Southampton boss Claude Puel gave an exclusive interview with Le Parisien on the weekend, talking about the state of Ligue 1 and his current situation in the Premier League. Extracts.
Zidane is in Spain, Wenger and yourself are in England, and that’s it. There are no other representatives in Italy or Spain. Why is it that French coaches don’t move around at all, in Europe?
We don’t show ourselves enough, we don’t sell ourselves well. We stay in our comfort zone too easily. Moving abroad is like starting all over. I’ve arrived here without anyone knowing who I am, I’ve started from scratch and I must prove myself again.
The French League’s reputation is weakening. There is another stumbling block.
More and more clubs belong to elite groups, bigger entities and rich owners. Their first concern begins with hiring recognised and reputable managers. Clubs need to have a name on the sideline. French managers don’t have this kind of label. Sometimes, it’s also our own fault.
That is to say?
We shoot ourselves in the foot at our own league. We constantly devalue it. We are a youthful league, albeit inexperienced but we have a brilliant youth set-up, so it’s difficult to balance the two. Every manager abroad knows about this. Too often, our system is criticised. We’ve even dishonoured PSG. No one knew how to appreciate this team for its true value and the fortune of having them in France. It was one of the top 4-5 teams in the world and we didn’t even realise that was the case. It’s a shame to not have supported them.
Do you take some credit for the recent success of Nice, who lead at the winter-break?
There are enough people to take the credit. I don’t need to join in. Even if it wasn’t always that easy, I enjoyed the moment.
No-one could’ve imagined Nice that high (in the table). Could you see it coming?
There is an opening this season. Just like there was here, for Leicester last season. Paris aren’t dominating like they used to. Monaco are doing well, but as they’re going gung-ho (in all other competitions), they’ll reach a moment where they can’t keep going. Lyon have missed their chance. Marseille, Bordeaux, Rennes and Lille are inconsistent. So, it’s now or never for Nice.
What do you make of Lucien Favre’s work?
It’s important that the club maintained the same philosophy and haven’t overturned and thrown everything away. Nice have become a different club through better resources, new investors and profitable sales of players, which have now enabled the club to offer well-paid wages.
The size of Nice football club has changed by keeping to the script. In the next three years, this will become part of French football history. After that, everything will depend if they keep working well behind the scenes. This is where Lille lost it (editor’s note: he managed Lille from 2002 to 2008). We developed the club, balanced the books by selling on players that we made better; and then everything changed with the big transfers, big wages, and they lost their way with huge deficits at the end of each season.
Who will be crowned champions of France?
It’s a race between the top three. And Lyon can pull it back.
Do you think that the curse of PSG is reversible?
There isn’t much evidence from this season. Paris have lost their spark. I’ve played against Parisian sides that look like title contenders; it was mad, a true force to be reckoned with and marvellous to watch. This season, the players look confused, and seem to question and doubt themselves. They’ve become vulnerable and for them, this is new. It’s too bad that Paris haven’t kept their philosophy of playing like previous seasons. At the moment, the players are caught up in two minds.
Are you attempting to purchase Ben Arfa in January?
No. Hatem is over our budget. But he’ll turn good in Paris, for sure. To me, Hatem is a player out of the ordinary. I’m not comparing their level, but he’s like Ibrahimovic in the sense that he needs to feel important to fully express himself. He has the audacity to try the unexpected at the spur of the moment.
But he can’t live up to his potential if he feels people are talking about him, or only gets to feature in games every now and then. He’s no longer a teenage kid that can come on from the bench in the last fifteen of five-minutes and use up all his energy in one go. He’s now an established, remarkable player, and we must accept the way he plays – a risk taker. We send text messages. He’ll stay put, he’s a determined guy.