Mario Balotelli absent as Nice begin preseason training under Patrick Vieira
Patrick Vieira's reign at Nice got off to a rocky start after strikers Mario Balotelli and Alassane Plea failed to show up for the first day of preseason training Monday.
Balotelli scored 18 league goals last season, more than anyone else at the club, while Plea netted 16, and both have been linked with moves this summer, with sources telling ESPN FC four Premier League clubs are keen on Plea and Balotelli reportedly a target for rivals Marseille.
Vieira, who replaced Lucien Favre, took his first training session in the morning and said later he had no idea where the two players were.
"We were supposed to have all the players. Unfortunately, those two weren't there," Vieira said. "We're trying to get to the bottom of it."
According to L'Equipe, Plea's absence was because of a problem with airline tickets.
Asked if he wanted Balotelli, who is out of contract, to stay, Vieira hinted he would not be held to ransom by want-away players.
"My wish is to keep the players who want to be part of the project," he said.
The 42-year-old Vieira signed on as Nice boss last month after spending two years as coach of New York City FC in Major League Soccer. The former France midfielder had been linked with his old club Arsenal after Arsene Wenger stepped down in May.
Vieira also had playing stints at Juventus, Inter Milan and Manchester City, but is best known for spending nearly a decade at Arsenal and being a key part of Wenger's title-winning teams. He was captain of the side that went undefeated in 2003-04.