Whilst it has not yet been made official, Claude Puel’s dismissal from his post as Southampton manager is the worst kept secret in football at this moment with the two parties believed to be negotiating a fair severance package after the Frenchman completed just one season in the Premier League.
Those in power at St. Mary’s had hoped Puel would leave to take the Saint-Etienne job following Christophe Galtier’s departure as it would have been a smooth transition without the former Lyon coach being owed any pay upon his exit.
This now looks unlikely to happen and it seems as though the English club will have to dismiss Puel officially, even if he may take another job later in the summer.
Another domino has fallen in Saints’ pursuit of Thomas Tuchel and that is Bayer Leverkusen officially announcing Heiko Herrlich as the club’s new head coach on Friday morning.
Tuchel had been assumed as the favourite to take the reins at the BayArena but will now have to consider another move.
Southampton hold the German as their first-choice candidate to replace the outgoing Puel and whilst this would be an exciting appointment it would also have the potential to be troublesome for a club that has outperformed its resources consistently in recent seasons.
Tuchel’s work with Borussia Dortmund was tremendous on the pitch; nobody can doubt that and the 2015/16 campaign saw him bring a wonderfully attacking style of football to the team whilst also managing a 2nd placed finish on 79 points.
This secured Dortmund’s passage back into the Champions League but it was to be a difficult summer as Tuchel had the rug pulled from underneath him as Mats Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gundogan all left the club despite assurances from the board that not all of the trio would be sold that summer.
Such departures presented a real test of the former Mainz coach’s methods and he worked as well as he could with what he had. A third placed finish was the best he could manage in 2016/17 with a quite wonderful Red Bull Leipzig team beating Dortmund to 2nd by just three points.
Off-field behavior a concern
However it was a season where off-field events would take their toll on the relationship between coach and those in power at the club.
Tuchel was understandably frustrated by the club’s transfer dealings in the summer and the frosty nature of the relationship just snowballed from there on.
Dortmund’s Champions League quarter-final tie with AS Monaco was a memorable event for the most harrowing of reasons. An explosive attack by a financial terrorist on the Dortmund team coach as they were travelling to Signal Iduna Park for the first-leg shocked the footballing world.
It left Marc Bartra with severe arm injuries and in truth things could have been a lot worse.
What came next was perhaps equally as surprising, but in a different way. Less than 24 hours after the explosion, Dortmund and Monaco lined up in what was a bizarre atmosphere to contest the rearranged fixture.
The 43-year-old coach would later confirm that neither he nor his players had been consulted over the decision to play the match.
From that point his days at the club were numbered with it believed that chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke and Tuchel barely had a relationship for his final weeks with the club.
Now not every piece of blame can be put at the door of the club’s board with Tuchel believed to have also had a disagreement with members of his scouting staff and this could be a potentially worrisome piece of information with Southampton known to have a very rigid structure behind the scenes with Les Reed in control of transfer business for the most part.
Does he fit the Southampton mold?
Southampton will have set a precedent by dismissing Claude Puel after achieving an 8th placed finish and reaching the EFL Cup final in that they expect more from a manager.
Now of course there were extenuating circumstances which are likely to lead to the Frenchman’s dismissal including a lack of rapport with the vast majority of supporters in addition to some rather negative tactics near the climax of the campaign.
However it is worth wondering that for all the excitement Tuchel’s arrival would bring, it could well be the case that Southampton’s absolute ceiling of achievement is actually quite a bit lower than what many are expecting the German coach to bring right off the bat.
His achievements with Borussia Dortmund and the style of football he played there put him on the radar of super clubs such as Barcelona and Arsenal and before he signed with Dortmund he was even under consideration by Bayern Munich for an appointment in the future.
Now with this reputation comes an expectation for immediate success and whilst supporters may crave a Champions League birth it seems unlikely given Southampton’s current squad irrespective of the boost Tuchel’s arrival may bring.
A step-down for the highly-rated German manager
Whilst it is easy to point towards Manchester United’s domestic failings as well as Arsenal’s routine annual collapse, it has gone a little unnoticed that the top teams in the Premier League are getting stronger.
There was a 15 point gap between 7th placed Everton and Southampton this season, there is a gulf between the top of the league and the rest of it that hasn’t been seen regularly since the mid-noughties.
To cut that gap and overachieve once more then Southampton will need an almighty swing in terms of points and results next season and in such a competitive league that is very difficult to bank on.
Thomas Tuchel’s work in Germany was outstanding and his reputation was deservedly boosted as a result, however this reputation may well exceed Southampton’s limits at this time.
He is ready for the move to another huge club and with resources he could succeed anywhere, but with respect to Saints it is a step down in every regard for him.
Whilst expectations will be exceedingly high, the reality is progression at Southampton from this point is likely not possible without huge investment, an investment that doesn’t seem forthcoming from those in charge.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
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