We have ourselves a new manager (again). Some of the old guard will remain, including assistant manager Michael Appleton (if he can be called old guard), although it’s been reported this morning that Puel did try to bring in former Scotland international John Collins as his assistant.
I’ll admit that when I first heard the rumours, and then again with the official announcement, I was uninspired. A safe and boring choice perhaps, but the more I’ve thought on the subject, the more I’ve come around the idea. While there can be no denying some of his negatives - Saints’ complete lack of goals last year stands out - hopefully I can explain below why I’m now fully behind the decision.
“A Perfect Fit”
Those were the words of vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha after the deal was announced. My own albeit brief dig into Puel’s history first pulled up Outside of the Boot’s Hipster Guide to the 2016/17 season, from which two quotes really stood out to me.
(At Nice) Puel had taken a band of misfits, kids and not-good-enoughs, and turned them in to a side capable of qualifying for Europe
With little explanation, that ought to sound like a familiar concept to Leicester City fans.
Puel’s Nice were lauded for their fierce pressing style and swift counter attacks, all the while retaining a rigid and unbreakable backline
Again, replace Puel’s Nice with Ranieri’s Leicester and it all sounds eerily familiar. Of course, this wasn't really how he went on to manage Southampton, who were fairly slow and plodding in his time there, but it certainly shows he is capable of it, possibly when the right players are available as they are now.
More 4-4-2 (kind of)
Some have been saying Puel may opt for a 3 man defence, something many Foxes fans have wanted for a while, but during his time on the South coast he stuck rigidly to a back four.
While he tried several systems further forward, his favourite appeared to a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond. His new players will obviously be very familiar with the 4-4-2 concept, though much less so with the diamond.
In particular, Shinji Okazaki, who has excelled as a deeper support striker, rather than the wider forward required above the diamond and Marc Albrighton, a natural winger, might find themselves struggling to fit that shape.
Conversely, the additional numbers in midfield would help an area where the team has been struggling this year. Whether he does stick with his diamond or not, we’ll have to wait and see, but we’ve all been desperate to see this team try anything different for a while and there’s a good chance now we’ll get to see that.
A Wenger Disciple
Puel played for Arsene Wenger at Monaco, and made his first move into management as the club’s reserve team manager at that time. One thing he seems to have picked up is a knack for the boring interview, and maybe a slight lack of personality and charisma, which could be jarring following on from Shakespeare and Ranieri.
Another Wenger trait which doesn't seem to fit with the current and recent style of the club is his love for the passing game. In fact, it was Nice’s brilliant passing, combined with their quick breaks, that made them so effective in his final season, although he was obviously unable to recreate that combination at Southampton.
That’s certainly a worry, especially since passing accuracy has been far from a strength for us recently. Wilfred Ndidi, for example, would struggle in that system.
The good news is that Puel appears to have inherited another trait: an ability to trust and develop young players. This, ultimately, is what got him the job at Southampton, a club built on the model of bringing through young talent. More so than any of the other candidates, Puel can be trusted to bring along the exciting talent we have, while developing guys like Ndidi into more complete players.
A man to put us back on track
Not so long ago, Leicester City were a team with a clear and positive trajectory, improving year on year. Even last year I was trying to argue that if you ignored one league winning anomaly, we were still improving (please never ignore that year though).
The rough start this year has shown that the upward climb really does seem to have stalled. Maybe Puel can be the manager to get it going again. In three seasons at Nice after all, he finished 17th, 11th and 4th, which sounds like good progress to me.
There are already some very good players on this team. With the likes of Jamie Vardy available up front, they may already be more equipped to score goals under Puel than Southampton ever were.
Underneath that first team, though, there’s a growing collection of young players who look a lot like the best emerging generation that Leicester City have seen for a very long time.
Wilfred Ndidi is already a key player at 20, as is Harry Maguire at 24 (which is young for a defender). Ben Chilwell and Demarai Gray are absolutely packed full of potential, while the development squad is full of really exciting talents like Darnell Johnson, Hamza Choudhury, George Thomas and Admiral Muskwe.
The club needs someone to shepherd these players through into the first team squad, in a way we haven't really seen the club operate for some time. While the appointment was a little disappointing to me on the surface, Claude Puel is probably the best available manager for that job.
Of course, he will have to last more than a year to achieve that. As our 16th permanent manager in the 17 years since MON left, the odds aren't exactly with him on that one.