By Josh Holland
Claude Puel is a French manager who has been managing for 20 years. Puel’s football career began in the 1970s when French side AS Monaco spotted the player at Castres FC. He made over 600 appearances for Monaco and spent his entire football career there, where he won the French Championship (Ligue 1) twice (1981/82 and 1987/88), Coupe de France three times (1980, 1985 and 1991) and the old Trophee des Champions in 1985. After playing for 17 years, Puel retired and worked as a physical trainer and reserve manager for Monaco before being appointed first-team manager in January 1999.
AS Monaco – 1999-2001
Puel took over Monaco in January 1999 after Lucien Muller left the club. Under Puel, Monaco only lost once for the rest of the season when Rolland Courbis’s Marseille won 2-1 at the Stade Louis II. During the summer, Italian forward Marco Simone joined from PSG and Puel guided the club to their seventh French Championship title, with Simone contributing 28 goals in all competitions, and a semi-final finish in the Coupe de France. Puel had a team of superstars at Monaco, including Fabian Barthez, Ludovic Giuly and David Trezeguet, and helped Monaco reach the fourth round of the UEFA Cup after overcoming St Johnstone, Widzew Lodz and AEK Athens before being defeated by Spanish side Mallorca 4-2.
The 2000/01 season ended in Puel’s contract not being renewed after Monaco finished 11th. With the club finishing as winners the previous season, Monaco were placed in the UEFA Champions League group stage but were knocked out after finishing 4th in a group containing Galatasaray, Rangers and Sturm Graz. Throughout the poor season, Puel did manage his side to the final of the Coupe de France, but a 2-1 defeat to Lyon gave Jacques Santini’s men the trophy.
Throughout his time at the Stade Louis II, Puel had a 48 per cent win ratio during his two-year stay. During his first 91 games in management, Monaco won 44 games, drew 16 and lost 31.
Lille OSC – 2002-2008
After being without a job for the 2001/02 season, Puel replaced Vahid Halilhodzik at French side Lille in July 2002 and during his six-year spell at the Les Dogues, Puel became one of the longest-serving coaches in the French league. In his first season, Puel’s Lille finished 14th: four points off the relegation zone. However, in his squad, Puel mixed the experienced players with a handful of academy graduates including Jean II Majoun and Matt Moussilou, who went on to appear over 250 times for the club. The following season, Lille finished nine points off European football, leading to the club winning the 2004 UEFA Intertoto Cup that summer. Puel, again, introduced youth to his side by giving Mathieu Debuchy and Stephane Dumont their professional debuts.
Lille qualified for the UEFA Champions League in the 2004/05 season after they finished second. The breakthrough stars that season were Yohan Cabaye and Kevin Mirallas, who went on to appear in the Premier League. During Puel’s third season in charge, Lille reached the last 16 of the UEFA Cup before being knocked out by AJ Auxerre.
The following season (2005/06), Lille appeared in the Champions League and were drawn in a group with Villarreal, Manchester United and Benfica. When Puel’s side hosted Manchester United, they secured an unlikely 1-0 win, through a goal from Milenko Acimovic. This result, along with a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford earlier in the campaign, helped the club finish third in a tough group; placing them in the knockout stages of the UEFA Cup, which they were knocked out of by Sevilla. Domestically, Lille achieved third place providing Champions League football the following season.
Puel bought Brazilian Michel Bastos in the summer of 2006 to try and sustain a title challenge, however, Lille finished 10th and were knocked out in the round of 16 of the Coupe de France by FC Nantes. Despite their poor season in France, Lille experienced another satisfying campaign in the Champions League by finishing second in a group containing future winners AC Milan and Belgian side Anderlecht, but were knocked out by Manchester United, who got revenge for the season before.
In Puel’s final season, he brought in Patrick Kluivert from PSV, Rio Mavuba from Villarreal and Marko Maric from Egaleo AO, but Lille finished seventh which gave the club no European football for the following season. After the 2007/08 season, Puel was released by the club and joined rivals Lyon for the 2008/09 season.
Despite failing to bring trophies to the club, Puel is fondly remembered at the club for his consistency of using academy graduates in his team. In the list of players he used, Eden Hazard is one that really stands out. Hazard has always spoken highly of Puel when asked about him.
