A bit of an unknown to non-French followers of the beautiful game, Claude Puel, 54, hails from Castres, France. Puel only spent his playing career with two clubs: His youth and hometown club, Castres, and AS Monaco, where he spent 17 years making 488 appearances for the club. He notched four career goals as a defensive midfielder.
In 1996, his final year of his playing career at Monaco, he became the reserve team manager. From there, he coached the reserves until 1999, where he was then hired as AS Monaco's first-team manager. While in Monaco, Puel was also mentored by Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger. In 2001, he left Monaco after 24 years. From there, he would go on to manage three other teams in the French league: Lille, Lyon, and most recently, Nice.
Puel's time at Nice is where we begin the rest of the story, as I can't imagine he hasn't changed up philosophies and tactics since his time at Lyon. In 2012, Puel was hired to take over as manager of Nice. In 168 games over his four years spent at Nice, Puel oversaw 68 wins, 66 losses, and 34 draws. Puel managed Nice from 2012 until the end of this last season. Most recently, Puel lead Nice to a 4th-place finish, only two points off 2nd, behind PSG, Lyon, and Monaco.
Puel made outstanding progress in his three seasons at Nice, where took the club from 17th to 11th to 4th place in his time there. GetFootballNewsFrance.com, one of the more respected French league sites, called Puel "one of the best managers in French football." Many attribute Puel's success with Nice to deploying a stunning high-press, and quick counter-attacking game in defense.
The site also calls Puel's Nice side "the most aesthetically pleasing team to the eye" thanks to his rapid possession and willingness to let players push up the field. Something changed with Puel's teams going into his final season, as Puel finally got his side to click and buy in to his philosophy. Puel loves the passing game, and that's where Nice developed the most. Nice last season had a "newfound ability" with their touch and passing accuracy, which helped them to such a high finish.
Puel typically plays in a 3-5-2 or a 4-1-2-1-2 (diamond) formation with his teams. In his formations, specifically the diamond formation, Puel relies on his full-backs to do much of the work on the outside wings and provide the width. This bodes well as Ryan Bertrand, Cedric, Cuco Martina, and Matt Targett all have history and experience deep into attack, especially sending balls into the box.
Puel also has a philosophy and track record of promoting youth to the first team, a trait that is very highly-regarded by the club and fans of Southampton. Unlike the last manager, under Puel we could see Harrison Reed, Targett, James Ward-Prowse, Jake Hesketh and others given game time throughout the season. Puel's Nice side was the youngest team in the French Ligue by average age and more players on youth contracts made appearances than any other side in the league.
Puel, while also using a plethora of youth players, also operated Nice on the 14th largest budget in Ligue 1, something that also has to impress the brass at Southampton. Southampton, known for always having good academy players, also have to use a smaller budget each season, with most incoming player's fees used from an outgoing player's sale. It is a sound philosophy, as long as the incoming players can be of equal value as a replacement.
While writing this, I've already managed to talk myself into this Puel hire. While a Pellegrini or an Emery would be sexy names and look great on the outside, you have to remember that Southampton have always operated differently. They let Ronald Koeman walk a year early because they knew we'd find a new manager to run their team that shares the same values that are in-line with the club. Pellegrini reportedly was unsure about promoting youth players and operating on a smaller budget, so him and Saints went separate ways, reportedly.
From The Telegraph, "Southampton were particularly impressed by Puel's track-record and vision for the job, specifically a willingness to promote young players, play pressing attacking football, his experience in European football, and his ability to work within the club's financial limitations."
No coincidence that Saints just signed Nathan Redmond, who was a long-term target for the club, but already starts a pipeline for Puel with another promising young player in his arsenal.
In my finale, I would tell you to trust the board and their decision. The likes of Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman were fully-received by Saints fans, especially Poch. They turned out okay, and if they can, Puel can too. Puel fits right in line with the club and their current situation, and could wind-up making Koeman an afterthought.
That's it. Welcome to the club, Claude Puel!