As recently as May this year Christophe Galtier was coaching Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé and celebrating a Ligue 1 title triumph with Paris Saint-Germain. On December 15, he will stand trial in a French court on criminal charges of race and religious discrimination – offences committed, it is alleged, while he was manager of Nice between June 2021 and July 2022, charges Galtier denies.
This is real world criminal justice, not football’s soft-soap version. If found guilty Galtier could face up to three years in prison. The stakes are vertiginously high in other ways too, at a trial that promises a dark night of the soul for French football and France itself, at a time of deeply fractured domestic politics.
An investigation published this week in L’Équipe points to the startling nature of what will be alleged in court. Galtier is accused of actively excluding black and Muslim footballers, and of pressuring his players not to fast during Ramadan or risk being dropped.
Evidence in the public domain has him telling his assistant Frédéric Gioria, “Another Muslim, I don’t want it, we’ve had enough” after the signing of Billal Brahimi; calling the Nice centre-backs Harold Moukoudi and Mickaël Nadé the “two King Kongs”; and telling the club’s sporting director: “Julien, you still don’t understand. I don’t want any more blacks or Arabs.”
Galtier denies all of this and will present an assortment of favourable character witnesses to the court. He remains innocent until proven guilty and may yet be acquitted of all charges.
But there is a wider note in the details whatever the outcome; one that relates to Ineos and its director of sport, Dave Brailsford, widely trailed as part of the new broom at Manchester United if, as expected, the proposed new investment finally comes to pass.
At this point it is worth restating the timeline in Galtier’s fall from grace. Nice are of course an Ineos-owned club. Galtier was appointed manager in June 2021 after a meeting with Jim Ratcliffe, and installed to work under Brailsford’s arm’s-length direction.
In May 2022 Nice’s sporting director, Julien Fournier, sent an email to Brailsford describing in detail the extent of Galtier’s alleged racist and discriminatory behaviour. Fournier has since stated he did this to avoid being accused of covering up criminal behaviour later on.
Nothing changed on the surface. In July 2022 Galtier left Nice of his own accord to join PSG. The affair only became public in April 2023 when the email sent to Brailsford was leaked to the media.
It created an instant national scandal. The public prosecutor in Nice opened a criminal case.
In June 2023 Galtier was charged with moral harassment and discrimination based on race and religion. In July 2023 he left PSG and joined Al-Duhail of the Qatari league where he is still manager.
When contacted, neither Brailsford nor Ineos was willing to make any comment on events involving Galtier and Nice while legal proceedings are in train. A spokesperson pointed out that it has previously been asserted by Ineos that the email to Brailsford was “escalated” and that “appropriate workplace processes were followed”.
It is hard to understand from the outside what these processes will have been. It is apparent that, had the email to Brailsford not been leaked, allegations that have led to a criminal trial would have gone unreported outside the club. Ineos and Nice allowed Galtier to leave with his reputation intact.
L’Équipe has described this state of affairs as “embarrassing” for Ineos and Nice, although the full extent of that will only become apparent as the trial progresses.
Manchester United have also refused to comment, saying: “It wouldn’t be appropriate for us to discuss matters relating to Ineos while their potential investment remains hypothetical.” But for United’s supporters, bruised by the departure of a chief executive whose key failing was the bodged handling of the Mason Greenwood episode, “L’Affaire Galtier” will raise serious questions about the much-trumpeted competence of Ineos and Brailsford, and their suitability in running such a vast public sporting institution.
Why didn’t Nice or Ineos take allegations of racism by their own manager seriously enough to create even the most minor public ripple? Why didn’t Brailsford report these allegations to the police? Did any of this information appear in the reviews Brailsford is said to have conducted into the club’s coaching? Why did it take a leak of the email to Brailsford and the almost immediate intervention of the police for anyone to see the full extent of the problem here?
The details of the allegations surely demanded some kind of escalation. Galtier is accused by his assistant manager of describing the Algerian internationals Youcef Atal and Hicham Boudaoui as “dirty guys” and saying, “The worst are the Algerians”, statements Galtier denies making.
According to L’Équipe, Galtier is accused of drawing up a list of players he wanted out of the club, made up almost entirely of Muslims; of pressuring Jean-Clair Todibo to break his fast during Ramadan and telling another player Todibo was a Salafist and an extremist; and of driving the academy coach Didier Digard to offer his resignation after allegedly expressing dismay that Digard was Muslim and might as a result “indoctrinate” young players.
In his defence, Galtier says he left his office open to give space to those who wanted to pray, and that he allowed Muslims to leave early for Friday prayers if they so wished. A statement from his lawyers published in L’Équipe this week reads: “Christophe Galtier is determined 10 days before this hearing. He reserves his statements for the court. He is finally awaiting this public and contradictory debate where he will demonstrate that he has obviously never discriminated or harassed anyone. His entire professional career and his reputation bear witness to his impeccable personality.”
France will brace itself for Galtier’s trial. For now plenty of other questions remain unanswered. Why did PSG offer such a warm public farewell to Galtier, thanking him for his “professionalism and commitment” when their manager was already at that stage facing trial on these charges? Why was he so readily employed in Qatar by a club whose president is a government minister and member of the royal family?
More parochially, what does all this mean for Ineos, Brailsford and Manchester United? There is no suggestion Ineos could have known any of this before hiring Galtier but whatever the outcome of the trial, United’s proposed new football operations arm employed then retained a coach who has ended up facing criminal charges for his alleged actions on Ineos’ watch. Does this sound like the master of detail in action, the model of extreme competence required to sweep away a generation of drift?
A recurrent clog in the Glazer family era, and the vice Ineos was supposed to flush away, has been the tendency for underqualified in-house hires. As job interviews go, it is hard at this stage to see too much compelling evidence in events on the Côte d’Azur.