It seems Southampton can never back off from what they do best – giving a platform to the unknown to make them more renowned than they once were.
Ronald Koeman’s departure to Everton, which was met with groans of disappointment from the Saints fan after another exit to the slightly bigger club, there was a need to bring back a smile on the frustrated fans’ faces.
The fans very well knew not to expect something entirely mammoth considering their status quo. Southampton then resorted to a similar method.
The appointment of Claude Puel, who is someone rather unknown in England, came as a sigh of relief. Bringing in lesser known entities at the club is something that is embedded in Southampton’s tradition, but bringing them in after knowing what they can do is something you just have to admire.
Nigel Adkins, who was sacked during the 2012-13 season, helped the club attain two consecutive promotions in a rather flamboyant manner. The Englishman paved the way for Mauricio Pochetinno, who was working wonders for Espanyol before coming to St. Mary’s. The Argentine’s appointment was done to build upon the foundation that Adkins had laid throughout his three-year stint at the club.
Pochetinno, with his work-ethic and high-pressing playing style, ended up giving the club an impetus to achieve bigger things.
It was under him that the likes of Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne, Luke Shaw, Rickie Lambert, Jose Fonte, Dejan Lovren, James Ward-Prowse, Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama and Jay Rodriguez began to make a name for themselves.
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After Pochetinno’s departure to Spurs, a mass exodus followed. And it was time for the board to bring in someone who knows the footballing environment, the players and man-management. Ronald Koeman was brought in to make sure that this much-expected transition passed smoothly.
The Dutchman’s knowledge and grip over the Dutch game allowed the club a passage into the top eight of the Premier League as players like Graziano Pelle, Dusan Tadic, Sadio Mane and some others were signed. There was a time in the 2014-15 season when the Saints were soaring in the second place in December, with experts tipping them to stay there.
Although, the whole core of the hard-working and determined Southampton side that Pochettino had made disappeared off to bigger clubs, Koeman made sure that most of them were replaced in the best way there was. The former Feyenoord coach helped the club re-emerge from the pangs of transition in an emphatic manner.
Puel, who is a manager with around 17 years experience of managing in the top division of French football, is another unknown entity that Southampton have roped in. The job that the former Lille, Lyon and Monaco boss has been entrusted with is to build on the success that Koeman enjoyed and constructed during his stay at the club.
As a player, Puel was a hard-tackling defensive midfielder. On joining Monaco, where he spent a vast majority of his career, Arsene Wenger felt that the midfielder lacked the technical ability to find a spot in his side. But Puel’s desire and commitment to win games was something that seemed too impressive to ignore for Wenger, who made him a regular starter.
Responsible for giving the likes of David Trezeguet and Thierry Henry their first taste of senior football, Puel is in line with the Southampton values of developing youngsters. A professor of the high-pressing and high-intensity football that encourages one to throw players forward and attack on winning the ball.
Puel usually plays with a 3-5-2 or a diamond 4-4-2 formation, that allows full-backs to bomb forward and provide service to the strikers. Cedric Soares, Ryan Bertrand, Cuco Martina and Matt Targett are someone who are built in a more attack-minded mould than a defensive one and will prosper under Puel more than they ever have.
Last season with Nice, a club that has not won a trophy since 1997 and are a mere lower midtable club in the Ligue 1, Puel sat pretty at the fourth spot in the league when it all ended. Although, his less than impressive stint at Lyon is a reason why he was snapped up by Nice, but the recovery made by the former Arsene Wenger player is commendable.
Thierry Henry identifies Puel as a manager who brought him back on track after the former Arsenal man felt alone and isolated at Monaco. Formerly a winger with raw pace, Henry was transformed into a physical and a more athletic presence by Puel himself when the new Saints manager’s commencement of managerial career coincided with that of Henry’s playing career.
Puel won the league with Monaco in 2000 and with a limited budget and a team with the second lowest average age of players, guided Nice to a fourth-placed finish last season. And it clearly suggests why Southampton have reached out to him.
Being a unknown personality in England would help Puel a lot. The burden of expectations would not be cripping as managers who are well known in England are forced to deal with loads of burden, says Tim Sherwood at Aston Villa or Sam Allardyce wherever he goes. Southampton have seemingly earned a knack for being succesful with unknown foreign managers like Pochettino and Koeman, and Puel seems quite the same.
Southampton have a decent set of players, despite losing a lot of leverage that Pochettino had applied during his stay and that Koeman had inevitably failed to hold onto.
Puel is someone who is working at the perfect place, during the perfect time, with a really good set of players. Although, big clubs will be after their players once they begin to perform under Puel, but that can be avoided if Puel starts to do things his way.
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