May 15, 2020
Manu Pires: ‘The real project starts in 2020-21’
Health crisis, championships stopped, academy kids in lockdown, working from home… Just like the whole country and a large part of the planet, the OGC Nice youth academy has had to face an unprecedented situation this year. Despite myriad constraints, this period has allowed Manu Pires and his teams to prepare for the future. Clearly, in spite of some grey areas linked to current events, the director of the Rouge et Noir Academy is taking advantage of the season's early finish to outline the project for the future.
Manu, how has the lockdown been for you?
It was a unique situation for everyone. No one could have imagined that it would happen, we had to adapt, especially since it took longer than the 15 days initially announced. We stayed home and the kids stayed home. They had a fitness program to follow, concocted by the coaches. We're aware that working physically or kicking a ball alone is difficult. The same goes for the academic classes, which the teachers taught from home. It wasn't easy for anyone. The FFF has stopped all the various championships. Health measures did not allow them to start again, so it was out of the question to endanger the youngsters. In view of what is happening, the measures taken were the right ones.
Do you know what’s going to happen next season?
Not yet, in terms of dates. However, about what we can control, yes. With the recruitment team, which is working on the long term, we had already worked on the next season and the ones after that. Now, the same as everywhere, and even more so with the current situation, there will be a late recruitment. New boys from outside will be able to strengthen our youth teams and we are studying many profiles. The groups are 99% complete, we are in the process of finalizing everything. OGC Nice is becoming more and more attractive, so much the better: it's up to us to live up to the billing.
‘WE NEED 6-8 WEEKS OF PRESEASON TO GET READY’
So for the moment, no dates for preseason have been set?
That's correct. Neither for the school holidays. We're waiting for the FFF's decision as they set the dates for the championship. Once that's done, we'll set our schedule. The preseason will certainly be a little longer than usual, because the bodies will be tired after such a long break. I think it will take us six to eght weeks to get ready.
How do you judge the 2019-20 season?
Relatively good. The academic team has been strengthened, as has the coaching staff, which is a very good thing. We are continuing our work of structuring the academy with the addition of new skills. Things are progressing on the pitch as well. We had reached the end of one cycle, we are working on a new one. It takes time and it's exciting.
In the reserves - because it’s essentially in the reserves - boys had been there for a few years. At one point, there's a certain accumulation of psychological wear and tear. This wear and tear is often accompanied by impatience, whether in the players or those around them. But patience should be and is a virtue. As soon as some of them start training with the pros, they start demanding things. But what everyone needs to understand is that we're the ones who make the decisions! Some of them needed to leave to see if they could make it to the pro level, so they left. Now we're looking forward to attacking the new season with young people who want to work hard. Especially since they're going to be asked to work harder than before.
Which is to say?
We're not going to compromise on work anymore. I've said this before, but the new generations want it all, right now, without necessarily doing everything possible to get it. They take the example of Mbappé, Camavinga or Dembélé. Of course they can draw inspiration from these players on the pitch, but that's all. These are unique cases that cannot be copied. Each one has their own story, and theirs is out of the ordinary. Generally speaking, we need to reach our full potential through true, unchanging values, especially the one that drove our parents and grandparents: hard work. The idea of work hard is disappearing and yet, it’s the foundation of everything. We want to put it back in its rightful place.
‘BRING TOGETHER THE ENTIRE CLUB IS A MAJOR ACEHIEVEMENT’
This season, the entire youth academy come under the direction of the professional club…
It's a major achievement! Working in the same way from the bottom to the top of a club, is how every club dreams of operating. That's what we're putting in place. We're in direct contact with the junior academy and I work a lot with Fabrice Garrigues (junior academy director). In the same way, we're paying close attention to the youngest kids. When I have a gap in my schedule, for example, I sometimes go and see the youngsters in junior academy. This can be done discreetly - sometimes I hide - or in a more direct way. It's important to see, to think, to plan and to get moving. The real project will start in the 2020-21 season. Building it is exciting...
What is the philosophy behind this move?
To have all the age categories working with the same playing philosophy. We are not far off this goal but there is still a lot to do. We're recruiting players with the same characteristics, we're setting up training sessions with the same requirements. There is also a great deal of work to be done on the monitoring of players in junior academy and the individual aspect of the work. We are obliged to adapt to the evolution of the company. Today, the players are happy when a coach talks to them face to face. We have noticed that during individual or small group sessions, they are much more receptive. They won't change, it's up to us to adapt to get the best out of them and take them as high as possible. For the moment, I consider there are two teams at the club: the pros and the youth academy. And when I talk about the youth academy, it's not just the reserves, but the whole academy. The third team is junior youth academy and we're working hard to make it even better.
Does the global project also include specially adapted academic work?
Of course! We are lucky to have a private schooling institution, with teachers who come to the academy. We are working hard in this department because we have a responsibility towards these young people and their parents. Schooling is a very important aspect, an essential point between success in sport and failure. Nine out of ten boys in training will live off their diploma rather than their football. This is a fact that no one should forget. Families and players need to have a high level of education.
What are your objectives for the 2020-21 season?
To have a maximum of young people knocking on the door for training sessions or even matches with the pros. This is the objective of every youth academy. We're proud to watch the youngsters go through, train, sit on the bench, and even play all the way to the top. We have to be more and more demanding and our players have to want to win everything, all the time. Every day and every weekend.
Manu Pires casts a critical eye over the 2019-20 season, age category by age category
N3, the reserves (11th in Group D)
We were full of hope at the midway point of the season because we finished 2019 very strongly. Unfortunately, we got off to a bad start in 2020. There were a lot of injuries, the 4-point penalty hurt us a lot. Some players were disillusioned. The year 2020 was very tough, but we still managed to inject some fresh blood and gave some playing time to younger players. That's a real positive. In N3, the door is wide open. A youngster can play in the reserves one weekend, in the U17s another and in the U19s another. It needs to stay that way, in line with performance and with strong bridges between all the categories.
U19 (4th in Group D)
It was an encouraging season. We didn’t win some key games that would have put us in first place. The team was also handicapped by injuries in January and February. Emerse and his staff have done a good job because the U19s are not an easy category, as the best players move up to the reserves. This season has allowed the young U17s to get a good start in the U19s and even in the reserves. That's why it's been a satisfying season, despite regrets at not finishing in the top three.
U17 (3rd in Group D)
Despite three changes of coach (Patrick Cordoba, Fabrice Garrigues and Bruno Rohart) and a truncated season, they managed, each time, to adapt well and to fight hard in this championship which is not an easy one. They got onto the podium, which is good, and again, we were hoping to finish very strong. The squad listened and learned very well, with a lot of good players who played in the reserves. We were able to measure their quality, even if we still have a lot of work to do with them.