In the last few years, the Premier League has seen an influx of world-class managers, and in the modern game, we now know more about them than ever. Their tactics are scrutinised and analysed until which point that every fan seems to know the intricate differences between Conte’s brilliant wing-back formation with Italy during the 2016 EUROs, and Brendan Rodgers’ three-at-the-back formation which took the Premier League by storm in 2013/14.
However, there is obviously a lot more going on than the “Average Joe” might believe, with regards to formations, player roles and managers pinpointing areas of weakness in their opposition’s team. What most interests me, however, is the way in which a manager can carry himself, both in the public eye of press conferences and in the privacy of the training ground. The way in which a manager asserts himself as the focal point of a football club after a move is of utmost importance.
The past three managers at Southampton FC – including the latest man at the helm Claude Puel – seem to have very different ways of carrying themselves. In pre and post-match press conferences they have all acted in very different ways and on the training ground they seem to have very different ways of getting involved. Not to mention that if rumours are to be believed, they also have very different ways of dealing with player disputes. But how have their respective mannerisms altered results on the pitch? this is something that intrigues me greatly.
Firstly, we have Mauricio Pochettino – a man who came to England with little knowledge of the English language. But simply based on how many players followed him out of St. Mary’s to different clubs in the summer of 2014, we can infer that there was a true bond and sense of camaraderie among the players in his squad. He joined in with training sessions, taking a hands on approach and tried to teach the players everything he knew; both technically with their feet and tactically with their brains. He seemed to love the youth players, using many of them in all competitions; Luke Shaw was a regular starter for Pochettino and owes a lot of his development to the Argentine. Sam McQueen made his debut away to Sunderland in the FA cup, and Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher made their competitive debuts under Pochettino too. He built an aura of trust and friendship with all of his players, which is why so many refused to stay when he left in 2014.
Pochettino has been described as working his players very hard; he will not tolerate anything less than 100% effort from his team. Victor Wanyama claims that Pochettino himself was the main reason behind his recent move to Spurs – another indicator that players bought into him as both a football manager and on a human level. Wanyama also stated that Pochettino’s pre-season was a gruelling regime, which meant all players would be at peak fitness come the start of the season, but was an embodiment of the man himself and his philosophies and mannerisms; 100% effort or no playing time. I personally believe that Erik Lamela’s rebirth as a star in the Premier League can be attributed to Pochettino’s traits yet again.
With regards to Pochettino in the media, we as Saints fans are led to believe that he continued to use a translator to make sure that he was not misquoted in the media. He would always answer questions directly; giving pure truth and making sure that the general public knew exactly what he wanted to say. As a man, many respected him; he never seemed to shy away or lie, he instils bonds among his squads and he knows how to win, which led to his brilliant 8th place finish with Saints in 2013/14. In this regard, I personally believe that Pochettino will go on to have a brilliant managerial career, as he gets the best out of his players in every way.
Secondly, we have a vastly different character to Mauricio Pochettino; the former Saint Ronald Koeman. He came to England with an almost native-fluency of the spoken language, he played at the highest level under some of the best managers of all time and he was very tactically proficient. However, Koeman was a hard-headed individual and a stubborn manager who would not allow his players to undermine him in any regard. Every photo and video released by Saints’ media team of the training sessions held by Koeman show him, with arms folded, on the touchline, barking orders at his players. He never seemed to get involved with the training sessions and teach his players, despite being considered as one of the greatest defenders of his generation.
Quite simply, if we are to believe many rumours circulating Southampton F.C, it seemed that Koeman did not care for many of his players during his two-year tenure at St Mary’s. In the last few months for example, Sadio Mané was used as a scapegoat for Southampton’s poor form; during the 2015/16 season, Mane arrived 15 minutes late for a pre-match team meeting in an away fixture against Norwich City, and as a result, Koeman dropped him. This seemed like a fair punishment at the time, but soon after, confirmed reports stated that Mané believed he was perfectly on time. The mix-up was in fact on Koeman’s behalf, after changing the time of the meeting without Mane being notified. This was the supposed beginning of the breakdown in the relationship between Koeman and Mane – one that led to Mané’s exit this summer. There are also murmurs that Tadić and Cédric would have left St Mary’s if Koeman stayed as they were tired of his dictator-like attitude. They were also reportedly made to feel like scapegoats during the team’s drop in form.
