Claude Puel: The Saint who got away
After Wednesday’s 4-1 hammering to Leicester City, did the Southampton hierarchy make a mistake letting Claude Puel go? I’ll side with the Frenchman. He guided the Saints to eighth last season, and also took them to the League Cup final.
Puel was ousted from St Mary's for his defensive tactics. In all fairness, though, he had a hard act to follow. Ronald Koeman’s final campaign at Southampton was historic: a sixth-place Premier League finish with a club record 63 points. His successor was up against it.
Puel was compared to predecessors
With the Saints on the rise, Puel was always going to face quick judgement. Koeman's successful season coincided with Leicester's dream campaign, though. A year after battling against relegation, the Foxes astounded everyone to win the Premier League title. That remarkable success story gave fans of all clubs new optimism. It also destabilised each manager’s position.
During only Leicester's second season back in the top flight, Claudio Ranieri and his players proved that any team can deliver beyond expectations. The following campaign, however, the defending champions slipped to 12th, while the Saints retained their position in the top half under Puel.
Koeman proved an inspired appointment at Southampton, but it was Mauricio Pochettino's exploits that changed the club's fortunes initially. The Argentine transformed the Saints from relegation candidates to a top half side in little over a year.
During Koeman's debut campaign at St Mary's, his side finished seventh, one place higher than under Pochettino. The Dutchman bettered that once again 12 months later. Many pundits thought it was a fluke, especially considering the previous summer's departures, including Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin. Somehow, though, another season of mass changes had resulted in further success.
Different methods, similar results
Puel arrived in England with a solid managerial resume. Particular highlights included a Ligue 1 title in 2000 with Monaco, and a Champions League semi-final in 2010 while in charge at Lyon.
Puel's struggle at Southampton was trying to replace key players in Victor Wanyama, Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle. Midfield dynamism and goals aplenty had been lost that summer. Nevertheless, under the Frenchman's guidance, alongside head of football development Les Reed, the Saints churned out yet another impressive campaign.
However, something was rising to the surface: fan discontent.
Puel's eventual demise was caused by Southampton picking up just one win in the final eight league games, scoring only four goals. His dismissal wasn't treated as a great shock - but it should have been. Considering the Saints had European football to contend with during the first half of the season, securing a top-eight finish in the Premier League and reaching a cup final at Wembley signalled a decent debut campaign. Claude Puel had delivered.
Puel’s Foxes teach the Saints a lesson
The chants from Leicester City fans were apt.
“Are you glad you sacked Puel?”
Only six months after his removal as Southampton manager, Puel travelled back to St Mary's. It was his chance at redemption.
Buoyed by a three-game winning streak going into the game, the Foxes made Puel's return one to savour. The Saints maybe now regret letting their former manager get away.