Troyes looking to the aging Nivet to help avoid relegation
PARIS (AP) — Troyes has two games left to avoid relegation from the French league, and its frail hopes rest on the aging legs of a 41-year-old midfielder.
The balding Benjamin Nivet has been around so long his first professional contract was paid in French francs. While some of the younger Troyes players use video console games, Nivet now buys them for his children.
"Some of my teammates were born the year France won the World Cup in 1998," Nivet said. "I don't want to be seen as the old so-and-so. I try to stay with the times, even though it's difficult."
Still, Nivet remains an influential player.
He twice helped Troyes get promotion to the top flight, including last season, and is the club's all-time leader for appearances (395) and goals (84).
In the past four matches, he has found form with two goals and an assist.
Unfortunately, Troyes lost them all and is in 19th place ahead of Saturday's trip to Montpellier, which boasts the second-best defense behind French champion Paris Saint-Germain.
Troyes has the second-worst attack with 22 goals in 36 games, cranking up the pressure on Nivet to score.
A skillful, quick-thinking midfielder, Nivet never had the career predicted for him after netting his first league goal in 1997-98 for Auxerre. The Burgundy-based club then was among France's best, with one of its finest youth academies.
His then-teammates Stephane Guivarc'h and Bernard Diomede won the World Cup for France in '98. On the back of it, they joined the cash-rich Premier League.
But Nivet's yo-yo career found only moderate success with unheralded clubs Chateauroux, Caen and Troyes (this is his second spell). He has won two second-division titles and been in some first-division relegation dog-fights.
"I know almost all the stadiums (in France)," Nivet said in a newspaper interview with Le Parisien. "I had to fight to impose myself. Athletically, I was lagging behind. I was a proper No. 10 (playmaker) like those from 1980-1990. In the 2000s (teams) wanted powerful players who were quick, and I really felt it."
With his slight build, Nivet is not made for a midfield scrap. But Troyes desperately needs his eye for goal.
One win could yet save the club, or even push it up into 18th and the relegation-promotion position against the team finishing third in division two.
Troyes is two points behind 18th-place Toulouse and three behind Strasbourg and Lille — who are not safe.
Things may become clearer after Saturday's games.
Lille beat Toulouse away last weekend and is at home to Dijon, which has nothing at stake.
Toulouse has a tougher game away to Bordeaux in the Garonne derby. Although the cities are two hours' drive apart, it's called a derby because both cities are along the Garonne River.
Relegation could go to the last day.
If so, Troyes would face deposed champion Monaco, which is in a three-way scrap for second spot and a place in the Champions League.
Should Troyes be relegated, it would not be without a certain irony since the future looks very bright.
Earlier this week, the club won the Gambardella Cup — the national Youth Cup for under-19 players — for the first time since 1956. It was the culmination of nine years of investment into developing young soccer talent in north-central France.
"I have no regrets about such an investment and I plan to continue," jubilant club president Daniel Masoni said after the 2-1 win against Tours on Tuesday. "We're benefiting from this investment now."
For now, rather.
Because if Troyes goes down, the club will lose significant income and will have to sell its best talents.
Among them is 18-year-old forward Bryan Mbeumo, who scored both goals against Tours. For the first, he peeled off his defender before astutely volleying home a cross in a style reminiscent of Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette.
Mbeumo will inevitably be sold at some point, but one season in the first division would push up his price considerably.
Troyes will be hoping Nivet finds enough magic dust in his old boots to make that happen.
Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire