After weeks of speculation, bookies odds and false dawns, Claude Puel has been announced as the next man to step into the St Mary's hotseat.
Whilst Frank De Boer, Manuel Pellegrini and Rudi Garcia are all undoubtedly more recognisable names to Southampton fans, for one reason or another they were not favoured or not the right fit, so Puel has been selected as the right man.
As Puel has only managed in France, the Saints fans may not know much about their new manager, so St Mary's Musings has enlisted the help of Sébastien Chapuis to find out more about the former Nice and Lille coach.
Chapuis has been a Canal TV analyst for two years, covering the Premier League. A youth coach at Poitiers who is studying for his professional badges, Sèbastien also writes for the SB Nation blog WAGNH, dedicated to his favourite club Chelsea, and is currently helping out at the Euros as part of the Match Organisation team. Give him a follow on Twitter at @SeBlueLion_EN!
SMM: Not many Southampton fans will have come across Claude Puel's name before. What is his reputation in France like; is he someone who likes to bring through the youth, plays attacking football?
SC: Puel is one of the main figures in French Football. First of all, he's a genuine one club player, having played 600 times for Monaco. He's been a constant in the managerial background, having managed Monaco for two seasons, Lille for six seasons, Lyon for three seasons and Nice for four seasons.
With his lifelong club Monaco, he was been crowned champion in 1999 after having made his way through internally as a coach. He then built a strong team at Lille, ending as runners up and 3rd over 6 seasons, reaching the CL group stage twice and last-16 once (knocked out by Giggs' free kick before the ref's whistle against United in 2007).
He was then hired at Lyon, where OL's president Jean-Michel Aulas warranted him more power than anyone else before him, in a "manager" role akin to what is more common in England; France has the culture of 'coaches don't do the signings', apart from the top few.
That didn't quite work out as expected, despite the 3-2-3 finishes, as Lyon just began their seventh consecutive league titles hangover coupled with the emergence of other contenders, like Blanc's Bordeaux or Deschamps' OM.
Amid public feuds with Aulas, Puel was blamed for way more things than his responsibility did actually cover. Aulas was throwing gas on the fire and the mainstream media were picking up on it. The work behind the scenes was still a constant factor of Puel's presence in the club though, as he didn't harm Lyon's structuring of the academy. He notably made it to the semi finals of the Champions League until Olic proved too good in the return leg with a hat trick at Gerland. So he has experience of managing a team playing every three days, and that's a good thing from Southampton's point of view.
His departure (having been sacked after 3 years as he signed for 4 seasons) has been a long procedure which went as far as justice court. But he still managed to stay there 3 seasons, which is quite a feat, it's rare that managers of top teams are warranted more than one season without a title nowadays.
When he got back into management, he took charge of Nice, which raised a few eyebrows. But after reaching twice the Europa League play offs thanks to two fourth-placed finishes (having had two turbulent years with his young team in between), he probably knew he would struggle to build from there with one of the League's smallest budgets, so he left. But he did stick with his principles as he knew he'd reap the rewards, even when his team was in the red zone.
The main aspect about his management lies on his longevity; he epitomizes what is a long term manager, achievements and methods-wise. He's always been a good coach, but his work at Nice the past 4 seasons has allowed him to definitely change an unfair reputation of "boring, negative coach". Nice have played brilliant football this year, scintillating at times, with quick combinations and coordinated pressing. A few diminutive players, like Koziello, Mendy and Germain have contributed to make Nice's play flowing and put the team's star Hatem Ben Arfa in the best conditions to deliver, which he did spectacularly.
Players generally like him, and he has a record of signing players he enjoyed working with, such as Mathieu Bodmer or Jean II Makoun. Once a promising (albeit old fashioned) attacking midfielder at Lille, Bodmer now plays as a playmaking centre back for Nice a decade later, having also played for Puel at Lyon. One would say he's the footballing equivalent to Big Sam's Kevin Nolan!
Something else which is nice, he also signed players he knew from the reserve or academy teams (such as Lyon's Pied or Plea, who are now regular players for Nice. The former is a decent league player, but the latter is definitely one to watch). He has thrown a few young goalkeepers into the mix because of injuries, too.
It wouldn't be fun not to mention he also gave his debut to one of his sons at Nice, while the other one has made a few appearances on bench. It is something he got a bit of stick for, especially when Nice was low on the table in between their two good seasons.
What sort of style do Puel's teams typically play?
Puel is a pragmatic coach, and is a competent coach. He won't come with a pre-established plan and blame everyone if he can't implement it; he'll make an acute diagnosis and manage it throughout, accordingly.
With Lille and Lyon he played in a pragmatic way, mostly implementing set ups with three midfielders (with an anchorman) with quick dynamic players out wide, strikers or dribblers.
