Puel champing at the bit
By A. Scott
The Claude Puel era at Nice gets underway with a home clash against Ajaccio at the Stade du Ray, with the Corsicans also coming into the new campaign under new management, and with a two-point deduction.
Les Aiglons are building towards the future, with a brand-new 35,000-seat stadium set to open next year. With that in mind, club president Jean-Pierre Rivère opted to wipe the slate clean over the summer by replacing coach René Marsiglia with Puel.
The former Monaco and Lille boss has been appointed as general manager, giving him the same wide-ranging powers that he enjoyed during his three-year stint in charge of Lyon between 2008-11, and it is his task to turn the Côte d'Azur side into a force to be reckoned with in Ligue 1 in the years to come.
Change of pace
Puel has been more accustomed to coaching clubs in the Champions League in recent times, but his initial task at Nice will be rather more mundane. He takes over a team that finished last season just four points clear of the relegation zone, and who spent close to half the campaign in the bottom three. And the budget afforded to the 50-year-old is modest to say the least.
France under-21 international Joris Delle from Metz, Lyon full-back Thimothée Kolodzieczak, Tours centre-back Romain Genevois and lively Dijon midfielder Eric Bauthéac have all been brought in this summer on free transfers, while Argentine striker Dario Cvitanich joins from Ajax for a modest fee.
Meanwhile, key players such as Anthony Mounier, Eric Mouloungui and François Clerc have moved on, while goalkeeper David Ospina could yet leave before the transfer window closes. "We must continue to lower the wage bill," says Rivère. "And, in Claude Puel, we have a coach who will help us restructure and develop the club."
Puel: 'I intend to enjoy myself'
Puel has overseen two wins in pre-season, against the Algerians of Constantine and against Saint-Etienne in Albertville, but his side went down 4-0 to English Premier League club Fulham in their final warm-up match at the Stade du Ray last Saturday. Despite that, he is looking forward to his return to Ligue 1 action.
"I am desperate for the season to start, and to get down to action. I am looking forward to seeing what my players can do, and I intend to enjoy myself. Competitive games are what it's all about it," he said.
Meanwhile, Ajaccio head to the mainland keen to get off to a positive start under their new coach, Alex Dupont. The 58-year-old was sacked by Brest towards the end of last season, but was not out of a job for long, being appointed by the Corsican club to replace Olivier Pantaloni. Ajaccio only avoided an immediate return to Ligue 2 last season by winning 2-0 at Toulouse on the final day, and Dupont can expect another battle for survival this season.
He has seen strikers Richard Socrier and Ilan move on, but Ricardo Faty, Sigamary Diarra, Belgian youngster Brandon Deville, Chahir Belghazouani and goalkeeper Oumar Sissoko have all come in. Dupont is still on the lookout for a striker and has been linked with a move for former Marseille striker Brandão. However, a 2-1 home win against Italian Serie A side Cagliari in their final warm-up game has given Ajaccio confidence coming into the start of the new campaign.
Dupont: 'Guarantee survival'
"This is our second season in Ligue 1 so we will be looking to remain humble but also go out there and enjoy ourselves," Dupont said this week. "We need to be consistent, both home and away. If we can win our home games then we will be on the right track. The aim is of course to guarantee our survival as soon as possible. That will come as no surprise!"
However, Ajaccio are handicapped by a two-point deduction handed down by the LFP disciplinary commission following a series of incidents that marred the meeting with Lyon at the Stade François-Coty on the penultimate weekend of last season.
The Corsicans will also be without Anthony Lippini and Johan Cavalli due to suspension for the game, while Frédéric Sammaritano is sidelined due to an ankle injury. Karim El-Hany and Felipe Saad are also missing. Nice are missing two key players, with Renato Civelli serving a two-match suspension and midfielder Kévin Anin out for ten days with a ligament problem in his left knee.
Nice: Delle (or Ospina); K. Coulibaly, Genevois, Pejcinovic, Kolodziejczak; Digard, Mah. Traoré; Bauthéac, Abriel, Monzon; F. Dja Djédjé
AC Ajaccio: Ochoa; F. Diawara, Medjani, Poulard, Bouhours; Mostefa, Pierazzi, Faty; André, S. Diarra; Eduardo