Football has little patience for purists. Nowadays, if you don’t add graft to your game or your team is not aggressive to a point, you’ll probably not last long as a manager. Football managers work under serious demands nowadays, depending on the club you’re working for. Results have to come instantly. No one cares about ‘a process’ or ‘building a philosophy’…there’s no time for that. Just get some wins and we’re ok. What’s ironic is this: a manager comes in, gets some wins and he’s a hero. Once he starts losing games, he’s off. No one remembers the earlier wins. Whatever project that was on is now a disaster. In my opinion, no one encapsulates this more than Claude Puel.
The moment Zaha’s second goal went in, I saw the headline coming: PUEL SACKED. Just like that, the man who took Leicester from a relegation scrap to ninth place, just last season, was gone. The achievements of the season before forgotten. To be fair, to be winless in almost 10 games is alarming, but not unusual. What was worrying was the manner in which the defeats were showing up. You’d expect Leicester to win, at home, against Crystal Palace at least. From my view, it was unfair. The man wasn’t getting the results, but he was clearly working on a solution…a way out…he needed more time…but that is the life of a purist.
Who is a purist in football management? Well, I believe it refers to a manager who sees football as an art that is designed to entertain first. Results are actually secondary. As far as the purist is concerned, once the style is entertaining, the right results will follow. Purists will look to see how they can develop every single player before they focus on the group. A very good example of a purist? My beloved Arsene Wenger (let’s not get into him though).
Claude Puel is a purist, in my opinion. He believes that players have to be develop over a period of time to match a style of play. Once their development is right, it’s easy to get the team to buy into a system. If the player development is not done right, the team structure won’t last long. At Monaco, he produced a core group of players that went on to reach the Champions’ League final in 2004, when he had moved on. Similar work was done at Nice as well, which has seen the team challenge for top honours in France over the last few years. All his teams play exceptional football. Players look so much better when they work under him and it always feels like he has found a home whenever he gets a new job. His biggest flaw is the apparent lack of consistency in results.
Puel has never achieved a win ratio of 50% at any of his clubs. He came close with Monaco, where he achieved about 49%, winning a league title in the process. Everywhere else has seen him achieve just around 35%. He just loses too many games, though not for a lack of trying to win. It’s just that he needs all the players to buy into his belief and philosophy. That’s the problem of a purist: everyone has to be on board. At Leicester, he was constructing a team that was playing great football. The likes of Harvey, Gray and Maddison were improving a lot as players. I strongly feel that Puel is responsible for the form that got Man City to pay 75 Million pounds for Mahrez; a player whose stock looked to crash just under a year after it had reached its title-winning peak. There was definitely work being done behind the scenes with Vardy to get more out of him (even though the striker expressed his discomfort with how that was going), plus the different tactics being tried showed that the manager was looking for solutions. Just like it was at Southampton, he didn’t find that solution. Maybe he needed more time…maybe the solution was never at the club…maybe there is no solution.
English football is probably done with Claude Puel. I still believe that he’s a good manager who just needs the right club to believe in his methods. It’s ironic that a manager who was known for being a hard-man as a player, would be such a purist as a manager. But Puel has got to find that tough side of himself and apply to the players he works with. It will ensure that he attains what is still a salvageable career. I would love to see this happen.