The 51-year-old has suffered a turbulent time during his managerial career outside of his homeland but his recent success with Feyenoord bodes well for his task at St Mary's
By Chris Davie
As Mauricio Pochettino proved in his 16 months at Southampton, experience isn’t necessarily a must-have commodity in order to build an exciting, free-flowing Premier League side.
Ronald Koeman, however, arrives at St Mary’s with a 14-year managerial career which includes stints in Holland, Portugal and Spain, all with varied levels of success.
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I think that Southampton have made a very good choice with Koeman but, if he is to prove a success, a lot depends on whether he can keep the likes of Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw. If he does need to rebuild his team, which does look very likely now, I hope the board gives him enough time to develop a new system.
At a club like Southampton, and the trigger-happy nature of chairmen in the Premier League in general, it's possible that the pressure will increase drastically after a few bad results. The board needs to be patient with Koeman, though, and things could turn out great for the Saints.
Last season, Rickie Lambert insisted the club’s long-term vision was to secure a place in the Champions League and while the striker’s departure is likely to be followed by Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Dejan Lovren, Southampton appear to be sticking to their ambition by appointing a manager with experience in Europe.
But crucially, Koeman is capable of developing players, and such a trait could prove vital given the importance, and calibre, of those who are set to leave St Mary’s.
Koeman moves to the Premier League following a three-year spell with Feyenoord where he took the Dutch club from faded title challengers, on the floor after finishing 10th and being hammered 10-0 by PSV, to one that ended up second last season, four points behind champions Ajax.
The turnaround was instantaneous and, more importantly, sustained. Feyenoord have been restored as contenders for the Eredivisie title, finishing third just once under Koeman - and that was only due to inferior goal difference - and second in his other two campaigns.
Koeman had no hesitation in placing his faith in emerging talent from the outset. Jordy Clasie and Bruno Martins Indi were given their chance in the Dutchman’s debut term at Feyenoord and both instantly became first-team regulars.
“He basically raised me,” said Clasie, who was in tears during Koeman’s farewell message to Feyenoord's fans on the final day of last season.
“He taught me to be a leader and showed me how and when I could put pressure on the ball and the opponent; he explained how I could get the best tactically.
“It does not seem special, but when you add everything together, he has made me a much better player. I’ll never forget him.”
Jean Paul Boetius, Tonny Vilhena and Terence Kongolo were later brought in by Koeman and have thrived. Stefan de Vrij, meanwhile, was already established at Feyenoord prior to Koeman’s arrival but improved vastly under the Dutchman, and is in Louis van Gaal’s World Cup squad along with Martins Indi and Clasie.
Koeman’s tactical blueprint of a 5-3-2 in which the two full-backs advance to create a five-man midfield was deployed during his final year at Feyenoord and copied by Van Gaal with the national side. It was put to good effect as Netherlands destroyed Spain in their opening World Cup fixture.
But during his managerial career, the 51-year-old has not been afforded the patience when in charge of a club outside his home nation and the results have been turbulent.
After impressing at Vitesse, Koeman was snapped up by Ajax and he guided them to the league and cup double in 2002 despite only being appointed in December that season. The Dutchman also enhanced Ajax’s stature in Europe by reaching the Champions League quarter-finals with emerging stars such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Cristian Chivu, Nigel de Jong and Maxwell.
The end of Koeman’s reign at Ajax was marred by various spats in the dressing room and in the boardroom. The Dutchman was unable to find a way of playing both Van der Vaart and Sneijder in the same side, which led to tension, while his relationship with Van Gaal, who was the club’s technical director at the time, failed to blossom from the beginning.
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A return to his homeland was next but once again it was brief as he guided PSV to the Eredivisie title in his single season before jumping ship to Valencia.
"When a train like this comes, you have to take it," Koeman said of his move at the time. A declaration which was jeered by some who suggested that money was a factor behind his switch to Spain.
Despite a Copa del Rey triumph, Koeman’s time at Valencia was a disaster. The Dutchman managed to divide a dressing room in a single season and his man-management skills were under scrutiny after he dropped Joaquin from a matchday squad which included Ever Banega, who had been arrested for drink-driving.
"Maybe next time I'll get pi***d and run a red light instead," said the winger, who subsequently blamed his omission from Spain’s Euro 2008 squad on the Dutchman.
Koeman was sacked with five La Liga games remaining but his return to the Eredivisie over a year later was another poor move as he succeeded Van Gaal at AZ Alkmaar but lasted just seven months as the club’s head sponsor, DSB Bank, collapsed, forcing the chairman Dirk Scheringa to resign.
That opened up his chance to revive Feyenoord, and after his arrival was clouded by scepticism, Koeman has demonstrated that with the right foundations in place, he is capable of delivering results on a limited transfer budget but with extensive youth resources.
In his first interview with Southampton, Koeman signalled that he already has an eye on harnessing the club’s prestigious academy which has been the building blocks for Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
"I knew a lot about Southampton because over in Holland we know that the youth academy of Southampton is very famous," he said.
"It’s a little bit like Holland – they give opportunities to young players and that’s important for Southampton, to give young players a chance in the first team."
Feyenoord’s academy Varkenoord has won the Rinus Michels Award for best youth academy for the past five seasons. While such an accolade may be missing in England, the similarities between the two clubs are evident. Koeman already has the foundations to succeed.