Reputations are hard to change. Just ask Claude Puel, who was confirmed as Leicester City’s new manager on Wednesday afternoon.
The 56-year-old, who was sacked by Southampton at the end of last season, has long been plagued by accusations that his football is too dreary, that his style is too conservative for the violent pace of the Premier League.
But it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Puel, who played for Arsene Wenger at Monaco for seven years, emerged as the favourite for the Leicester vacancy.
“Upon meeting Claude, his attention to detail, knowledge of our squad, understanding of our potential and his vision to help us realise it were extremely impressive” said the club’s vice-chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha.
Negative but effective
Southampton underrated their former manager tremendously. In his first full season in English football, Puel responded to the loss of Sadio Mané and Victor Wanyama by sealing a comfortable top ten finish and a runners-up medal in the League Cup. The football may have been negative, but it was effective.
Puel cannot be reduced to a purveyor of anti-fútbol though. His Nice side were one of the most enterprising in Ligue 1 with the passing of Jean-Michael Seri and the dribbling of Hatem Ben Arfa tearing most opponents asunder. It was under Puel that Nice, relegation fodder the year before his arrival, would finish in a historic fourth place.
He also has a keen eye for talent, having granted Ligue 1 debuts to Eden Hazard, Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Debuchy whilst manager of Lille. When they won the title in 2011, it was done with the players he had brought through the youth system.
The right man at the wrong time
It hasn’t all been perfect. Puel was the right man at the wrong time for Lyon when he joined in 2008 with L’OL’s staggering hegemony in Ligue 1 coming to a natural end. A Yoann Gourcuff-inspired Bordeaux were champions in his first year but when Puel bought the midfielder from his rivals, a masterstroke quickly unravelled.
Gourcuff was too temperamental, his contributions too fleeting, and Puel too optimistic about the impact that his 22-million-Euro transfer would have on the team. A first appearance in a Champions League semi-final wasn’t enough to save his job.
The reality, however, is that Leicester need a manager like Claude Puel. After their runaway title win two years ago, the Foxes have regressed to their natural mean. With thoughts of a relegation to the Championship no doubt playing in their minds, the club’s Thai ownership have looked to steady the ship at this point. Puel will organise the defence and try to energise young talents like Demarai Gray and Ben Chilwell.
Claude Puel’s second job in England might just change his reputation and, if it does, Leicester will be the beneficiaries.
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