Olympique Lyonnais – 2008-2011
Claude Puel took over from Alain Perrin at Lyon with a young, exciting side who finished as champions the season before. In his squad, Puel had Hugo Lloris (now at Tottenham Hotspur), Jeremy Toulalan, Miralem Pjanic (now at Juventus), Juninho, Milan Baros and Karim Benzema (now at Real Madrid). In Europe, Lyon were placed in a group containing Bayern Munich (who went on to win the trophy), Fiorentina and Steaua. Lyon finished second before being knocked out by FC Barcelona. Puel struggled domestically again as Lyon slumped to third in the league as Bordeaux won their sixth French title.
Puel was given the funds to provide a title charge (due to the sale of Karim Benzema to Real Madrid) and they spent £24m on Lopez, £18m on Michel Bastos from Puel’s former side Lille, £13m on Bafetimbi Gomes from Saint Etienne and £8m on Dejan Lovren from Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb. Lyon also used Maxime Gonalons, Clement Grenier and Alexandre Lacazette, who all went onto to become key players for Les Gones. Argentine Lisandro Lopez’s 15 league goals fired Lyon to second place and the Champions League semi-final in Puel’s second season at the Groupama Stadium. A famous victory at Anfield was followed by knocking out Spanish giants Real Madrid and French champions Bordeaux before being defeated by Bayern Munich.
Real Madrid got their revenge on Lyon by knocking them out of the Champions League in the 2010/11 season as Puel ended another season without bringing silverware to the club, despite finishing in the top three again. During his spell at Lyon, Puel won 74 of his 154 games, drawing 44 and losing 36.
OGC Nice – 2012-2016
In his first season with his fourth club, Puel took Nice from 13th to fourth, qualifying for the UEFA Europa League. At Nice, Puel signed Nampalys Mendy from Monaco at 21 years of age, a midfielder who Puel now manages at his current side Leicester City. In his second season at Les Aiglons, they finished 17th and were knocked out early in Europe by Apollon Limassol. Despite the poor season, it was another season where Puel placed trust in youth as Jordan Amavi, Bryan Constant and Lucas Rougeaux were promoted to the first team: they were all under 21 when promoted. Another disappointing season saw Nice finish 11th.
In his final season, Puel led Nice to fourth, again using youth products to lead his team, mixing the likes of Albert Rafetraniaina with Hatem Ben Arfa. Puel signed Ricardo Pereira on loan from FC Porto, another player who went on to sign for Leicester under Puel. Despite leading the club back to Europe, Puel was sacked in May 2016 and replaced by Lucien Favre.
Southampton – 2016/17
The Saints appointed the Frenchman on a three-year deal to replace Ronald Koeman, who took over Everton. Koeman had left the club after leading Southampton to sixth in the Premier League: earning them a place in Europa League. Puel signed Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from Bayern Munich, Jeremy Pied from former side Nice and Sofiane Boufal from another former side Lille with the aim to implement his style of play in the world’s best league. At Southampton, Puel had a young squad, with the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Nathan Redmond, Oriol Romeu, Cedric Soares and James Ward-Prowse starting week-in-week-out for him. Unfortunately for Puel, Southampton were knocked out of Europe at the first attempt, as they finished third in a group containing Sparta Prague, Inter Milan and Hapoel Be’er Sheva.
Domestically, Southampton reached the League Cup final after defeating Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Arsenal and Liverpool. However, despite performing well, it was Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United who were victorious at Wembley thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Saints only dropped two places in the league standings, but Puel was sacked after losing 16 games and only winning one of their final eight games of the season.
In October 2017, Leicester City appointed Puel: four months after he was sacked by Southampton. Leicester were 14th in the table after only winning two games out of nine before Puel was appointed and it was made clear by the club’s owners that Puel was given the job to construct a positive future for the club.
His first game in charge was a 2-0 home win against Everton and he only saw his new side lose two out of his first 10 games. Home wins against Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal were key highlights in the season, as well as a 4-1 away win against former side Southampton. Just like at all his former teams, Puel used a number of young players in his starting eleven as the season went on, including Demarai Gray, Ben Chilwell and Hamza Choudhury, but the fans began to turn on the boss as Leicester only won five of the last 18 games, losing nine. A 5-0 demolishing at Crystal Palace was one key moment when most of the fans made their feelings clear, which was then followed by a 2-0 defeat to West Ham.
In Puel’s first summer at the club, he brought James Maddison, Caglar Soyuncu, Filip Benkovic and Ricardo Pereira into his squad as he tried to bring his system to the King Power. Despite calls from fans, Puel has his side sat in mid-table.
When the tragic accident happened outside the club’s ground when owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha died after his helicopter lost control and crashed, Puel remained professional and represented the club in a dashing manner.
This article was written by Josh Holland. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.