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Nice to see you: Who is new Southampton boss Claude Puel?

Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | June 30, 2016

When Everton came in for Southampton manager Ronald Koeman earlier this summer, some major names were linked with the St Mary’s vacancy.

Manuel Pellegrini, a man so dignified despite being discarded by Manchester City for long-time coaching target Pep Guardiola, was the most high-profile, but it is Claude Puel that the Saints have appointed on a three-year contract.

Soccer - Ligue 1 - Saint Etienne v Nice -  Stade Geoffroy-Guichard

Also linked with his Lille successor Rudi Garcia, who was sacked by Roma this past winter, Southampton are rated 15/2 chances by Coral to crash the Premier League’s top four this coming campaign.

What do we know about the Saints’ first French boss, and more importantly what can he bring to the south coast?

Mr Monaco

Puel spent his entire playing career at Monaco, including seven years under Arsene Wenger, where he won Ligue 1 twice and the French Cup three times shielding the defence as a holding midfielder.

Having moved from hometown club Castres to join their academy in 1977, when Puel hung up his boots in 1996 they found a place for him on the coaching staff. First acting as a physical trainer and then reserve team boss, he became Monaco manager in January 1999, succeeding Jean Tigana.

Soccer - UEFA European Championship 2004 - Quarter Finals - France v Greece

Steering the Principality outfit to the Ligue 1 title in his first full season in charge, Puel coached star turns such as David Trezeguet, Ludovic Giuly and Marcelo Gallardo successfully with minimal managerial experience.

Lille appeal

When Monaco failed to defend their top-flight crown, however, Puel’s contract was not renewed, ending his near quarter of a century association with them. He resurfaced a year later when appointed manager of Lille over the summer of 2002 and spent six seasons in charge of the Belgian border outfit.

Lille became Lyon’s closest challenges for the French title in 2004/05, admittedly finishing 12 points shy of the Kids, but notably four ahead of Puel’s former club Monaco.

Punching well above the weight for budget and resources, Lille enjoyed Champions League football, including a knockout phase tie against Manchester United in February 2007. Juggling a continental campaign with domestic commitments was always difficult for Puel, but his good work did not go unnoticed.

Kids are all right

FRANCE SOCCER

Lyon came calling for his services over the summer of 2008, taking Puel to replace Alain Perrin. Despite inheriting a squad that contained star striker Karim Benzema, World Cup winning full back Fabio Grosso, free-kick expert Juninho, and fellow midfielders Kim Kallstrom and Jeremy Toulalan, this talented team finished third in Ligue 1.

So ended the Kids’ domestic dominance of French football but, during his three seasons with them, Puel made some fantastic signings that have gone on to bigger and better things. Current Les Bleus captain and Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, Bosnia playmaker Mirlaem Pjanic, and Croatia and Liverpool centre back Dejan Lovren were the most notable.

It was near misses with Lyon, including a Champions League semi-final loss in 2010, that led to Puel’s contract being terminated a year early in the summer of 2011, but it wasn’t long before that eye for talent meant he returned to work.

Nice habits

French First League soccer match, PSG vs Nice in Paris

French Riviera club Nice had just ended the 2011/12 campaign in mid-table mediocrity, so Puel was charged with reviving their fortunes and did so immediately by recording a top four finish. Diminutive Argentine forward Dario Cvitanich fired them into the Europa League play-offs.

Puel found following up on that difficult, however, and Nice only just stayed up in 2013/14 before he restored them to mid-table comforts the season after. Brazilian loan signing Carlos Eduardo proved the star of that campaign.

When he needed replacing, though, Puel cleverly turned to former Newcastle United flop Hatem Ben Arfa, and got the best out of him, with the winger averaging a goal every other game this past term.

Saints go marching in?

Able to leave Nice in much better shape than he found the Riviera club in, this time with a berth in the 2016/17 Europa League group stage, Puel should thus be regarded by Southampton supporters as something of a coup capture.

Nice v Lyon - Ligue 1 - Allianz Riviera

While the slight negative of finding it difficult to sustain success hangs over his 15-year coaching career, Puel has lost so many talented stars while maintaining a proven track record of not only improving players, but selling them for a profit.

That is an integral part of the Saints’ business model, and the ability Puel has to find others that can fill such gaps can only be good news for the south coast side. Who knows? We might even see a more mature Ben Arfa back in the Premier League.

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