Southampton have been the envy of a lot of clubs outside the top six since they returned to the Premier League under Nigel Adkins. They have an excellent recruitment system, play good football and have a knack of appointing quality managers. They bought Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman to the Premier League, both of whom have moved onto other clubs in the league. Their latest appointment is Claude Puel, who won’t be known to a lot of fans in England, but he has done very well in France, especially at his last job at OGC Nice.
Last season, he led Nice to a Europa League place, which was one of the most impressive achievement across the main European leagues. It wasn’t quite at Leicester’s level, but he was working at a club with the 14th largest budget in the division, and led them to a top four finish in Ligue 1. Although his first three seasons in charge of the French club didn’t reach those heights, he did an extremely good job, laying the groundwork for the next manager to have more success. He made big improvements to the club’s facilities, with the club infrastructure coming on a lot over his tenure. That will be a major reason why Southampton opted for him over the more recognised names of Rudi Garcia and Manuel Pellegrini.
In terms of his style, he likes to play attacking football, with his side deploying a pressing-counter attacking game last season. When they had the ball, they played a very technical style, and he coached his players to be comfortable under pressure. They were the most entertaining side to watch in Ligue 1 last season and the results they achieved showed that Puel could coach an aesthetically pleasing style that was also effective. He was flexible, switching between formations, with Nice changing between playing three or four at the back. He also likes to give young players opportunities in the first team and trusts them in big matches, another reason why Southampton opted for him, given their famed youth academy.
He is also a good man manager, as proven best by the resurgence in form of Hatem Ben Arfa. The French international is well known to English fans after spells at Newcastle and Hull. He was always seen as a player that wasted his talent, and he left Newcastle as a free agent after failing to fit into Alan Pardew’s plans. Now he is being targeted by the likes of PSG and Sevilla after an extraordinary season with Nice. Puel managed to get Ben Arfa playing consistently and made him the apex of his attack. If he can get the best out of a mercurial talent like Ben Arfa, he can do it with most players.
Southampton will need a big summer after losing Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane already. It is clear that Koeman decided to join Everton as he knew that Southampton were going to have another summer of selling top players. That is the business model at Southampton, but they have shown that it is sustainable and they have already brought in Nathan Redmond from Norwich City. Puel will have an input on transfers, and his knowledge of the French game could be an asset.
He has shown that he can get the best out of the players available to him, and play an exciting style at the same time. On paper, he looks to be the perfect man to take Southampton forward, and get them to continue over-achieving. The Premier League is the most competitive league in the world and he will need to adjust. He has shown that he has the tactical understanding to go head-to-head with the very best and Southampton could be one of the sides to watch next season. He may lack the fanfare of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho, but make no mistake, Claude Puel is a good appointment for Southampton.