Often players gravitate to managers that they have enjoyed previous success under. They have experience in working with each other; an understanding of what makes the other tick and generally speaking the player knows that his manager can get the very best out of him.
Make no mistake, this was the key reason as to why Jeremy Pied has joined Southampton. The strength of his relationship with Claude Puel is clear to see and in an interview with the club’s website, he expressed that it was the manager’s faith in him that led him across the channel.
He said: “It was an important factor because I know him and he knows me. I know that he knows my quality so it’s up to me to repay the faith that he and the club has shown in me out on the pitch.”
However, even though he can be described as the teacher’s pet, is Pied good enough for English football? Or is this another case of someone out of his depth coming to the Premier League because of his former connections?
After a successful loan spell with Ligue 2 side Metz, Pied was promoted to the Lyon first team under Puel. Starting out as a winger, the Frenchman made 35 appearances in all competitions while the former Monaco midfielder was in charge but did not receive playing time with Les Gones after Puel’s contract was terminated.
He then re-joined his former mentor at Nice, where he found a place on their right wing for the next few seasons. A decline in form during the 2013/14 season saw him loaned out to Guingamp the following campaign, with Puel beginning to question his worth to the team.
The 27-year-old returned to the club seemingly without a place in the side, deemed surplus to requirements in his wide midfield role. However, instead of leaving to find first-team football somewhere else, Pied agreed to adapt his game and filled a gaping hole at right back for Les Aiglons.
Part of a defence that kept 13 clean sheets, Pied was better remembered for his contributions in the other half of the pitch. Creating three assists and using the instincts that he had as a winger, he fit perfectly into the exciting, attacking style that Puel had moulded at the Allianz Riviera.
Pied is more at home as a winger and that is very evident in his style of play from right-back. Very willing to get forward and support the players in front of him, he is much more comfortable in the opposition’s half and providing crosses into the box.
With impressive acceleration but an unremarkable speed, he is able to get past players with a short burst of pace but struggles to beat anyone with genuine speed over a longer distance and was often slaughtered in defence by pacey wingers. A solid right foot capable of placing good crosses, teams will have to make sure to watch him overlapping his winger as he has the necessary engine to wear defences down slowly.
What should worry some is that he is simply not the best of defenders, due to his lack of experience in the position. He is often clumsy in the tackle and can be caught too high up the field. It will be that flexibility to play wherever Puel needs him to that will prove to be his most lethal asset, a utility man that will plug a gap on either wing or full-back position when neccessary.
That was highlighted by one of his best games of the season in Ligue 1, a 3-0 win against Lyon at home, where he played as a wing-back ahead of a back three. With more freedom to move forward, he enjoyed tormenting Jeremy Morel with plenty of runners into the box as well as recording two strikes at goal for himself.
Seven successful dribbles, an 82% pass completion rate and an assist showed exactly what he can bring to the table when he is unshackled from extensive defensive duties.
When he operates in a back four, as seen in the 3-1 defeat to Gazelec Ajaccio, he can become a liability. Far too forward-thinking on a regular basis for a member of the back four, he was often caught out of position and failed to eliminate the prominent threat of Damjan Djokovic.
He is also poor in the air. This was perfectly displayed in his abysmal backwards header that gifted Nantes the winning goal that eventually led to Nice falling out of the Champions League race.
With all things considered, this is a strange yet completely expected signing. It is clear that Puel knows his strengths well and trusts Pied as a player, but he is not an upgrade on anything Southampton already have.
At the very best, he could be a serviceable right back until a better target is highlighted by the club. Even after a concrete season, this is not the kind of signing that will move the Saints forward in their European ambitions. It will only serve to maintain their current state as an exciting, mid-table side.
N.S. with N.D.