Finally, again if we can believe rumours, Koeman did not care for any of the youth team. He never bothered to watch their games, he refused to promote many of them to the first team and even went on a “foul-mouthed tirade” at a 20-year old Matt Targett during a training session, abusing him in front of many of his friends and colleagues. This again is a sudden misstep from what Pochettino had installed previously, and what Southampton F.C. want to promote in a football club.
However, in press conferences, Koeman embodied the word confidence; he nonchalantly ignored any journalist that he felt was asking unimportant questions, he blatantly lied about the Everton link and often made jokes at the journalists themselves. One thing we cannot doubt; Ronald Koeman is a winner, a disciplinarian who will most likely rise to the top and succeed in his managerial career, given his two record-breaking season in the dugout of St Mary’s. But Southampton fans should not be worried to lose him; he may have broken records and taken us to Europe, but he did not put emphasis on the club’s structure or philosophies, and his mannerisms suggest to me that he thought he was bigger than the club.
The 30th June 2016, enter the latest man to become Southampton manager; Claude Puel. With a wealth of experience in France and a history of promoting young players; including giving debuts to Yohan Cabaye and Eden Hazard, and being attributed with turning Thierry Henry into a striker from a winger, Puel seems to be an ideal fit for Southampton’s philosophies.
With regards to his personality and mannerisms, it is very hard to judge him based on his two months at St Mary’s, but I have personally seen encouraging signs. He seems to want camaraderie among his camp, constantly complimenting his players in the press and engaging with training sessions (if we can believe the Saints media team!). Nathan Redmond is a name that springs to mind; Puel has likened him to Henry already, saying that he could be a fantastic signing for years to come. Redmond then returned him with an equalising debut goal vs Watford.
Puel seems to engage the media very well, his knowledge of the English language has impressed me greatly already and he speaks in a very calm and collected manner, rather than giving a brash response. Puel himself claimed that it is very important to carry oneself well in the public eye; if he wants to scream at his players after a poor performance, then so be it, but once the cameras are on him, or as soon as the newspaper journalists start to take note, it is of utmost importance to stay professional and calm, so as to keep the aura and reputation of the club focused and pristine even in hard times. This is something I have admired greatly; I think it will enhance the attitudes of players too as they will most likely buy into his way of thinking if he continues to compliment them and keep their bond of trust private inside the club.
Finally, many former players under Puel have constantly praised his attitude towards his players; he buys into them and invests time into improving not only the club, but the players themselves, and they in turn reward him with performances and results. Thierry Henry has been full of praise for him and his way of acting on the training ground, claiming that he is the “perfect fit” for Southampton F.C.
I think it speaks great volumes that new club record-signing Sofiane Boufal rejected multiple offers to come to St Mary’s. Boufal’s agent himself even stated that had Laurent Blanc remained in charge at PSG, Paris would have been the destination for Boufal this summer. In his first interview as a Saint, he constantly attributed Puel as the reason for his move, which gives me a new sense of confidence about the new manager. His reputation in France precedes him; a brilliantly technical coach, with the level-headedness of a future world-class manager. Puel himself has attributed all of his characteristics to Arséne Wenger, and if Saints fans get even the slight taste of one of the Premier League’s and world’s best ever managers, they will be delighted with Puel’s appointment.
Personally, I am expecting a similar tenure to that of Mauricio Pochettino; Puel will start slow and steadily get the players onside, creating a bond and friendship between his backroom staff and players that will lead to stable and successful seasons in the future. Yet unlike Pochettino, I trust in Puel that if all goes to plan, he will stay loyal to Southampton F.C. and remain at the head of the club for many years, as he has done at his previous clubs.