Last season, Nice played a variation of 4-3-3, that was created around the team's best player Ben Arfa. It had a big emphasis on building through the thirds, in order to create triangles to release a free player.
Puel has brought through several young players; who are the most famous prospects who have emerged under his guidance?
He has managed every type of player,;from the superstar, to the underperforming record signing, to the local lad making his way through.
From Monaco's title winning team, the recognisable names for English fans would be the goalkeeper Barthez, Rafa Marquez, Salif Diao, Ludovic Giuly, Willy Sagnol, John Arne Riise and Phillippe Christanval.
At Lille, the spine of his team was composed of Peter Odemwingie and current Juventus defender Lichsteiner, but also young padawans Kevin Mirallas, Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Debuchy and Mathieu Bodmer.
At Lyon he had room and money to bring in a few top players, such as Lisandro Lopez, Dejan Lovren or Yoann Gourcuff. But more notably, he's the one who signed Miralem Pjanic and Hugo Lloris from Metz and Lille. He also managed the young Karim Benzema, Maxime Gonalons and Alexandre Lacazette.
And at Nice, Ben Arfa aside, he signed a few well educated players football wise, such as the ball-playing centre-back Le Marchand and Walter from Ligue 2 club Nancy. But the names to remember are the midfielders; Vincent Koziello, Jean Mickael Seri and Nampalys Mendy, who is very similar to Leicester's N'Golo Kanté. Goalkeeper David Ospina now plays for Arsenal and Timothée Kolodzieczak for Sevilla.
I wouldnt be surprised if one of the midfielders happens to be linked strongly with Saints over the summer, especially in regards to Wanyama's departure.
As a manager, is he seen as a strict manager or is he quite calm and relaxed? Hands-on, or standoff-ish?
I believe he's currently the best French coach considering he ticks pretty much all the boxes. Deschamps is a born leader and arguably the best French manager, but he is maybe just behind Puel for the quality of the football played. He's experienced and knows the high level, his management shows no nonsense or mercy in terms of discipline standards and he's known to make his players work hard.
He leads by example and makes sure to train with his players as much as he can, or even leads the bike trips in pre season!
But he has also a strong emphasis on bringing in youth; being involved in adjusting his club's principles at youth level, he made sure Nice was targeting and signing players to fit the first team's style of play, and giving them their chance at pro level. He knows how to handle them as well, not burning them out or throwing them under the bus after a string of poor performances.
Finally, do you feel Southampton is a good fit for him, and how are the Saints seen in France?
I think he's an unbelievable fit for both. If asked I would have been tempted to say 'that'd be great but it'll never happen', but here we are.
Saints are a really well structured club at every level; scouting, medical and academy level. The manager is part of the system, not just a guru with his backroom staff he hosts in his suitcase.
Puel fits this system well; unfortunately I've no idea how good his English is. But Pochettino worked well with a translator at first and Koeman's functional english hasn't caused any issues. So Puel really can take advantage of the Southampton set up.
It's quite unusual for a French coach to get such a high profile job abroad. Apart from Garcia at Roma or Montanier at Real Sociedad, I can't think of many lately. So he can stay for the long term; I'm not sure he'll jump off the ship at the first opportunity. He may be the one!
Southampton is known in France in recent years mostly for being Morgan Schneiderlin's platform. But the Premier League is broadcasted in France (I've been involved in various TV shows and will continue so in the future, for example!). So people have access to enough games to make up a good opinion of Southampton; They know how it's become Liverpool's supermarket down the street below, but also that it's from where Shearer, Bridge, Bale, Walcott and others come from. It is a club that works well at every level.
In regards to Southampton, I think it was a good opportunity to move on from a few things. Koeman has done a remarkable job (it's always good to have someone who knows what the high level is all about when you seek to join that category of clubs). His calmness has fit into the wider picture and has allowed Southampton to cruise in that meantime.
That said, playing wise, I liked very much what was done at the start with Ward Prowse as an advanced midfielder. Southampton created nice combination play to set up crossers in good positions (close to the box, cutbacks).
Because of injuries, Ward Prowse has had less opportunities. Tadic has been better monitored by opposition teams, Davies is mostly meh to do anything else than facilitate things in final third (which is still good!).
The emergence of Mané and the fact he played off Pellè altered slightly the dynamics of the attack in my opinion; it was more direct, with more early crosses and less elaborate build-ups. I do like and rate Mané a lot, I think he's got all the tools to succeed, but I believe he had become too pivotal in the attacking set up, as in if he had a day off (or just late at the team meeting...), that would hamper Southampton's attacking outlet greatly
I have full confidence in Southampton identifying the right players to continue to move on; finishing broadly at the same level of points would be a remarkable achievement in regards to the other clubs, especially with the fact that dealing with extra European fixtures inevitably pumps away some energy for the league campaign.
We thank Sébastien for his time. Give him a follow at @SeBlueLion_EN!