“It’s important to play good football and to give pleasure to the players, because if they feel good together and they play good football, they can give pleasure to the fans also” – this is a quote from Southampton boss Claude Puel on the day that Les Reed decided that this man was the right man to take our club forward. Nearly four months on, Puel has well and truly lived up to his word.
After being appointed on June 30 2016, there were split opinions amongst the Southampton fans regarding Claude Puel. One-half were optimistic and had faith in the decision due to the clubs previous managerial appointments, whilst the other half were ruing the missed opportunity to bring in a proven name (Manuel Pellegrini was a name mentioned by many).
Over the first four fixtures, the bedwetters and the media were in heaven. Southampton had picked up just two points in the League whilst looking lightweight in attack, void of any creativity and unaware of Puel’s tactical demands. This cued the beginning of numerous fans questioning Puel’s appointment and more specifically, his decision to play a 442 diamond. In this moment they believed that they were right – that Southampton’s replacement policy had finally failed and that all those years of warning the club had paid off.
Oh but football is a crazy game and believe it or not, it takes more than just four fixtures for a manager to implement his ideas effectively. When you are willing to show patience and place trust in a manager, the rewards can be remarkable; something that many Southampton fans are having to come to terms with this season.
The Saints currently sit in eighth place in the Premier League, but the most staggering feature of Puel’s reign at Southampton so far has been the aesthetics of his side. Yes, Puel is desperate to grab all three points at any given opportunity, but his other demand from the players is one that sits nicely for onlookers at St Mary’s; entertainment.
Puel is a strong believer in playing football the right way. This means encouraging and training his players to keep the ball on the ground, remain composed at all times and to not be afraid to take calculated risks – a style and set of ideologies in football similar to that of Arsene Wenger.
Unlike Wenger however, Puel opts for his team to carry out these ideologies in a 442 diamond. This formation allows each player to have a constant set of clear cut passing opportunities, which has allowed our defence and midfield to play with more composure than ever before.
Puel has placed great emphasis on passing in triangles since arriving, with the intention to maintain the ball until the perfect opportunity to cut open the oppositions defence arises. It requires exceptional patience, intelligence and skill to carry out such a game plan, and impressively, Puel has helped to increase these three traits in all of our players.
The result is a style of football that is filled with fluidity, one touch ball retention, precise passing, Intelligent decision making and effective trickery. To put it simply, I would say that it’s the most attractive football that Southampton have played in recent years.
When Mauricio Pochettino was at the helm of Southampton Football Club, the Argentine encouraged a very disciplined and drilled style of football. Pochettino’s time at Southampton was all about improving fitness, holding a strong and resilient defensive shape, and having the ability to attack in an effective manner. This gifted the Southampton fans many exciting games, but in truth, the football was often predictable and was more impressive for its organisation, rather than the aesthetics of the football itself.
Then along came Ronald Koeman who shared the same desire for defensive stability as Mauricio Pochettino, whilst also having the willingness to allow for greater fluidity. The only issue however is that Koeman had a tendency to display favouritism towards certain players at Southampton and didn’t prioritise the desire to play good football. It’s undeniable that there were many moments of exceptional play, but in large parts of the season Koeman would revert to an awfully direct style of football – a style that would have been labelled “hoof ball” if Koeman was an Englishman.
At this point I want to highlight that by no means am I making such comments about Pochettino and Koeman out of spite or as a cheeky remark. I believe that both managers are amongst some of the very best names in management and that Puel has a lot of work to do in order to be mentioned alongside them. However, in this moment Southampton have only fallen to defeat against Inter Milan, Arsenal and Manchester United under the Frenchman, all whilst playing this expansive and positive style of football. Given Southampton’s track record of managerial appointments, this gives the Southampton fans good reason to be optimistic for the remainder of the season.
Whilst the effectiveness of Puel’s ideologies remain to be seen, there is one thing that the Frenchman has proved to us, that he is capable of making Southampton Football Club play their most attractive football in recent years.