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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Claude Puel not the inspirational leader Leicester City are looking for

Frenchman has solid track record as manager but he is not the one to guide a club at the crossroads

Claude Puel is an underwhelming choice at Leicester City. Warren Little / Getty Images
Claude Puel is an underwhelming choice at Leicester City. Warren Little / Getty Images

If nothing else, outbreaks of insomnia in the Leicester City area ought to decrease. If Claude Puel’s football does not induce sleep, his interviews certainly will.

Unfair? Probably.

Yet Puel’s return to the Premier League, a development which offered more unpredictability than his style of play, appeared one of the most underwhelming appointments in recent memory.

Once again, that may be unfair. After all, Puel took Southampton to eighth place and a cup final. As there are seven clubs with rather larger budgets than Leicester, a repeat with his new employers might represent what is realistically the best-case scenario.

After steering Nice to fourth position in France, he has shown he can overachieve with provincial outfits.

Perhaps that is why Leicester vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha called him “the perfect fit”. And yet there is an oddity to plumping for Puel. There is a feeling Leicester’s owners wanted stardust, the reflected glory of hiring a big name.

Puel, unlike his predecessor Craig Shakespeare, has a long track record as a manager – dating back to 1999 – and has won a league title in his own right, rather than as another’s assistant, but he is an anti-glamour manager.

There is no doubt that he is a competent defensive organiser. Defensive midfielder Oriol Romeu and rookie centre-back Jack Stephens produced the best form of their careers last season. Saints faced Liverpool four times last season and kept clean sheets in each.

Puel also had the tactical prowess to unlock them at Anfield.

All of which, having lost his best attacker, the sold Sadio Mane, in the summer and then his best defender, the injured Virgil van Dijk, in January, meant some had sympathy for Puel when Southampton dismissed him.

The chances are that his players were not among them. Nor the fans.

That eighth-place finish felt flattering. Southampton registered 18 fewer goals and 17 fewer points than the previous year, under Ronald Koeman. They scored only 17 times at home.

A brief flurry of exciting football, after the arrival of Manolo Gabbiadini, seemed to come in spite of Puel, not because of him. His dullness felt draining. Saints’ decision to dismiss him appeared a pre-emptive strike, to prevent results deteriorating and dissent turning into open revolt.

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And so to Leicester, a club struggling for a sense of normality.

Shakespeare was dismissed when his only defeats this season came to four of the five wealthiest clubs. Claudio Ranieri, too, can testify to the impatience in the boardroom. Look at their last three league finishes – 14th, 1st, 12th – and there is an obvious anomaly, which seems to have distorted expectations.

Since becoming champions, and while selling players, Leicester have spent £150 million (Dh728.3m). It has given them a large squad with plenty of scope, but they are yet to evolve from title-winning team or integrate most of the signings, with the exceptions of Harry Maguire and Wilfred Ndidi.

Leicester find themselves at a crossroads, in search of direction. They seem to require bold, inspirational leadership.

It makes the choice of Puel all the stranger.

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