Lucien Favre was mercifully cut short by the promotion of Didier Digard from within the club. Despite overseeing 14 games without defeat to start his tenure, Digard was replaced by Farioli, one of Roberto De Zerbi’s former assistants, in the summer.
- Infrastructural changes at Nice under INEOS and Ratcliffe
Ratcliffe inherited a club with a stadium that was only unveiled in September 2013. The Allianz Riviera is one of the best venues in France, capable of hosting numerous events and deemed worthy of staging four matches at the recent Rugby World Cup.
Unlike a leaky Old Trafford – which was pointedly overlooked as a venue for Euro 2028 matches – Ratcliffe has not had to drastically renovate Nice’s home ground.
However, that’s not to say that there have been no infrastructural improvements. In the summer of 2020, Nice unveiled a futuristic training complex which required £13.5m investment.
What we know
- Nice have finished fifth twice since Sir Jim Ratcliffe bought the club in 2019
- The French side have become one of the biggest spenders in their division under INEOS
- Ratcliffe has become a minority shareholder at Premier League side Man Utd.