Paris, France | AFP | It was honours even between Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira as the old France and Arsenal teammates clashed for the first time as coaches on Wednesday in a controversy-laden 1-1 draw between Monaco and Nice.
The presence of the two greats in the respective dugouts made an international event out of what is usually little more than a hotly contested local derby on the Cote d’Azur.
It was a spicy encounter, with Allan Saint-Maximin putting Nice ahead before youngster Benoit Badiashile levelled for the hosts in the second half.
Nice played half the game with 10 men but also saw Saint-Maximin miss a great chance to win all three points when he had a late penalty saved.
Members of France’s 1998 World Cup-winning side and later colleagues for six years in Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal team, Henry and Vieira embraced warmly before kick-off at the Stade Louis II.
They did so again at full-time, both allowing themselves a smile even though the stalemate did not satisfy either man.
“It was strange,” Henry said about taking on his old friend.
“We played together for a long time and we came up the steps together,” from the dressing rooms. “We had a little chat but we were both focused on the match.”
Henry’s side are scrapping to pull away from the relegation zone in Ligue 1, and they remain 19th in the table, three points adrift of outright safety. They have still not won at home this season.
“A point is not enough, but we could also have been talking about a defeat here,” he said.
Vieira’s Nice, meanwhile, have lost just once in 10 league matches but might regret dropping two points in their quest to qualify for Europe.
“Thierry can be pleased, but that said the draw was the right result,” admitted Vieira, who took over last year after leaving New York City FC.
– Fabregas absent –
Henry, 41, has now won just twice in 11 league games since being appointed to his first coaching job in October, although performances have improved since the turn of the year.
He will also wonder how this game might have ended had new signing Cesc Fabregas been available.
The Spaniard — another former protege of Wenger’s at Arsenal — joined from Chelsea last week and made his debut at Marseille on Sunday.
Unveiled to the media earlier on Wednesday, he was nevertheless ineligible for this match because it was originally supposed to be played in December before being postponed due to security concerns linked to the ‘yellow vest’ protest movement in France.
Fabregas instead watched from the stands, and he saw Saint-Maximin, a former Monaco player, put Nice in front on the half-hour mark, running through to score after some sloppy play from the home side.