Nice Premier League players past and present after Balotelli beginnings
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | September 24, 2016
Nice Premier League players past and present XI
It’s Nice to see you, to see you… OK, enough with the dated Bruce Forsyth material. He’s not on Strictly Come Dancing anymore.
Nice the city is on the Cote d’Azur and its football team has more in common with the Premier League than you might think.
Mario Balotelli, the ex-Manchester City marksman and Liverpool flop, is banging them in at the Allianz Riviera, having scored four in his first two Ligue 1 outings.
That got Coral football experts thinking about other connections between Nice and the Premier League. With a little digging we found Super Mario was just the tip of the iceberg.
A total of 15 footballers have plied their trade in this French Riviera town and the English top-flight, so we assembled an XI of Nice Premier League players past and present.
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)
Current France captain and Spurs stopper Lloris is a hometown boy, joining the Nice academy aged 10 before going on to make 77 first-team appearances (2005-08).
Building on his early promise at Lyon where he helped the Kids win the Coupe de France, Lloris then transferred to 11/10 top four chances Tottenham after Euro 2012; the first of three tournaments at which he has skippered Les Bleus.
David Ospina of Colombia and north London rivals Arsenal also rose to prominence with Nice, but we had to bench the Gunners goalie behind a local lad in Lloris, who has excelled in the Premier League.
Right back: Jeremy Pied (Southampton)
While he may have played just 11 minutes of football since leaving Nice (2012-16) for the south coast, Saints full back Pied is out injured through knee surgery.
It’s not the start anyone would want to their Premier League career, but Southampton boss Claude Puel took Pied with him as both moved from the Allianz Riviera to St Mary’s this summer.
Centre back: Noe Pamarot (Tottenham and Portsmouth)
An FA Cup winner while on Pompey’s books (2006-09 following a brief loan spell outside the top-flight in 1999-2000), Pamarot had earlier turned out at right back for Spurs (2004-06).
He became better known in the centre of defence at Fratton Park under Harry Redknapp, but rearguard versatility even saw Pamarot deployed at left back during Portsmouth’s UEFA Cup campaign of 2008/09.
It was with Nice (1999-2004) where this utility man got noticed after beginning his career with Marigues further along the Cote d’Azur.
Centre back: Souleymane Diawara (Charlton Athletic)
Senegal defender Diawara ended his career with Nice (2014/15), but earlier spent a season in the Premier League at The Valley (2006/07).
This stint with the Addicks was not a happy one, however, as he suffered top-flight relegation. Diawara fared better at Bordeaux in between, winning the 2008-09 Ligue 1 before transferring to Marseille and doing the same the following season.
Left back: Patrice Evra (Man Utd)
Playing for Nice (2000-02) really shaped former Red Devils and current Juventus left back Evra’s career considerably. Coming to the Allianz Riviera as an attacker, injuries on the flank of defence transformed his career.
Having helped Nice gain promotion to Ligue 1, Evra then made a controversial switch along the Cote d’Azur to Monaco (2002-06) where he played in the 2004 Champions League final defeat to Jose Mourinho’s Porto.
Manchester United then came calling in the winter window of 2005/06 as Sir Alex Ferguson swooped for both Evra and another defender, Nemanja Vidic. Both would wear the armband at Old Trafford.
Evra went one better in Europe’s elite club competition, winning the Champions League in 2008, but also counts five Premier League titles and three EFL Cups among his honours before leaving United in 2014. He’s still a regular for Juve where he has won back-to-back Serie A and Coppa Italia doubles.
With 80 caps for France and infamously leading Les Bleus for their disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign in South Africa, Evra is easily the most high-profile connection between Nice and the Premier League as he’s been to five major tournaments with his country.
Winger: Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle United and Hull City)
Maverick talent Ben Arfa was immensely frustrating to watch for Magpies and Tigers supporters, yet turned on the style in terrific fashion once he made a free transfer to Nice in 2015.
Like Balotelli, after being widely panned as a Premier League flop since moving to St James’ Park in 2010, it was almost as if Ben Arfa wanted to prove doubters wrong. Against the backdrop of the Mediterranean, he did just that by smashing 17 goals in during just 34 Ligue 1 outings last term.
PSG nicked Ben Arfa on a free, and he’s gone from being AWOL at Hull to the Parc des Prince and Champions League football in around 18 months. One word in English borrowed from the French tongue applies here; touché.
Central midfield: Nampalys Mendy (Leicester City)
How do you solve a problem like the sale of N’Golo Kante? Claudio Ranieri had the answer; break the Foxes’ transfer record in his move for Mendy this summer. Leicester also added attacking duo Ahmed Musa and Islam Slimani for even bigger sums, but it’s the holding player we’re concerned with here.
Mendy may have worked with Ranieri before when they were both at Monaco, but it was with Nice (2013-16) where he the Italian nabbed his new anchorman from.
As influential as Ben Arfa’s goals were in a top four finish under Puel last term, Mendy putting out fires and doing the less glamorous work meant the Foxes easily found a readymade replacement for Kante.
Central midfield: Didier Digard (Middlesbrough)
Another defensive midfielder, Digard saw his playing time on Teesside limited by injuries, and like Diawara he endured Premier League relegation.
Leaving Middlesbrough on loan in 2010 two years after joining from PSG, his destination? Yes, you guessed it; Nice. Playing over 150 games in all competitions for the Cote d’Azur club, Digard has since moved to Spain in 2015 first with Seville side Real Betis and now at Pamplona club Osasuna.
Winger: Elliot Grandin (Blackpool)
It’s only fitting we pick another maverick talent out wide, and Grandin like Ben Arfa didn’t live up to his potential in the Premier League with Blackpool during 2010/11.
A sole top-flight goal against Aston Villa wasn’t quite the return Ian Holloway had been hoping for, and Grandin was later loaned to Nice in 2012 where he failed to net in a dozen Ligue 1 outings.
Striker: Loic Remy (QPR, Newcastle United, Chelsea)
Current Crystal Palace loanee Remy, like Pied, is injured, but before he came to the Premier League he got his first proper break at Nice (2008-10).
Although starting out at Lyon and then being loaned to Lens, it was at the Allianz Riviera where his striking exploits earned him a move to then Ligue 1 champions Marseille.
Moving in January 2013, it was too late to save QPR from relegation, but his campaign with Newcastle saw Remy at his very best.
It is to be hoped when fit again that his reunion with Alan Pardew at Selhurst Park will work out as he doesn’t look to be in Antonio Conte’s plans at Stamford Bridge.
Striker: Mario Balotelli (Manchester City and Liverpool)
Why always me? He’s the reason we looked into it, so it’s only fitting that Italy international Balotelli has to lead the line.
A prolific start to life at Nice shows what he can do when he gets his head down. Balotelli assisted Sergio Aguero’s famous last-gasp Premier League title-winning goal when at Man City against QPR.
Yet for every one of his inspired moments, there are off the field antics like fireworks in his bathroom and Brendan Rodgers’ reluctance to bring Balotelli to Liverpool.
There’s other forwards we could’ve picked up top. David Bellion played for three Premier League clubs (Sunderland, Man Utd and West Ham United) as well as having three separate stints at Nice (loan spells in 2006 and 2012, plus a season as a permanent player in 2006/07).
Anthony Modeste began his career at the Allianz Riviera before having a scoreless loan spell at Blackburn Rovers in 2012 that saw the Lancashire outfit relegated.
And finally, Cameroon attacker Joseph-Desire Job is another link between Middlesbrough (2000-06) and Nice. He made 100 appearances for The Riverside team and later spent a season on the Cote d’Azur.
You’ll find more Premier League features like this one on our dedicated page.