Saints Onto A Winner Picking Puel Over De Boerby Andy Dillon / 20 October 2016, 09:44Tweet
Sun journalist and regular Sackrace columnist Andy Dillon is in Milan for Southampton's Europa League clash against Inter and discusses how Saints may have dodged a bullet by not hiring Frank de Boer...
THE 7,500 Southampton fans lapping up the experience of a match at the majestic San Siro Stadium tonight (THURS) can allow themselves a little shudder.
Not through the spine-tingling excitement of seeing Saints facing Inter Milan on the biggest European night in their club’s history.
Instead, they can ponder what might have been had Frank de Boer taken over their club in and Claude Puel been just a near miss.
Inter finished fourth in last season’s Serie A. De Boer took over in August and now the team is 11th and enduring its worst lack of form and biggest bout of in-fighting for years.
Frenchman Puel walked into St.Mary’s in the summer a virtual unknown, with little fanfare and a voice which barely raises above a whisper in public.
It could have been so different for just a few months ago Southampton were reported to be ready with a mouth-watering £3 million a year to take over and pick up from where his fellow Dutchman Ronald Koeman left off.
You see now why Southampton Supporters may shiver somewhat had history not gone their way.
Puel and De Boer face off tonight in a Europa League Group K match in a the ultimate test of managerial credentials.
De Boer is battling massive off field problems with dissention in the crowd aimed at skipper Mauro Icardi who sparked ironic cheers in the stands last weekend when he MISSED a penalty.
The Argentinian’s claims that a young fan threw his shirt back at him when offered it as a token have been widely disputed and prompted a frightening home visit from around 40 of Inter’s hardcore ‘Ultra’ fans.
De Boer’s plodding tactics have been blasted by ‘Scudetta’-watchers who follow the Italian championship with a keen eye.
Defeats to relatively lowly opposition have added to the incendiary atmosphere gripping the three-times European champions.
Meanwhile, quiet-man Puel has stayed steady despite his first four games without a win and now holds the reins to a team which is unbeaten in seven and brim full of confidence.
He is a tough man too without feeling the need to shout. His squad rotation policy is cast-iron.
There were four different names in his starting X1 against Burnley last Sunday compared to the opening day draw at home to Watford.
In Europe there have been big changes too. Key players left behind altogether for the last away trip to Israelis Hapoel Be’er Sheva from which he nicked a point.
Puel is ruthless about it. Regardless of the opposition he drops who he wants, when he wants and the answer has been successful consistency - compare that to Premier League champions Leicester, flying high in Europe but sinking fast at home.
Bold statistics show that Southampton sit second in Group K on four points and poised for qualification to the last 32 and the more exciting knockout stage of the Europa League.
Inter are bottom after two defeats.
Southampton fans may have asked ‘who are ya?’ when Claude Puel was finally confirmed as the new manager but they are certainly getting to know what he is about now.
It’s a shame Southampton didn’t plump for a British boss to replace Koeman as there are plenty out there able to do a good job.
But at least director of recruitment Les Reed showed that he wasn’t determined to go for a big name manager and that he has maybe unearthed another managerial gem in Puel who is polishing up nicely.