For weeks, RC Strasbourg Alsace got results, but without the performances to match. The points have since dried up, and Patrick Vieira already finds himself in the precarious position of having to stimulate a reaction.
BlueCo’s takeover of the Alsace club facilitated an ambitious transfer window. €56m was spent on players, many of them prospects, who will understandably perceive Strasbourg as a stepping stone to greater things, perhaps to Chelsea. The arrivals of Abakar Sylla and Emanuel Emegha in particular evidenced the ambition of this new regime, as did the sacking of Frédéric Antonetti.
The Frenchman, despite ensuring Strasbourg’s survival last season, did not embody the ambition of the new project. An able and pragmatic coach, Antonetti, who has been pigeonholed as somewhat of a firefighter, able to save clubs but not necessarily progress them, was replaced by Vieira.
The former Arsenal midfielder is a household name in France – understandably – but that is because of his achievements as a player, not as a manager. His move to Crystal Palace will have been a surprise to many observers of Ligue 1. His spell at OGC Nice, prior to his move to the Premier League, cannot be categorised as a disaster, but nor can it have been considered a success.
Déjà-vu at the Allianz Riviera
Vieira managed Les Aiglons on 89 occasions, winning 35, drawing 21 and losing 33, taking 1.42 points per game over the course of his 18-month stay. Stylistically, his Nice side, which included the explosive but under-utilised Allan Saint-Maximin, lacked coherence going forward, and never truly evidenced any recognisable patterns of play for progressing the ball and breaking down opposition. The emphasis was often on containing and then relying on individual qualities to show through in key moments going forward.
Nice fans were reminded of Vieira’s uninspiring play style at the start of September. Before returning to the Allianz Riviera, Les Alsaciens had won two of their first three games, the first coming against Olympique Lyonnais; the trajectory of the fallen giant of French football, currently mired in a relegation battle, has since forced a revision of that 2-0 Strasbourg victory on the opening day. At the very least, that result is not as impressive as it first looked.
However, without any reference performance, Strasbourg saved their worst performance – at least up to that point – for the trip to Nice. Whilst Vieira was relatively warmly received by the Nice fans, they certainly don’t miss him. The contrast compared to the style of football proposed by current Gym manager Francesco Farioli was stark. Strasbourg lacked any kind of control over the fixture, they were passengers, rather than actors as they went on to lose 2-0.
Arguably, what was most striking about Strasbourg on that day, was how much they resembled the Nice side of 2020. Vieira simply hasn’t progressed and developed since his middling spell on the Riviera.
‘It’s the worst match since my arrival’ – Vieira
Strasbourg got four points from their two games after the Nice defeat, but once again, the performances weren’t there, and the results have stopped coming too.
Strasbourg have lost two on the bounce for the first time this season, the first coming against RC Lens, the second against FC Nantes, who only narrowly avoided relegation last season. Both defeats came at home at La Meinau, and the first murmurings of discontent were audible in the stands.
Vieira isn’t happy too. “Nantes were better in every area. It was a collective failure. We couldn’t see how we had to adapt on the pitch and I think we lost a bit of control. We lacked too many fundamental elements in order to compete. We lacked personality in our decision-making and in our build-up from the back. We didn’t take enough risks, as if we were short on confidence. We lacked rhythm and bravery,” said Vieira.
The 1998 World Cup winner added, “Globally, I’m not calling into question everything that we’ve done since the start of the season, but today, there are major shortcomings. We need to eradicate them. From start to finish, we didn’t show much. It’s the worst match since my arrival.”
Strasbourg aren’t living up to the hype, and Vieira must now show himself capable of reversing the trend if he is to deliver on the new-found ambition at the Alsace club, otherwise, he could become a victim of it.